Wildlife Trusts urge Government to drop the cull

Monday 21st December 2015

Badger by Jon BowenBadger by Joh Bowen

The Government today announced that it is suspending the sourcing of BCG vaccine for English badger vaccination schemes, that the 2015 badger culls were ‘successful in meeting their targets’ and confirmed it wants to see ‘badger control over a wider number of areas next year’, issuing new guidance to Natural England that significantly relaxes the current badger culling licence criteria.

Paul Wilkinson, head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We’re exasperated by today’s announcements and condemn any intention to roll out the badger culls, which have been found to be repeatedly flawed in their methodology, measures and objectives. They are a resounding policy failure which should be halted immediately.”

Culling badgers is likely to increase the bovine tuberculosis risk to cattle due to the perturbation effect, where disruption of otherwise stable badger social groups causes individuals to range beyond their usual territory and come into contact with neighbouring animals, increasing the risk of disease transmission.

Vaccination does not carry this risk and is the only approach that can actually reduce the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis in badgers. The Wildlife Trusts are therefore extremely concerned and disappointed that circumstances have required the suspension of badger vaccination programmes in England. Three Wildlife Trust projects currently receive Defra funding, via its Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS).

There are eight other Wildlife Trust programmes in operation in England which look likely to be suspended too.

The Wildlife Trusts remain committed to the delivery of badger vaccination as one of a number of measures against TB in cattle and will resume vaccination as soon as possible.

Paul Wilkinson adds: “We are seeking a meeting with Defra to discuss the implications of the vaccine shortage for these projects. It would seem that Government has failed to plan ahead for its badger vaccine requirements – and all of the hard work of hundreds of volunteers who have put in thousands of hours of time and effort to help farmers is now in jeopardy.

“We recognise that there are external difficulties in supply, and accept the need to prioritise global human health but Government ought to have planned ahead and taken action to secure critical supplies for programmes it had set in train – we are at a loss to understand why Defra has not put in place long-term supply arrangements.”

According to The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) the badger culls in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset were all ‘successful in meeting their targets’ in 2015, with more than 1,400 badgers culled. However, these targets have been widely criticised by leading scientists as arbitrary and deliberately set to be achievably low. Scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that culling badgers will not make any meaningful contribution to the eradication of bovine TB in cattle and the pilot culls in England have proven ineffective and inhumane.

Paul Wilkinson comments: “The badger culls may have met the minimum targets set by the government but this cannot be considered a true measure of success. There is no evidence that culling badgers is having an impact on bTB in cattle. There are no statistics available for bTB incidence within the cull zones and no baseline data to compare them to, even if stats were forthcoming. The first two years of the pilot culls have already cost the taxpayer more than £16.8 million and there is no clear evidence to prove they have been an effective use of taxpayer’s money.

“The Government’s own cost-benefit analysis, which relies heavily on the results of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), indicates that the cost of each new cull zone could exceed the expected benefits by at least £1.49 million. The way that the pilot culls have been carried out to date is already significantly different to the methods used by the RBCT, and the newly relaxed licence conditions will ensure that any future culls bear little to no resemblance – meaning that they cannot be expected to deliver the same (minimal) benefits and are more likely to increase disease risk to cattle. This is bad for farmers, bad for wildlife and bad for the taxpayer.”

Since 2011, more than 1,300 badgers have been vaccinated by Wildlife Trust programmes in England at an average cost of £336 per badger.

Paul Wilkinson concludes: “We urge all parties to work towards resolving the BCG shortage as soon as possible so that badger vaccination programmes can resume  quickly and positive momentum can be maintained. The current situation risks further damaging Defra’s reputation and undermines the level of trust and confidence in the Government’s strategy for dealing with TB in cattle.”

The number of badgers removed in 2015 against the minimum and maximum number is set out in the table below for each area:

  Somerset Gloucestershire Dorset
Minimum 55 265 615
Maximum 524 679 835
Badgers culled – total 279 432 756

Of which: culled by controlled shooting

148 279 316
...culled by cage trapping 131 153 440