bTB, badgers & the cull

Bovine TB, badgers and the cull

The Government badger cull continues to expand every year.  During the years 2013 to 2018, over 67,000 badgers were shot under government licenses, with a target of up to 64,000 to be shot during the 2019 cull (the Government has yet to release the actual figures).   Berkshire was not licensed as a zone in its own right in 2019, but culling reached right up to, if not over, the border with Wiltshire. The cull is therefore a very real threat for Berkshire's badgers.

 

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.  And there is encouraging evidence from a recent farm trial, which has cleared a herd of bTB purely by dealing with the infection in cattle and their environment, but without culling any badgers. 

 

The Government-commissioned Godfray Report published in 2018, 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’.

We therefore welcome the recommendations of the Report calling for the Government to redress the balance by increasing the focus on cattle-based measures, including:

Improved cattle testing:

  • Increase early detection rates through use of more sensitive tests and through use of combinations of tests where appropriate.

  • Escalate research for a ‘DIVA’ skin test (a test which can ‘Differentiate Infected from Vaccinated Animals’) and hence allow cattle to be vaccinated. 

 

Supporting the industry in reducing cattle to cattle infection:

  • Enforcing rigorous testing for cattle movements between herds.

  • Making risk-based trading compulsory, backed up by reliable livestock data.

  • Isolating and removing infected animals from the herd more quickly.

  • Isolating high-risk animals, eg. cows pre/post birth.

  • Improving slurry management to minimise risk in infection spread.  

  • Incentivising farmers to improve biosecurity and hygiene. 

The report also notes that ‘Moving from lethal to non-lethal control of the disease in badgers is highly desirable’ with support for a wider badger vaccination initiative.  We were disappointed, however, that the report does not rule out continued culling completely despite emphasising its lesser role.    

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.

Our county's badgers are counting on YOU!

Binfield Badger Group is affiliated to the Badger Trust.

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