Badger cull in spotlight again as wildlife groups allege breach of international treaty obligations

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

Further evidence submitted to Bern Convention against UK Government claims badger cull policy fails to consider impact on badger population

A coalition of animal welfare organisations has submitted further evidence in support of a complaint that claims that the UK Government’s ongoing badger cull policy in England fails to uphold its duties under the Bern Convention. UK based charities Badger Trust and Born Free Foundation, alongside Eurogroup for Animals, based in Belgium, have supplied additional information to support their original complaint made in 2019. The complaint challenges whether the UK Government has adequately considered the impact of mass culling of badgers on the badger population and wider biodiversity, and whether there have been any significant disease control benefits to justify the culls.

Britain is home to over 25% of the European badger population. However, with more than 140,000 badgers killed under licence since the cull policy started in 2013, and with culling set to continue until 2025 under recently confirmed UK Government plans, that population is coming under severe pressure. The case was put on ‘standby’ by the Bern Standing Committee in 2020, with a request for further information, the first time a complaint made against the UK Government had not been dismissed at the initial stage.

The additional information covers the following issues:

  • After eight years of culling badgers in England, there is little evidence to show any substantive benefits to bovine tuberculosis (bTB) rates in cattle in the cull areas. By contrast in Wales, where no mass culling of badgers has taken place, bovine TB rates in cattle are being successfully reduced using cattle-based measures alone;

  • More than 140,000 badgers have been killed in England since 2013, and in spite of UK Government claims that badger culling is to be phased out, it is estimated that the same number again could be targeted over the coming years, with a real risk that badgers could be wiped out completely from swathes of the country where they have lived since the ice age;

  • The UK Government has consistently failed to adequately monitor the impacts of culling on badger populations or the wider ecology, risking unforeseen and potentially disastrous consequences for badgers and wildlife more widely;

  • These and other failures of the badger culling policy clearly place the UK Government in breach of its commitments to the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), under which badgers are a protected species.

Dawn Varley, Acting CEO of Badger Trust, said:

‘With 140,000 badgers already lost, and with another 140,000 set to be killed according to our estimates, it has never been more urgent to challenge the UK Government on a policy that, whilst they claim ‘is working', just doesn’t stack up whichever way you look at it. We know the UK Government will reply by saying the cull is about to end. But in reality, there are another five years of culling to come, which we argue would wreak havoc on the badger population – at unknown cost to this usually protected species, and for little benefit to the cattle affected by bTB.’

Dr Mark Jones, veterinarian and Head of Policy at the Born Free Foundation, said:

‘The UK Government and proponents of the badger cull have hailed the policy as a success. However, after 8 years of culling evidence for substantial disease control benefits among cattle herds in cull areas is lacking. More than 140,000 badgers have been killed over the past eight years, most by ‘controlled shooting’, a method rejected by the British Veterinary Association because of welfare concerns. This ineffective, inhumane and unnecessary policy must end.’

Reineke Hameleers, Chief Executive of Eurogroup for Animals, added:

'The UK government has sought to portray itself as a champion for animal welfare, and yet the ongoing cull of badgers leaves such a claim in tatters.

Their policy flies in the face of science, evidence and any notion of the badgers as sentient beings. No animal deserves to be treated this way.

For their part, EU Member States and the European Commission have long been bewildered by the rationale of the approach in England. If farmers were not moving their cattle with such frequency, bTB rates would be much lower than at present. It is time to end this madness once and for all and to ensure that the European badger is properly protected, if need be through common European action.'