Badger cull and bovine TB

Jon Hawkins, Surrey Hills PhotographyJon Hawkins, Surrey Hills Photography

Badger culling can’t be justified on any grounds; the Wildlife Trusts call for cattle vaccine to be top priority to tackle Bovine Tuberculosis, not badger culling.

Latest news (September 2017)

As a fresh wave of badger culling begins over a much wider area than in previous years, The Wildlife Trusts are calling on the Government to stop killing badgers. This will not eradicate Bovine TB in cattle.

Badger culls have been given the go-ahead in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Cheshire and Somerset. Almost 15,000 badgers have been killed since culls began in 2013[1]. The Wildlife Trusts are concerned that this culling is putting local populations of badgers at risk in affected parts of the British countryside. We urge Natural England to publish the information they hold on the impact of the badger cull on the wider environment.*

The Wildlife Trusts’ Director Steve Trotter says:
“A healthy wildlife rich natural world is valuable in its own right, and badgers are an important part of our countryside and culture. We work closely with many farmers, day in, day out, and we recognise the pain and hardship of those whose cattle herds have been devastated by bovine tuberculosis (bTB), but killing badgers will not solve the problem. Badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of bTB in cattle: the primary route of infection is cattle-to-cattle contact[2]. The Government's badger cull is flying in the face of science. It should be putting more resources into speeding up the development of an effective cattle vaccine, amongst other measures.” 

Badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of bTB in cattle: the primary route of infection is cattle-to-cattle contact. The Government's badger cull is flying in the face of science. It should be putting more resources into speeding up the development of an effective cattle vaccine, amongst other measures

In the absence of cattle vaccination, The Wildlife Trusts believe that vaccination of badgers is a more humane and effective solution to helping stop the spread of bTB than culling. A shortage of BCG vaccine put a temporary halt to badger vaccination in 2016 and Defra did not find alternatives. But this year some Wildlife Trusts sourced vaccine independently - these Wildlife Trusts are now re-commencing badger vaccination. The latest figures† show that on average it costs a Wildlife Trust just £82 to vaccinate an animal, as compared to the cull which cost £6,800 per badger between 2012-2014[3].
The Government spent almost £450,000 on communications equipment alone to support the culls between 2016-2017[4]. This money could have been invested in cattle vaccine research or used to vaccinate nearly 5,500 badgers.

The Wildlife Trusts call on the Government to:

• Stop the policy of badger culling
• Establish a full and independent inquiry into whether the culls to date have achieved their intended outcomes in reducing bTB in cattle
• Advance the development of a cattle vaccine, and complete the development of and licence the use of oral baited vaccine in badgers.
• Develop better biosecurity, bTB testing and cattle movement controls

Although The Wildlife Trusts don’t agree with the policy of badger culling, if it takes place robust monitoring programmes should be implemented in all cull zones.

More information about the badger cull is available on The Wildlife Trusts’ website www.wildlifetrusts.org/badgers.

Notes:

Badger Vaccination: Whilst vaccination doesn’t cure a badger of bTB it does slow the progression of the disease in an individual animal, and lowers the likelihood that the infection will be passed on. Badger vaccination can reduce the chance that a badger will test positive for bTB by as much as 76% (1). The Wildlife Trusts welcome the Government’s announcement that there will be enough supplies of vaccine to allow Defra’s Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme to resume in 2018.

Cull Zones: The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Defra, has granted licenses in England to cull badgers where there’s a high risk of cattle being infected with bTB. Badgers are being culled because they can carry bovine Tb and pass on the disease to other animals; however, badgers are not the main route of infection for farmers’ herds - that comes from cattle to cattle contact. There are now 21 cull zones in eight counties: Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Cheshire and Somerset.

References:
1 These figures are available on the Gov.uk website here: https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/bovine-tuberculosis-bovine-tb

* The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) this summer ruled that Natural England must release this information or face the High Court. You can see the Information Commission Office’s decision notice here: https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-taken/decision-notices/2017/2014420...

2 Carter et al., 2012. BCG Vaccination Reduces Risk of Tuberculosis Infection in Vaccinated Badgers and Unvaccinated Badger Cubs. PLOS One, 7: e49833

† Figures newly compiled from 2015 Wildlife Trust vaccination schemes

3 These figures were provided in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, which is available in full on the Gov.uk website. NB: The exact figure is £6785.

4 The Government publishes all spending over £25,000 here: https://data.gov.uk/dataset/financial-transactions-data-defra  

Latest news (September 2016)

On the 30th August 2016, the Government announced that seven new licences for badger culling have been granted covering parts of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Devon and Dorset, apparently with operations now underway. These areas are in addition to the existing cull areas in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset which are part of a four-year trial cull, as yet incomplete.

The Government insists "proactive" culling, which aims to remove 70 per cent of the badgers in a given area, is necessary to tackle the disease. West Gloucestershire and West Somerset are entering the fourth year of their licences for culling, and North Dorset is entering its second year.

The Wildlife Trusts oppose the decision by Natural England to grant new licences for culling badgers and call on the Government and the newly appointed Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom, to overrule and reverse this decision immediately.

On behalf of the Wildlife Trusts, The Wildlife Trusts’ President Emeritus, Simon King OBE, has launched a new e-petition on the Government website calling for an end to the badger cull and no expansion of the cull to new areas.

The issue:

Badgers are one of only a handful of large native mammals left in the UK. They are protected by national and international law and are an important part of our biodiversity. One of the strongholds for the species is the south west of England where badger populations may have reached the natural carrying capacity, but in other areas, badgers are at much lower densities. Importantly, the UK has 25% of the global population of the Eurasian badger Meles meles. We therefore have an international responsibility to conserve the species, and that includes protecting the range of genetic variation within the UK population.

Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis, which affects a range of mammal species. Over the last 20 years the incidence of bTB in cattle has increased substantially; particularly in the south-west of England, the Midlands and Wales. This represents an economic burden on the taxpayer and the farming industry as infected herds are culled. It is a particularly unpleasant disease and is very distressing for farmers who will see entire herds culled if bovine TB is present.

Cattle become infected from other cattle and from infected mammals, including badgers. It is not known what proportion of bTB in cattle arises from badgers, but estimates range from 20% to 50%.

Since 2010, the Government has been piloting a controlled (licensed) shooting policy as a method of culling badgers in identified areas with the aim of delivering a reduction in confirmed new incidents of TB in cattle herds. The culls are being deployed in ‘high risk’ areas which have been identified by their high incidence of confirmed bovine TB in cattle. Licensing of a cull now requires access to an area at least 100km2. The idea is to ensure that the target reduction of at least 70% of the badger population in that area is achieved but the Somerset and Gloucestershire trials were struggling to achieve this. The cull must also be sustained annually for a minimum of 4 years. Natural England take into account conservation considerations for land within designated conservation areas e.g. Special Protected Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

See the 'Evidence and References’ section below for information on the Government’s strategy on achieving bovine TB free status in England and the Licensing policy for culls.

Our position:

  • We are firmly opposed to the badger cull and will not allow badger culling on our land.
  • We agree with the strong scientific evidence that culling badgers will make no meaningful contribution to the management of bovine TB and may even be counterproductive to the reduction of bovine TB (see ‘The Evidence and References’ section below).
  • We are very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes the farming community, with an increasing number of cattle contracting this awful disease each year. We understand the need for action and have concluded, from our knowledge of previous scientific cull trials, that in the short-term a nationally-co-ordinated sustained programme of badger vaccination, improved biosecurity measures and improved testing and control of cattle movement would be the best means of tackling the disease.
  • We believe that, in the longer-term, the development and deployment of a cattle vaccine is central to the future of  TB disease control. A clear process has been set out by the EU for field testing and licensing a cattle vaccine and we urge the UK Government to commit fully to this.
  • We believe that the effective application of these short and long-term measures when taken together would avoid the need for the large scale culling of one of our native mammals, most of which will be disease-free.

The Wildlife Trusts nationally call on the Government to take immediate action to:

  • Reduce cattle-to-cattle transmission of bovine TB - the major cause of infection - by tightening movement controls on cattle even further
  • Accelerate research into cattle vaccination
  • Improve testing regimes for cattle
  • Invest in more research into better techniques for early detection of TB in cattle
  • Ensure higher standards of biosecurity on farms and link this to cross-compliance for subsidy payments
  • Secure alternative sources of badger vaccine and speed up the approval process so that suspended vaccination programmes can resume as soon as possible

 

What we have done and will do:

  • Continue to monitor the developments of Government’s Strategy for 'Achieving bovine TB free England'. This report identifies Sheffield and Rotherham as a low risk area because currently there are very few cases of bovine TB found in cattle in Yorkshire. Low risk means that, at the moment, there are no plans for badger culling in this area.
  • Continue to monitor the progress of the Government’s badger cull programme in relation to north Derbyshire, which is identified as a mixture of ‘high risk’ and ‘edge area’ for bovine TB. These areas are considered by the Government to have a ‘wildlife reservoir’ of the disease that they believe results in a higher incidence of bovine TB in cattle. The Government’s preferred strategy in the high risk area (which stretches from Cornwall through to north Derbyshire) includes culling. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have just announced that they will be undertaking badger vaccinating around the Edale area.
  • Should badger culling move right up to the Sheffield/Derbyshire border, we will work with partners to deploy the badger vaccination. We really hope this will not be needed, but we have prepared a plan for deployment as we want to be ready to act fast if we need to so as to ensure there is an alternative to culling if required. We would send out a ‘call to action’ through our members and social media should a campaign be needed.
  • Continue to work with the Wildlife Trusts across the UK to campaign, lobby and offer alternatives to the Government. As part of this we will continue to engage, lobby and advise local MPs on the issue and alternatives and respond to relevant consultations.
  • Encourage local land owners to adopt a ‘no cull’ policy on their land so reducing the viability of any licensed cull taking place (a cull license requires at least 150 km2 of land with access to at least 70% of that total land area within that zone).
  • Continue to promote factual information to the public and local land owners and managers (public and private)

In December 2015, it was announced that pilot badger culls will be extended to cover Dorset – a move we strongly oppose. We are also very disappointed that Defra has relaxed the guidance for badger culling licences from Natural England.

Defra carried out a consultation on the proposed new guidance – we responded, as did the Wildlife Trusts nationally and hundreds of individuals and organisation. The vast majority of the responses were against the proposed changes, but in their response, Government has decided to implement the changes anyway.


The changes are Defra proposed a series of changes to the current licensing guidelines which went out for consultation, despite the pilot still being in progress. They suggested:

1. Extending the length of the cull period.
2. Reducing the minimum area size in which culling could be licensed to take place.
3. Removing the requirement for at least 70% of land within the cull area to be directly accessible (but retaining a requirement that approximately 90% of the land in the control area be either accessible, or within 200m of accessible land).


We were opposed to the changes because we think that the pilot should be completed before making changes, and that the new round of culling may be even less effective as a result. For more information, see the Trust's full response here.
 

What you can do:

  • Sign the new e-petition! (September 2016)
  • If any local farmers would like to contact us about this issue and badgers on their land then please do. Contact us at mail@wildsheffield.com
  • Email your MP with your views on badger culling.
  • Email your MEP to press for the EU ban on a cattle vaccine to be lifted. 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 - find out why. Find the details of your MEP here.

Evidence and references:

For more information and background to the Wildlife Trust’s view on badger and TB see http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/badger-cull

To try and scientifically test whether culling badgers would reduce the disease, ‘Randomised Badger Culling Trials’ were carried out from 1998-2007. These were led by Professor (now Baron) John Krebs and cost £50 million.

The trial established that cattle to cattle transmission of the disease is the most prevalent route of infection and that stopping this should be a priority (through good farm biosecurity for example). The trials also revealed that, although there can be some short-term reduction in some high bTB areas after a cull, this is only a short-term effect (less than four years) and only if the cull eliminates a very high proportion of the population. This is because in most cases culling disrupts stable badger territories leading to more badger movements and spreading of the disease (the perturbation effect). The trial concluded that a reactive cull of badgers resulted in significant increases in bovine TB and a proactive cull, while controlling TB in the cull area, contributed to an increase in TB in surrounding areas, and would not be cost effective.

The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB concluded in its final report (2007) that it was: “unable to conceive of a system of culling, other than the systematic elimination, or virtual elimination, of badgers over very extensive areas, that would avoid the serious adverse consequences of perturbation”. Baron Krebs and Professor John Bourne – a vet who chaired the Independent Science Group on bTB have publically stated that culling is not the answer to cattle TB control in Britain. However Sir David King (then Chief Scientific Advisor to the Government) interpreted the data differently and recommended that culls could be effective, but only if very well planned and executed and covering at least 265km2.

Therefore the current Government is pursuing badger culling. The latest pilot culls are being carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire. A target was set of culling 70% of the badger populations, so reduce the perturbation effect. The culls have been unsuccessful so far as they have not met their targets. However the Government has proposed to extend the culls to other areas.

Information about the specifics of the licensing of badger culls can be found on the Natural England website here.

Find out more about what the Wildlife Trusts are doing to promote vaccination and to protect badgers around the country by visiting the badger pages on the Wildlife Trusts website here. Included is a great video as well as a useful ‘infographic’.

The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food has produced an excellent summary of the ‘Natural Science Evidence Base Relevant to the Control of Bovine Tuberculosis in Great Britain


If any local farmers would like to contact us about this issue and badgers on their land then please do. Contact us at mail@wildsheffield.com


Updated 5th September 2016