Saving Avon’s Badgers

(c) Bevis Watts

If you’re out for a summer’s evening walk or drive, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a black and white creature scurrying across a lane or skirting the edge of a woodland, its stocky form and short legs moving quickly. It will be a badger of course – a shy, nocturnal mammal and a wonderful animal to spot.

Badgers, like many wild animals, have plenty of myths and folklore attached to them, including the idea that if a badger walks across the path you have just walked on, you’re in for very good luck! And badgers have long been featured in literature, associated with wisdom – think badger in The Wind in the Willows who deals firmly with the mischievous Mr Toad, and the loyal Hufflepuffs in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts who have the trusty badger as their house emblem.  And badgers and the setts they live in have been protected by law in England and Wales since 1992 when The Protection of Badgers Act was passed by parliament, so they hold an important place amongst our native wildlife.

But these animals have been at the centre of much debate over the last decades. The Government’s strategy to halt the spread of bovine TV – a disease which affects cattle and causes immense hardship and devastation for farmers – has led to many thousands of badgers being killed due to the fact that badgers, like other wild animals, also suffer from bovine TB. Research however, shows that they are not the main way cattle become infected and that in fact, cows spreading the bovine TB bacteria to other cows is the key problem in herds becoming infected.

Avon Wildlife Trust – alongside the movement of 46 Wildlife Trusts across the UK – is opposed to the culling of badgers and we’ve this week started vaccinating badgers for the first time to protect badger families from the disease. We’ve started at a small scale, vaccinating badger families of adults and cubs on a woodland site at one of our nature reserves. Over the next four years, we want to extend across other nature reserves and work with other landowners and farmers to vaccinate more badgers across larger areas of landscape.

We’ve taken this step as a way to help tackle the problem of bovine TB in the Avon region and demonstrate an alternative to the cull policy – a safe alternative which is cost-effective, and which saves our wild badger populations in years to come. Several other Wildlife Trusts in different parts of the country have been running successful badger vaccination programmes for some time and research from trials carried out showed that three quarters of badgers which had been vaccinated had a reduced rate of infection. 

Our aim is to continue the work we’ve started this week and play our part in helping to find solutions to the problem of bovine TV whilst ensuring Avon’s wild badgers can thrive into the future.

To find out more about our badger vaccination work and the funding we need to do more please go to avonwildlifetrust.org.uk/saveourbadgers