Badgers and Bovine TB

Image credit: Andrew MasonImage credit: Andrew Mason

Bovine TB (bTB) costs the UK millions of pounds every year and The Wildlife Trusts recognise the hardship that it causes in the farming community and the need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease. However, we believe that a badger cull is not the answer. We believe the Government should put biosecurity and vaccination at the centre of efforts to tackle this disease rather than a badger cull.

Click the image above to view the full infographic and references.

The Pilot culls

The Government pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire, which began in 2013, were designed to test the 'free shooting' method of culling badgers, (but not its effectiveness of reducing TB in cattle) with the aim of removing at least 70% of the local badger populations within six weeks. An Independent Expert Panel (IEP) was appointed by Defra to assess the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the 2013 badger culls. The IEP's report was clear that the pilot culls in 2013 were ineffective and inhumane:

• the pilot culls in 2013 cost the tax payer 9.8 million, which was massively over budget and more than seven times more expensive (per badger) than the Welsh Government’s badger vaccination programme, which operates on a similar scale.

• As the culls failed to remove the target number of badgers there’s a very real risk that they have made the bTB problem worse due to 'perturbation', where infection rates rise in badgers and cattle after stable badger territory structure breaks down due to culling and badgers roam around more.

Despite the IEP's findings, the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset continued in 2014. The Government dispensed with the IEP, and any further monitoring of the pilot culls or independent oversight. The results of the second year of badger culling were released by Defra in December 2014 showing that the 70% target was just met in Somerset with 341 badgers culled (the target was 314 - 940) but not in Gloucestershire, where just 274 were removed (with a target of 615 - 1,091). Further, there is great uncertainty in the way that these figures have been produced by Defra - not least because there has been no attempt to count badgers in the cull areas.

The Wildlife Trusts condemn the announcement by DEFRA that pilot badger culls in
Somerset and Gloucestershire will continue, and that culling will be extended to a new area in Dorset.

Finding an effective solution

The Wildlife Trusts are very conscious of the hardship that bTB causes the farming community and the need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease. Indeed The Wildlife Trusts together manage more than 95,000ha, and across much of it, grazing animals are key to conservation land management and maximizing biodiversity.

Sadly, Defra’s current badger cull policy is a tragic distraction and does not make an acceptable or significant contribution to a bTB control strategy. Recent research[1] has demonstrated that most herd outbreaks come from multiple transmission routes - including failed cattle infection tests, cattle movement and re-infection from infected pastures and wildlife. The research suggests that badgers play a relatively minor role in the transmission of infection, but that improved cattle testing, vaccination of cattle and culling all cattle on infected farms would be the most effective strategies for controlling the disease.

This is supported by 2012-13 figures from Wales where a strategy of strict cattle measures and badger vaccination has achieved a significant 23.6% decrease in the number of infected cattle herds – without culling badgers. In contrast, bTB incidence in England increased by 1.7% during the same period.

What is clear is that all parties must work together to find the right mechanisms to control bovine TB. The emphasis of all our efforts – including industry and Government - should be on delivering an effective, long-term solution.

1 A dynamic model of bovine tuberculosis spread and control in Great Britain. Brooks-Pollock E, Roberts GO, Keeling MJ.Nature. 2014 Jul 10;511(7508):228-31.

View Infographic

Badgers matter - how you can help

1. Support our e-action petition asking David Cameron to drop the cull

Back in Spring 2014 we launched an e-action to ensure the Prime Minister feels the weight of serious public concern that any plans for continued and extended culling will make matters worse. The pilot culls are still continuing - and so is our e-action. Click here to take part and ask David Cameron to drop the cull and develop an alternative strategy for tackling bovine TB.

2. Contact your MP

Write to, email or tweet your local MP, urging them to put pressure on the Government to drop the cull.

3. Email your MEP about the EU cattle vaccine ban

Ask your MEP to press for the EU ban on a cattle vaccine to be lifted.
Find the details of your MEP. A cattle vaccine is the long term solution to the bTB problem, but EU rules currently prevent it from being tested and used in this country. 

 

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