Report from Westminster Hall Debate to end badger cull shooting

Defra still focused on the ‘sledgehammer’ of badger culling

On Monday, 21 March 2022, MPs debated the Wild Justice e-petition to end poorly monitored and inhumane badger cull shooting. I attended the debate on behalf of Badger Trust.

I contacted lots of MPs in advance of the Westminster Hall debate to brief them on the badger cull. It was really encouraging to see so many Badger Trust references in Parliamentary Reports informing the debate, including the recent YouGov poll which shows public support for the cull at just 15%. It is clear Badger Trust is seen as the badger experts and champion and it was so important that so many supporters and badger groups contacted MPs to reinforce this.

Heading into this debate you would think the recently published study in Veterinary Record – that concludes there is no link between badger culling and reduction of bovine TB in cattle herds – would give Defra pause for thought. But no, the same lines came out from Minister, Jo Churchill MP, of "having to use every tool in the tool box". The problem is the only tool Defra seems confident of using is the sledgehammer of culling untested badgers in their thousands.

More obvious and effective tools such as cattle vaccination, better cattle testing, tighter controls on cattle movements and enhanced biosecurity on farms remain underused, delayed or muddled. Over 94% of bovine TB is transmitted from cattle to cattle and it is cattle movements that cause so many problems.

Despite this, the Westminster government continues to focus on badgers as their primary focus as culling intensifies. 2021 and 2022 are likely to be record years for culls with an estimated total of over 200,000 badgers killed since the cull began. And a further tragedy? Most of these badgers will not even be carrying bTB, yet this tool is used again and again.

Listening to pro-cull MPs in the debate you would think they wanted to help farmers. However, in reality the strategy of culling badgers rather than properly investing in cattle-focused measures diverts focus away from helping farmers to reduce bTB. There were lots of positive noises around badger vaccination and Mike Amesbury MP and Daniel Zeichner MP were two who had gone out with badger vaccination volunteers in Cheshire and Derbyshire. But even this was criticised by other MPs and badgers were said to be "too clever for their own good" by avoiding traps for vaccination! What more can they blame badgers for? Mark Avery of Wild Justice, who had organised the petition and attended the debate alongside me, shook his head in disbelief at this point.

The debate was meant to be about stopping the inhumane free shooting of badgers – in 2020, 77% of badgers were freeshot rather than caged and trapped (the recommended method). This badger killing method has increased year on year since 2013 and has risen to be the primary method. Over 99.5% of badgers are killed without animal welfare monitoring and the only study undertaken found between 6.4% and 18% of badgers shot took over five minutes to die of bullet wounds, blood loss and organ failure, a slow and cruel death. This was ignored by many MPs present.

The most effective solution to the bTB problem is a cattle vaccine, yet despite the focus on culling badgers since 2013 under the current policy, costing many millions of taxpayers’ money, the government is only now field testing a cattle vaccine. The focus needs to be on cattle vaccination and other cattle measures, not badger culling. Even pro-cull MPs were critical of government delays to roll out cattle vaccination until 2025 – but sadly they then seemed to use this as an excuse to focus again on badgers.

The Welsh Government has shown the way in getting better results on bTB reduction and they do not cull badgers. Badger culling simply doesn't work and costs millions of pounds of taxpayers cash in difficult times. That's why Badger Trust has asked the Public Accounts Committee to investigate the lack of value for money of the cull.

On a positive side, Mike Amesbury MP and Lisa Cameron MP spoke up for badgers and Lisa Cameron afterwards said she believed Scotland would never allow a cull. Daniel Zeichner MP, the Shadow Minister for Defra, committed that a future Labour Government would stop the cull and focus on cattle measures, alongside badger vaccination. He questioned the focus on badgers as a primary cause of bTB in cattle and spoke of the need to invest properly and quickly in cattle focused measures.

Thanks again to Mark Avery and Wild Justice for getting the petition going and gaining 106,000 signatures to get a debate. This debate showed that the Government still sees the sledgehammer of badger culling as their preferred tool, rather than turning all their focus to cattle based measures. Badger Trust will continue to fight for a science, animal welfare and cost-effectiveness based response to bTB and against the senseless slaughter of thousands of badgers.

Peter Hambly

Executive Director of Badger Trust