Why are our badgers ‘Badgered to Death'?

| 23rd August 2016
Front cover of 'Badgered to Death' by Dominic Dyer (exerpt), published by Canbury Press.
Front cover of 'Badgered to Death' by Dominic Dyer (exerpt), published by Canbury Press.
With today's news that badger culling will continue in Gloucester, Somerset and Dorset, and take place in three other counties, writes LESLEY DOCKSEY, there could be no more opportune moment for Dominic Dyer's new book 'Badgered to Death' to appear - expertly exposing the total absence of scientific evidence that badgers transmit bovine TB to cattle.
The government always stated the badger cull would be a farmer-led policy largely paid for by farmers. They lied; it's a largely publicly funded policy that is spiralling out of control on cost grounds despite being a scientific failure.

"Political factors will ultimately overrule scientific ones when a government takes a decision in a contentious field." Nature, 2007

Dyer is the Chief Executive of the Badger Trust charity. Everyone who has joined in anti-badger-cull marches and rallies across the country will be familiar with the man leading from the front - whose passionate speeches in defence of one of our most iconic wild animals have constantly condemned the lack of science behind the killing.

Dyer's first encounter with a badger was on the Isle of Wight. Years later, to his amazement, he saw one happily living in London suburbs. This badger helped his decision to leave a well-paid career and take up full-time work for wildlife conservation.

But why did he become such a champion for the badger?

"Over a period of time I became increasingly angry about the demonisation of the badger. I remember attending many farm industry events during my time in the food and plant science industries where farmers would regularly talk of the need to kill the animal, even discussing how to gas them. And I disliked the way the science and animal welfare concerns were dismissed in a mad rush to kill these animals."

Being the CEO of the Badger Trust has given him many opportunities to study badgers, and as he says, "The more you get to see them in the wild the more enchanting they become. It does not take long to become hooked as a badger watcher."

One also, of course, becomes more aware of the lack of science behind badger culling, and it is this devastating lack that Badgered to Death addresses.

Considering how long and complicated the history of badgers and bovine TB is, this could have been a dense and difficult undertaking. But this is not a book filled with references to learned papers and obtuse scientific arguments. Dyer simply and clearly describes the political process by which the badger became the scapegoat for the bovine tuberculosis in England's cattle.

From the moment the first bovine TB-infected badger was discovered in 1971, no other cause for this disease in cattle has been properly or adequately addressed.

Scientists were saying it was very difficult for badgers to spread TB to cattle

He describes in some detail the experiment carried out by the Central Veterinary Laboratories in 1975, attempting to prove how badgers can give cattle TB. Under very controlled and artificial circumstances it took months for infectious badgers to pass the TB onto calves, even though both badgers and calves were sharing a small and highly restricted living space.

There have been no other such attempts, and later research has since demonstrated that badgers avoid cattle, and that cattle avoid areas where badger might urinate or defecate. There is no science, no evidence, to prove how badgers are supposed to pass TB to cattle.

The Randomised Badger Culling Trials are explored in depth, yet even here Dyer shows how the science gives way to politics. Despite the conclusion that culling badgers could make "no meaningful difference" to controlling TB in cattle, the results were, said the head of the RBCT Lord Krebs, "cherry picked" and skewed in order to justify a cull.

The government always stated the badger cull would be a farmer-led policy largely paid for by farmers. They lied; it's a largely publicly funded policy that is spiralling out of control on cost grounds despite being a scientific failure.

The President of the Royal Society Lord May went further and said the government were "transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence."

Only politically did the badger cull make any sense

Dyer's documentation of the political process underlying Prime Minister David Cameron's decision - and yes, it was his decision - to implement the culls is thorough, detailed and depressing in the government's refusal to accept the lack of science. As Dyer explains, Cameron's acceptance was all on the side of receiving rural votes in exchange for a cull.

Of all the strands that created the cull - the politicians, Defra, the NFU and Countryside Alliance, the farmers, scientists, vets, landowners and the hunting community about whom he writes, the clarity diplomatically masking the anger - which of those does Dyer think bears the most responsibility for the culls taking place?

"I think the Veterinary industry is most to blame. For a profession that puts scientific knowledge and animal welfare at the heart of what it stands for, the continued support for the hugely cruel ineffective badger cull is unforgivable in my mind."

But apart from Cameron, who else could have stopped this useless brutal policy? It was, he felt ...

" ... the BVA which should have called for a stop to the cull when its Ethics Committee decided free shooting was cruel and ineffective. If they had made it clear that they would no longer support any culling using free shooting the policy would have collapsed on cost grounds."

He is also scathing of some of the big 'green' NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and WWF that did not get engaged or mobilise their thousands of members to add to the political pressure on Cameron's government.

Yet, at the same time, there are many vets and farmers who are against culling. Asked whether he thought farmers had been let down by Defra and the NFU, Dyer replied:

"Yes, many farmers contact me regularly to say they feel let down by the NFU; they know the TB testing systems are not fit for purpose, they are angry about not getting free access to gamma interferon testing and the delays in introducing a TB cattle vaccine.

"And they know the badger cull is being used as a political football whilst many of them struggle to stay in business."

Short term economics and politics trumped the protection of nature

Asked to expand on that, he explained: "Science will always be manipulated by politicians to support their priorities. Money on the other hand is always a deciding factor in the success or failure of a policy.

"The government always stated the badger cull would be a farmer-led policy largely paid for by farmers. They lied; it's a largely publicly funded policy that is spiralling out of control on cost grounds despite being a scientific failure."

The book's conclusion is that the culls will be stopped, not by science or validity, but by cost. Yet Dyer remains optimistic: "Despite all the incompetence, negligence and deceit, it's the caring compassionate British public who have made a stand for wildlife that gives me the most hope for the future."

His book pays tribute to the 'Badger Army', those many individuals from all walks of life who turned out to protest and importantly, once culling started, to protect the badgers out in the field.

Those people will be patrolling the countryside, day and night, in every area where badger killing is taking place this autumn. While determined to protect their badgers, many also want to see the government help and support farmers to beat the TB in their cattle - but with proper cattle-based measures, not by senselessly killing wildlife.

Badgered to Death is for them because it tells them just why they must keep fighting the culls. It will convince any reader how very wrong and ineffective the culls will prove to be.

And it should be read by all those battling against government policies that put money ahead of science and the environment. Our natural world is too important to be over-ridden in this way.



Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer who writes for The Ecologist and other media on the badger cull and other environmental topics, and on political issues for UK and international websites. 

The book: Badgered to Death is by Dominic Dyer and published by Canbury Press.

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