Badger culls in England and Wales

Posted on the 22nd September 2010

Recent announcements by Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government confirm that badger culls will take place in England and Wales. In England, farmers will be issued with licences to shoot badgers, either in traps or as they run for their lives. In Wales, the cull will be government-run and conducted by contracted employees.

In England, farmers would have the option to vaccinate badgers but, as culling is cheaper, it is likely to prove more popular. Farmers would need to conduct their activities over 50 square miles over a four-year period.

In Wales, after the failure of the first cull Order in July 2010 – when the Badger Trust successfully challenged the government in court – a new Order has been submitted. This time, all mention of vaccinating badgers has been removed. If allowed to progress, there would be an annual cull over a five-year period in Pembrokeshire and in parts of Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire. (View the area on a map)

The Welsh government says it ‘expects’ a badger cull would lead to a 22 per cent decrease in bovine TB, although in the last Order, it said it expected a reduction of just 9 per cent. Another figure that has changed is the costs borne by farmers of a cowherd ‘breakdown’ due to TB. The government needs to show that it is cost-effective to cull badgers but failed to do this in its first Order. Originally, the cost was said to be £27,000. In the latest Order – and without explanation – the cost has almost doubled to £53,620.

Even with these recently inflated figures, a cull of badgers is still more expensive than the cost of TB.

Scapegoating Badgers

Badgers (and other wild animals) can be infected by bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a disease, which affects cows, especially those who are kept in stressful, filthy conditions. Intensive farming systems help incubate the disease and the movement of cows from farm to market to ‘livestock’ show to slaughterhouse help to spread it far and wide.

Instead of improving welfare conditions to reduce TB – and other diseases such as mastitis and laminitis – farmers choose to scapegoat badgers who may pass the disease back to cows, and demand the right to kill them.

Culls Don’t Work

A decade-long study, costing £35m, by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG), concluded that badger culling could not ‘meaningfully contribute’ to control of the disease because it displaces the badgers, spreading the disease over a wider area.

The ISG examined the outcome of licensing farmers to cull badgers and concluded: ‘We consider it likely that licensing farmers (or their appointees) to cull badgers would not only fail to achieve a beneficial effect, but would entail a substantial risk of increasing the incidence of cattle TB and spreading the disease.’

Dr Rosie Woodroffe, a badger ecologist at the Institute of Zoology in London and who worked for the ISG, said: ‘I think it is scientifically among the worst options they could have chosen.’


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