bTB, badgers & the cull

Bovine TB, badgers and the cull

The Government badger cull continues to expand every year.  In 2020 alone, 38,642 badgers were culled, bringing the total shot under government license in England since 2013 to over 140,000 badgers! Each one of those is a heartbreaking waste.  There is still no credible evidence that culling badgers reduces levels of bovine TB in cattle. 

Bovine TB is a major problem for farmers; an outbreak of bTB is devastating and they need a meaningful solution. Although badgers have been implicated in the spread of bTB amongst cattle, scientific research has consistently shown that culling badgers will not be that meaningful solution.  A mere 5.7% of bTB outbreaks can be attributed directly to badgers according to an 8 year government scientific study, leaving 94.3% transmitted from cattle to cattle.

Berkshire has not, until now, been licensed for culling in its own right.   However, we now know that there have been license applications for Berkshire for 2021.  The cull is, therefore, a very real and potentially imminent threat for Berkshire's badgers.  Not only is this devastating but also surprising, with bTB outbreaks declining in Berkshire - Government figures indicate that the number of outbreaks in Berkshire has dropped from 24 in December 2019 to 15 in 2021.

This reduction has been without culling being licensed in Berkshire! 

So, what's the current position with Government policy?   There seem to be changes afoot...

In 2018, a Government-commissioned Report (the Godfray Report) concluded that the focus on badger culling has deflected attention from other measures which would have more impact on reducing bTB. The report stated that ‘it is wrong […] to over-emphasise the role of wildlife and so avoid the need for the industry to take measures that have in the short term negative financial consequences’.

In 2020, the Government responded to the conclusions in this Report, outlining a revision to the bTB eradication strategy, the backbone of which would be:

  • more focus on pursuing cattle vaccination;

  • a transition from badger culling to badger vaccination and

  • efforts to improve diagnostic testing to identify bTB in cattle more effectively.  

Promising headlines! But a detailed review showed the transition would be too slow, with the door kept open for intensive culling indefinitely in certain circumstances. (Read more in our newsletter article from March 2020.) 

Moving to 2021, the Government have put their new Strategy proposals out to consultation.    The key proposal in relation to the culling of badgers is a plan to phase out intensive culling, with the 2022 season being the last year in which 4 year licenses will start.    Whilst we welcome signs of the cull ending, the very real possibility of intensive culling for 5 more years remains.  With 38,000 badgers culled in 2020 alone, the numbers that could still die needlessly and inhumanely are staggering. 

 

The consultations do, however, also contain much to be cautiously optimistic about, including switching focus to cattle and badger vaccination,  improvements in cattle testing and movement controls.   Have a read of the Badger Trust's excellent review of the current proposals to understand more. 

We join the call from vets, scientists, wildife organisations and much of the population for this cruel and unnecessary cull to be ceased immediately.

Frequently asked questions

Can badgers spread bTB to cattle?


Most scientists accept that badgers can give bTB to cattle. The question is the extent, with data suggesting a very small role for badgers. Indeed, an 8 year trial concluded that only 5.7% of bTB cases in cattle were caused directly by badgers, with 94.3% caused by cattle to cattle transmission. Recent research illustrates why this percentage is so small. Contrary to a long held view that bTB is spread between cattle and badger by direct contact, an extensive scientific trial has shown that badgers avoid direct contact with cattle (Woodroffe et al, 2016). Transmission via badger faeces also seems low risk. Badgers are clean animals who re-use latrines, or holes in the ground, in which to defecate. These are often tucked away in woodland. And it is interesting to note that one cow pat (at 45 kilos) from a shedding cow (infected and infectious) contains 500 as many organisms as a badger excretion (ref. Save Me Trust).




How are badgers culled?


Badgers are culled in one of two ways: 1. Freeshooting, where badgers are baited into the open in order to shoot them through the heart, something which is notoriously difficult and carries the risk of badgers escaping underground to suffer long slow deaths. 2. Cage-trapping, where badgers are baited into cages, held captive overnight and shot the next morning.




Where are badgers culled?


The cull started in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire in 2013, nominally as a pilot to test assumptions about the safety, efficacy and humaneness of controlled shooting (not to test if culling would reduce bTB in cattle). Despite unsatisfactory conclusions about the humaneness from their own Independent Expert Panel and no data on the efficacy of culling, the Government has spread the cull across many counties in the west of England from Cornwall and Devon in the south up to Cheshire in the north, and as far east as Baydon in Wiltshire, right on the Berkshire border.




Are badgers and cattle the only animals infected by bTB?


No, bTB infects a wide range of animals including deer, moles, hares, otters, goats, sheep, horses, pigs, boar, dogs, cats, foxes, mink, ferrets, rats and squirrels.





What have we done?

  • Attended and organised local protest events such as a march through Maidenhead in 2018.

  • Written letters to MPs.

  • Met with ex-PM Theresa May.

  • Spread awareness through local newspapers and local events.

  • Surveyed to identify vulnerable locations. 

  • Prepared to run Wounded Badger Patrols in Berkshire.

  • Supported Wiltshire with WBPs.

What can you do?

  • Write to your MP and Councillor expressing your objection to the cull:  Find your MP here 

  • Share anti-cull Facebook posts, and talk with friends and family;

  • Sign and share anti-cull petitions;

  • During the cull period, support our beleaguered badgers by signing up for our Wounded Badger Patrols in Berkshire or neighbouring counties.