Over the first year that The War on Wildlife Project has been in existence we have covered the ‘badger cull’ in some detail, with articles, analysis and guest posts, plus multiple podcasts with leading campaigners against the cull including Dominic Dyer (chief-executive of the Badger Trust, which works to promote and enhance the welfare, conservation and protection of badgers, their setts, and their habitats).
Like so many opposed to the cull we were hoping that the UK government was seriously looking at alternatives to simply slaughtering one of the UK’s most beloved and highly-protected mammals (through vaccination for example), but recent announcements from Natural England/Defra and the government have ended those hopes.
The disappointment and anger, the sense of betrayal, is tangible, but the fight will go on…
Instead of protecting wildlife, as the Badger Trust states in its latest press-release, the UK government is rapidly moving from “badger control to badger annihilation” as it expands the badger cull policy to 11 new areas of England in 2020.
In what the Trust describes “as a major betrayal of public trust“, they say that government has gone back on a recent commitment to phase out badger culling in favour of badger and cattle bovine TB vaccination. Instead it will licence the shooting of badgers in 54 areas in over 28,000 square kilometres of England stretching from Cornwall to Cumbria.
This means that for the first time badgers will be killed in Derbyshire, Warwickshire, Shropshire, Leicestershire and Oxfordshire. This is despite the fact that successful badger volunteer-led vaccination projects are being undertaken in many of these areas, many with public funding (see for example our guest post Badgering away: The Derbyshire badger cull campaign).
Badger culling will also be expanded into the low bTB risk area of Lincolnshire for the first time – despite hard campaigning by Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust and others.
How many badgers will be killed?
Based on the maximum kill figures published by Natural England (which may as well now add a shotgun to its logo given its support for culiing and shooting), up to 62,000 badgers could be killed by the end of 2020, bringing the total killed since the cull policy started in 2013 to over 164,000.
The Badger Trust estimates the public cost of the badger cull will exceed £70 million by the end of 2020, taking into account administration, equipment, training, monitoring, policing and legal defence costs.
Responding to this major expansion of the badger cull the CEO of the Badger Trust, Dominic Dyer (pictured), said :
“The decision to expand the badger cull is a huge betrayal of public trust by the government. Rather than phasing out the shooting of badgers in favour of vaccination, the government is now embarking on a mass destruction of the species, which is little more than ecological vandalism on an unprecedented scale.
In the next three months the badger cull could kill up to 62,000 badgers across a geographical area larger than Wales. This could result in population collapse with badgers pushed to the verge of local extinction. This is no longer a badger control policy, it’s a badger eradication exercise.
Over 102,000 badgers were shot under cull licences to date, yet only around 900 were subject to post mortem and bTB tests. Of this number, only around 5% were found to be infected with bTB at a stage where they were a danger of infecting others badgers or possibly cattle. The vast majority of badgers killed under the cull policy are bTB free and their deaths will have no impact on lowering bTB in badgers or cattle.”
The Chair of the Badger Trust, Jo Bates-Keegan, said:
“Despite the huge costs and cruelty of the badger cull, the government has yet to publish any reliable scientific evidence to prove that badger shooting is having any impact on lowering bTB in cattle in or around the cull zones. The government could kill every badger in England but bTB will remain in cattle as over 90% of infections are passed from cow to cow.
In reality, the only long term solution to reducing bTB is to implement effective cattle bTB testing, movement and biosecurity controls. Whilst the focus remains on badgers, progress will be painfully slow and we could lose this beautiful animal in large areas across the country. If the government and farmers can’t change their tunnel vision then the best approach for all must be vaccination of cattle and badgers. This offers a better future for farmers, taxpayers and the protection of badgers.
Badger vaccination is more humane and significantly more cost-effective than badger culling, yet the government is failing to provide sufficient safeguards to protect either vaccinated badgers from being shot or vaccination schemes already in place, let alone supporting them to expand.
Far more public funding is needed to train and equip vaccination teams and to promote the scientific benefits of badger vaccination to farmers and landowners. The government does not seem to have considered the potential for farmer led vaccination companies to take over from those running current culls”.
Natural England: Bovine TB: authorisation for badger control in 2020: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-authorisation-for-badger-control-in-2020
In February 2018, the Government commissioned an independent review of its strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status in England by 2038.
The review was led by Professor Sir Charles Godfray supported by a small working group. The review took place during Spring and Summer 2018 and reported to Ministers in October 2018.
Independent Review, October 2018: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/a-strategy-for-achieving-bovine-tuberculosis-free-status-for-england-2018-review
- Header Image copyright Andrew Parkinson/2020 Vision