Why do we believe culling badgers is wrong?

Badger culling is unnecessary: 

  • Bovine TB is primarily a cattle disease, spread mainly from cattle to cattle, exacerbated by modern intensive farming methods, huge numbers of cattle movements and infected cattle remaining in the herd as a result of the inaccuracies of the bTB test. 

  • There is an alternative; purely cattle-based measures can work.   Following a trial run in a collaboration between Brian May's Save Me Trust and leading vet, Dick Sibley,  Gatcombe farm in Devon has achieved ‘Officially TB Free’ status through a range of measures and expert veterinary advice, but without killing any badgers.  Measures include more accurate testing, keeping the food, water and environment clean to avoid the cattle eating bTB bacteria, special pens for calving, automatic scrapers to clean the floors and slurry being ploughed into arable land instead of grazing fields.  This is a really exciting development - read more about the Gatcombe project here and here

 
  • The risk from badgers is tiny with practically no direct contact between badgers and cattle and minimal risk from badger latrines.

  • The small risk of infectious badgers infecting their local cattle can be mitigated by means of vaccinating badgers in the vicinity of herds.     Read more about badger vaccination here

Badger culling is ineffective:

  • Even after 6 years of culling, the Government has produced no credible evidence that the culls are reducing bTB in cattle.

  • In October 2019, a study (Downs et al) appeared to indicate culling had reduced bTB in Gloucestershire by 66%.  But this was based on figures to 2017 only;  2018 figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request show that bTB rates actually increased in Gloucestershire by 130% in 2018 over 2017.  Even Farmers Weekly picked up on this, commenting ‘The FOI data demonstrates that by the end of 2018, in the Gloucestershire zone, the levels of bovine TB in the cattle population were higher than when culling started in 2013 – and virtually the same across the rest of the county where culling had not taken place.’ This is despite the fact that there are dramatically fewer badgers left in Gloucestershire to infect the cattle!  

  • The Farmers Weekly article also highlights the caution with which we should take any such figures used to support culling, saying ‘The TB situation […] is very complex and other activities besides culling may be contributing positively or negatively to the level of disease within the cattle population […].   Other factors include greater use of the gamma interferon (blood) testing, enhanced farm level risk management advice, and possibly changes in farmer attitudes towards buying in and moving stock.’

 

Badger culling is inhumane:

  • The Government’s own Independent Expert Panel and the British Veterinary Association condemned freeshooting as “inhumane”: monitoring in the early culls found that up to 22% of badgers took more than 5 minutes to die a painful death.   Still in 2019, there have been many reports of badgers found dead with bullet wounds, having fled in an attempt to get back to their setts. 

  • There is little ongoing monitoring of the accuracy of shooting and compliance with guidelines.  In a recent Farmers Weekly interview, a licensed shooter boasted of shooting badgers from well over the permitted distance which has been set to maximise the chance of a clean kill. 

  • Natural England failed to revoke licenses during the 2019 storms, despite admitting it illegal to keep a distressed badger trapped overnight in atrocious weather conditions. 

 

Badger culling is damaging to the environment:

  • Taking an apex predator out of the ecosystem can adversely impact other species.   Natural England accepts that badger culling may lead to an increase in foxes and a consequent possible decrease in prey species. Their advice to mitigate this risk includes culling foxes. 

  • Given uncertainty over badger population figures, it is feared some areas may face local extinction.  

  • Badgers are bio-engineers, distributing seed, eg. in Buckinghamshire, bio-historians have identified that badgers were significantly responsible for the distribution of beech nuts.  The impact on flora of removing 70% of badgers in an area is unknown. 

 

Badger culling is unscientific:

  • The 8 year government-funded Randomised Badger Culling Trial concluded that “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain”.

  • This same trial concluded that only 5.7% of bTB outbreaks in cattle could be attributed directly to badgers.  So, kill every badger in the country and you would still have bTB in cattle. 

  • No scientific conclusions can be drawn from the subsequent so-called pilot culls due to the Government repeatedly changing target numbers, methods and cattle-based measures.

  • A ZSL study published in October 2019 confirmed that culling badgers disrupts their normal behaviour and could in fact lead to an increase in bTB transmission from the remaining infected animals.

  • Of the 67,000 badgers culled up until 2018, only 900 have been tested for bTB and only around 15% of those were found to carry bTB (with even fewer being infectious). So around 57,000 healthy badgers have been killed for no reason.

 

Badger culling is a highly expensive waste of money:

  • It is estimated that badger culling since 2013 has cost the taxpayer around £50 million.

  • A comparison by ZSL concluded the cost per square km for culling is £2247, but £592 for vaccination using volunteers.

  • Defra has awarded BBOWT tens of thousands of pounds to vaccinate badgers.  These same badgers could be culled if they stray off protected land.

 

Badger culling is unfair to farmers:

  • It offers false hope and distracts from resolving the real cause of bTB. 

 

Badger culling has public safety concerns:

  • Free shooting is conducted at night with high-powered rifles without informing local people.  While there have been no documented cases of injury to the public, several unsafe encounters between anti-cull protestors and marksmen have been reported to the police. 

The wider picture…

In a wider sense, many are concerned that culling badgers is the thin end of the wedge and that other wildlife may follow; otters, red kites, and more.

 

Britain needs also to acknowledge its leadership role on wildlife matters. We rightly advise East African farmers on ways to live alongside elephants where they threaten crops and farmers’ lives. This rings hollow when we do not allow a small black and white mammal to exist alongside our own farmers.

Our county's badgers are counting on YOU!

Binfield Badger Group is affiliated to the Badger Trust.

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