Public opposition grows as badger cull intensifies and spreads across England

Badger Trust highlights ‘cull creep’ into new areas as support remains low amongst the public

Support for the badger cull is now at just 15%(1) in England, whilst information uncovered by Badger Trust shows that existing cull areas have been expanded at the very time the government claims the cull is winding down. Through Freedom of Information requests to Natural England, Badger Trust has learnt that existing cull areas were expanded by stealth and without consultation throughout 2021, leading to a surge in badger deaths. In effect, the increase to existing areas was the equivalent of adding an entire new area to the cull zone.

In addition, in early February 2022, Natural England issued a call for licences to cull more badgers in six new areas of the country(2). The six potential new areas are within the counties of Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Derbyshire, Devon and Northamptonshire. Defra has not declared the size of these areas, or how close they are to existing badger vaccination sites. There are increasing reports that intensively culled areas, such as zones within Gloucestershire, are now almost empty of badgers. To add more zones close to existing cull areas will lead to further losses to badger populations.

Peter Hambly, Executive Director of Badger Trust, commented: ‘New national polling shows that only 15% of people in England support the ongoing badger cull. And yet the cull is bigger than ever and the government continues to chaotically expand and intensify the killing. There is simply no let-up in the way the cull continues to expand and claim more badger lives.

When the government releases the 2021 cull figures people will be shocked at the huge number of badgers killed, and increasing areas of the country will be empty or near-empty of badgers. This is a national wildlife tragedy happening right before our eyes.'

He continued: ‘The badger cull is not dealing with the real issues of bovine TB which, in over 94% of cases, is caused by cattle to cattle transmission. The cost-effective way of dealing with bTB is through dealing directly with the cattle – vaccination, reducing cattle transport and increasing biosecurity. Instead, the unpopular badger cull continues to expand with horrific consequences for one of our best-loved wild animals. It’s not working and it is a destructive attack on an iconic native mammal. I fear for the future of badgers in parts of Somerset, Devon and Gloucestershire already, and even more areas are being added to the cull.

‘This ongoing expansion of the badger cull, which does not address the real cause of bovine TB, means 2021 will be another record year for badgers killed(3).

‘Areas of England where badgers thrived will be empty of the much-loved mammal, with new licences in 2022 adding thousands more to the sickening total.’

Through its Freedom of Information requests to Natural England, Badger Trust learnt that the expansion of eight existing cull zones in 2021 – without public consultation – equates to one whole new cull area, resulting in significantly more badgers being killed than anticipated. This approach shows a continuing expansion of the cull at a time when the government claims to be winding it down. The charity believes this extension of areas could happen in every existing cull zone in the country, putting the survival of badgers in England at risk.

Following the data released under FOI showing the true extent of the cull through 2021 and 2022, Andrew Wood, the former Executive Director for Science and Evidence at Natural England until 2015, commented: ‘The numbers released by Natural England demonstrate the hollowness of the government's claim to be phasing out badger culling. Not only have they licensed culling in new areas, but they have also expanded eight of the existing licence areas, adding many new participating landowners and increasing the risk to badgers.

‘Yet more farmers are being conned into believing that the cull will free them from the spectre of bovine TB. Far from it. It remains the case that you could kill every badger in England and bTB would be endemic in the UK cattle herd, spreading via cattle movements and lingering in the soil.’

Further information:

  1. Polling figures are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,444 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2nd – 3rd February 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all England adults (aged 18+).

  2. Reference to the new licence call from [Natural England] February 2022

  3. Cull figures for 2021 not released yet. Badger Trust estimates it could be as high as 70,000 badgers killed in 2021, meaning as many as 280,000 badgers could be killed by 2026

  4. For comparison figure to 2022 YouGov poll see 2014 YouGov poll