Culling Badgers: A Youth Perspective
On Monday the 27th of March, MPs debated the petition ‘End the Badger Cull Instead of Expanding to New Areas’, which reached 108,319 signatures. The government’s conclusion, simplified, is that although they recognise that tighter cattle testing and movement controls with improved biosecurity need to be implemented, they believe that ‘badger control in areas where badgers are an important factor in spreading disease to cattle’ is also needed.
It’s probably not the conclusion that you wanted to read, and it wasn’t what I wanted to either. I’m a 15-year-old naturalist from Surrey, with a particular fondness for badgers. For years I have been filming my local badgers. They are full of character and an absolute joy to watch, especially after a tough day at school.
Although I try to restrain myself from anthropomorphism, it’s really difficult with badgers – it’s so easy to attribute them with human characteristics and personalities. They seem to be extremely intelligent animals, and their emotions are clearly visible and interpretable to us. It’s not as though I am alone in thinking this. The nation as a whole treasures this animal. It is the logo of the Wildlife Trusts, the very emblem of British fauna, and is so deeply entrenched in our culture that many places are named after them. Wouldn’t it be a shame if it were to be lost?
However, it wouldn’t be right to judge the cull purely by my own sentimental attachment to the badger, and this would get you nowhere in parliament – or so you would think. In an attempt to criticise the sentimentalism of the anti-cull side, MP Richard Drax ended up committing a similar crime himself– demonising the animal. ‘…look at the badger as a friendly, loveable animal which, in effect, it is not. This badger, factually, is responsible for destroying beehives, hedgehogs, ground nesting birds such as skylarks, grey partridges, and meadow pipits. It is also responsible for the loss of the wood warbler, nightingale, and the stone curlew. These are facts, the badger is a danger…’
Although in some parts this is speech true, in many it is not. The decline of any species cannot be attributed to another native species, as they have coexisted for centuries. Although the badger can predate hedgehogs and ground nesting birds, they make up for a very small percentage of deaths. Let’s take hedgehogs for example. Although hedgehogs may not do as well in badger-concentrated areas, the main cause of decline is (of course) created by us – habitat fragmentation. The badger appears to be a scapegoat yet again.
Although the morality of wiping out a native, sentient creature from large areas of Britain for the purpose of increasing livestock numbers is questionable, I think it is undeniably wrong considering the lack of evidence that it will have any significant effect. And there is a lack of evidence. Although it is widely agreed by both sides of the debate that testing, movement control and biosecurity are an essential part of reducing TB, it is still disputed as to whether badger culling has an impact. The lack of testing of shot badgers doesn’t help this. We know that 96% of TB transmissions are cattle to cattle – surely this is where we need to focus our efforts? That’s what Wales have been doing, and they have successfully reduced TB incidences by 47% in 8 years!
From the most extensive trial we’ve had (the Randomised Badger Culling Trial), Lord Krebs clearly drew the conclusion that culling ‘can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain’. Additionally, he predicted that over 70% of badgers would have to be killed for even a small improvement, otherwise the problem would actually get worse due to the ‘peturbation effect’. There is no chance of us culling badgers on this scale. Not only would it be difficult to achieve technically (as was demonstrated in the failing 2013 pilot cull) but the level of opposition from the public should make it impossible in this democratic society of ours.
Over half of all badgers were killed by ‘free shooting’ in 2016, because trapping and shooting is more expensive. This method is obviously not as humane, because badgers are extremely difficult to shoot, whereas trapping allows for a clean shot to be taken. Estimates calculate that in 2013 up to 28% of badgers took longer than 5 minutes to die. It is clearly unacceptable. Now you might be able to see why politicians feel the need to demonise the badger? People simply would not stand for such cruelty.
Additionally, the cull costs taxpayers ridiculous amounts of money, over £16 million by 2015. That’s approximately £6,775 per dead badger, most of which weren’t even infected. Imagine if all that money were spent on vaccine research, better testing, movement controls, biosecurity etc. Wales are able to provide free gamma inteferon blood testing for farmers. Maybe if we hadn’t spent so much on slaughtering badgers, we might be able to do this too?
This is all well and good, but it doesn’t seem to be getting What can we do to actually end this unscientific, inhumane and costly policy? Well, I think we are getting there. Public opposition is gradually rising. It’s no longer a feud between the ‘badger lovers’ and the farmers, it is the public against the government defending a native animal from an unscientific policy. Let’s not forget that this year a copy of Badgered to Death was delivered to every single MP – those politicians that have taken the time to read their version will find themselves with a greater understanding of the issue. Over a hundred thousand signed a petition this year, and another debate was held in parliament; more and more pressure is being put on the government.
I think we need to continue demonstrating public opposition to the cull, it is really important. Unfortunately this policy is more of a political one than a scientific one, and as soon as it stops being politically advantageous it will be given up.
At the moment, we are on the borderline. We can ramp this up by reaching a wider public audience. If a documentary were to be aired on television, a wider audience could be reached and made aware. I’m sure younger generations could be mobilised to have an impact. That’s why I’ve written this article; I am a young person wanting to bring about positive change, and I know many others who have the same ambition.
After all, they’re our badgers too, right?
Student, Young Wildlife Ambassador