Despite claims it is seeking an exit strategy from badger culling, the government is planning a significant expansion of badger shooting over the next few months across wide areas of England, according to a leaked document believed to have originated from Natural England.
Based on the leaked document, Badger Trust expects to see badger culling take place in 54 areas of England stretching from Cornwall to Cumbria from the start of September 2020 (44 full four-year cull licences and 10 supplementary cull licences). In total this increase could result in over 64,000 badgers being killed in 2020, an 85% increase on 2019 cull figures. This brings the total killed since the badger cull policy was started in 2013 to over 150,000.
The list also confirms that, for the first time, badger cull licences will be issued in five additional counties: Derbyshire, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Shropshire and in the low bTB risk area of Lincolnshire. This second low bTB risk area cull licence (the first issued in Cumbria), has no scientific basis, with badger vaccination a more viable option.
Culling in low-risk areas replicates ‘reactive culling’, discontinued during the RBCT (Randomised Badger Culling Trial) due to increases in cattle TB caused as a result. There are also no maximum cull numbers set and no minimum size requirement for a cull zone; the aim is for local removal of all badgers. In Cumbria in 2019, 317 badgers were killed in the ‘minimum infected area’ and an outer buffer zone. 313 of the culled badgers were tested postmortem and only three badgers tested positive, with one infected with a strain unrelated to herd breakdowns.
Badger Trust believes this leaked document to be authentic and accurate and it shows the government is betraying public trust on its bovine TB policy, on an unprecedented scale. Rather than looking for alternative strategies to badger culling, the government has been developing plans for the largest mass slaughter of badgers ever seen in England.
In March in its long-awaited response to the Sir Charles Godfray TB Strategy Review, the government indicated that it planned to phase out badger culling in favour of badger and cattle TB vaccination. The resulting headlines in the media (supported by the Defra press office) talked of a seismic shift in policy and an imminent end to the killing of badgers, a view now largely accepted by both politicians and the wider public.
As this leaked Natural England document shows, in reality, the government has been planning to shelve large parts of the Sir Charles Godfray bTB Review in favour of a huge expansion of badger shooting.
Reacting to the leaked document the CEO of the Badger Trust, Dominic Dyer, said:
“The government has now given up any pretence of seeking to end the badger cull. This is no longer a badger control policy, it’s a badger eradication exercise. The ultimate aim is to remove badgers from the vicinity of all cattle farms across England, even if this results in population collapse and local extinction.
The public cost of this cruel and ineffective policy is likely to exceed £70 million by the end of 2020, yet the government has failed to produce any reliable scientific evidence to prove that the mass destruction of badgers is having any impact on lowering bovine TB in cattle herds. The government could kill every badger in England, yet bovine TB will remain in cattle due to deficiencies in TB testing, and poor cattle movement and biosecurity controls”
The Chair of the Badger Trust, Jo Bates-Keegan, added:
“This document shows a significant betrayal of public trust by the government on its bovine TB policy. It clearly has no intention of finding an early exit strategy from the badger cull and is pressing ahead with a significant expansion of badger killing, including in areas where badger vaccination is providing an increasingly effective alternative in terms of lowering bovine TB in badgers. This action will seriously undermine vaccination schemes, such as that in Derbyshire, as we made clear in the most recent vaccination consultation. There is no incentive for any landowner to vaccinate their badgers if they know how easy it now is to cull.
The decision to issue a cull licence in the low bTB risk area of Lincolnshire has no basis in science whatsoever. The government has now moved into a new phase of culling, with the whole of the country up for grabs. Decisions seem to be based on the absence of an immediate explanation for persistent herd breakdowns, so the finger of blame turns towards the badger yet again.”