England's £100m badger cull extensions condemned

| 23rd August 2016
English badger. Photo: Kentish Plumber via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
English badger. Photo: Kentish Plumber via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND).
England is about to extend its badger cull policy to five new areas of the country, proving that only that science is a dead letter to May's conservative government as it was to Cameron's. While bovine TB infections in cattle rise in the existing cull areas, Wales has just achieved a cull-free 14% reduction.
The badger cull is built on incompetence, negligence and deceit, and will ultimately collapse because it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB - cattle to cattle infection. We could kill every badger in England but TB would continue to spread.

The BBC and other media are reporting that the shooting of badgers will begin in early September in five new areas: South Devon, North Devon, North Cornwall, West Dorset, and South Herefordshire.

However there has been no such announcement from Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for the badger culls, or its controversial Secretary of State, former Tory leadership contender and Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom.

A spokesman for Defra would only say the department was "currently considering applications for further badger control licences as part of the usual licensing process."

The badger culling policy in England is led by the National Farmers Union (NFU), but largely funded by taxpayers. It is already being carried out in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset at a cost to the taxpayer in excess of £25 million since it began in 2013. The NFU has also released no announcement.

By extending the badger culls to the five new areas of the country taxpayer will be liable for an additional £100 million by 2020, according to the Badger Trust. That's even though there is no scientific evidence to show how, or indeed whether, badgers actually infect cattle with bovine TB - the official justification for the policy.

Indeed DEFRA statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise both in and around the culling zones. Bovine TB is being successfully controlled in Scotland and Wales without culling, relying instead on cattle movement controls and other biosecurity measures.

Ireland is also about to abandon its badger cull policy in favour of vaccination.

Ignoring the real cause: cattle to cattle infection

The Badger Trust has condemned the apparent decision to press ahead with the cull, citing "the complete failure of the policy over the last four years." So far 3,916 badgers have been killed - and most remarkably, none of the badger carcasses have been tested for TB, throwing away a valuable opportunity to assess any role badgers may have as a TB reservoir.

"After 4 years of badger culling no one can now doubt that the policy has been a disastrous failure on scientific, cost and humaneness grounds", said Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust. "For the new DEFRA Secretary Andrea Leadsom to ignore the facts and extend this policy into five new areas of the country defies belief. 

"The badger cull is built on three pillars of sand, incompetence, negligence and deceit, and will ultimately collapse because it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB, which is cattle to cattle infection. We could kill every badger in England but bovine TB would continue to spread in cattle herds, due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor biosecurity controls."

He also condemned the use of the experimental 'free shooting' method of killing badgers, which can result in unrecorded hits that can condemn badgers to a slow, painful, lingering death. This practice has been condemned as inhumane by both the government's Independent Expert Panel and the British Veterinary Association.

Any pretence of 'science' long since abandoned

The Chair of the Badger Trust, Peter Martin, added: "The badger is being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern intensive livestock industry that have led to a significant increase in bovine TB in cattle herds.

"Recent changes to the cull licencing regime have made it clear this policy is now just a 'numbers game' based on indiscriminate and untargeted killing of this protected wildlife species. They have abandoned any pretence of science or control.

"We now have conclusive scientific evidence proving beyond doubt that badgers actively avoid cattle in pasture and farm yards, and that cattle avoid feeding on grass where badgers urinate or defecate. This effectively means that the likelihood of badgers passing TB to cattle within the farming environment is so low that it is impossible to distinguish it from any other potential environmental vector, including cattle themselves."

The government in Westminster is using badgers as a "political fig-leaf to mask its total failure to get to grips with bovine TB", Martin continued, adding that the government should be following the far more successful example of Wales, which has achieved significant disease reductions in cattle without killing badgers:

"They should be looking to Wales to see how they have waged a far more successful campaign against the disease, based on more rigorous TB testing, tighter cattle control and biosecurity measures. New TB herd incidents in Wales are down by 14% in the last 12 months and all this has been achieved without culling badgers."



Oliver Tickell is Contributing Editor at The Ecologist.

Also on The Ecologist

Help us keep The Ecologist working for the planet

The Ecologist website is a free service, published by The Resurgence Trust, a UK-based educational charity. We work hard - with a small budget and tiny editorial team - to bring you the wide-ranging, independent journalism we know you value and enjoy, but we need your help. Please make a donation to support The Ecologist platform. Thank you!

Donate to us here