Badger cull and bovine TB

Jon Hawkins, Surrey Hills PhotographyJon Hawkins, Surrey Hills Photography

Badger Cull coming to South Yorkshire

Updated 29th May 2018

Extending a flawed approach to managing Bovine TB should not continue. Biosecurity, better testing and longer-term cattle vaccination must be the focus of public investment in Bovine TB eradication.

We are really devastated to hear that George Eustice MP (Minister for Agriculture) has announced the further roll out of badger culling to all remaining areas in England, including Sheffield and Rotherham a Low Risk Area for Bovine TB. The link to his statement in Parliament on 24th May is here.

Having worked hard both locally and nationally with other Wildlife Trusts to campaign against the roll out, this is clearly disappointing news. The reasons why we oppose the badger cull in South Yorkshire can be found here.

This effectively means badger culling is permitted by licence from Natural England across the whole country, potentially leading to a near eradication of this native, protected species.

Although we are not completely certain, it does appear that there were some changes made to the proposal following the April 2018 consultation. Now the Secretary of State will sign off any proposed culls where as previously this was to be at the discretion of Natural England (a very stretched and under-resourced government agency).

The statement indicates a cull will only be considered in ‘exceptional circumstances’ for identified ‘TB hotspots’. We are not aware that any ‘hotspots’ have been identified yet, but the opportunity to apply for a culling licence in Sheffield and Rotherham is now live. See para 19 of this document on Natural England’s website.

We really would like to see the Government and farmers ensure biosecurity measures are in place and undertake badger vaccination before embarking on a cull. Vaccination programmes delivered by Wildlife Trusts in other areas of the country have been successful and more cost effective than culling. We completely sympathise with farmers and understand their concerns about their cattle being tested positive for bTB and the loss of the herd that follows. If we can help to reduce these concerns and the likelihood of badgers being unnecessarily culled by delivering a badger bTB vaccination programme then we will do our best to put that in place.

If there are any farmers who would like to contact us about badger vaccination then please get in touch on takeaction@wildsheffield.com or call 0114 263 4335.

Please support this work by making a donation to our Campaigning for Wildlife Fund and Joining Us.

For our position statement with further facts about the badger cull nationally, click here.
 

Reasons why you should oppose the badger cull in South Yorkshire:

There is the extremely concerning possibility that this culling programme will systematically eradicate a native species that in law is strongly protected under the Badger Act.

This sets a dangerous precedent. It start a new chapter in wildlife control – basically opening the way for any wildlife, however much it is protected by law, to be subject to a systematic Government culling programme. What next? Otters? Buzzards? Kites?

In 2014, an independent panel was set up by the Government to assess badger cull effectiveness. It was dissolved after reporting the cull was ineffective and inhumane.

In 2014, a Parliamentary vote on the badger cull saw 219 MPs in favour of ending the cull with only one voting against it.

There is a complete lack of data and transparency about whether culling in other areas of the country is actually reducing levels of Bovine TB in cattle, even after 5 years of culling and millions of pounds of public funds being invested in the programme. Culling should be the last resort, not seen as the easy option.

The Government itself has introduced the Bovine TB hub to help farmers with biosecurity. The science (and the experience in Wales [1] when focussing just on biosecurity without a cull) strongly supports the proposition that Bovine TB incidents in herds are greatly reduced without resorting to badger culling.

The test for Bovine TB in cattle is only about 75% accurate [2]. Cattle that have tested positive, resulting in valuable herds developed over generations being slaughtered, have later been found not to have Bovine TB at autopsy. Better reliable testing has to be develop and applied as quickly as possible. Elsewhere farmers have (anonymously for understandable reasons) said that they know their cattle have Bovine TB but as it is not reacting the Government’s test they continue as normal [3]. They do not want to offer up their whole herd to slaughter and know they will not get compensation without a vet’s confirmation of the positive Bovine TB reaction.

Defra: 50% of breakdowns in low risk areas is due to purchase of infected cattle.

Donnelly & Novellet 2013 Research concludes: 5.7% of the transmission of bTB is badger to cattle.

Impact on farming: there are 8.3mln cattle in the country. 10% are slaughtered early due to the bTB skin test, 24% slaughtered as not in calf and 17% for low quality milk.

Whilst many public land owners, such as Sheffield City Council, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council as well as organisation such as ourselves here at Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust have publicly stated we will not allow any badger culling on our land, clearly there are many other private landowners and farmers who may do so. In the original criteria, for culling to go ahead, the licensed shooters needed access to 70% of the badger population in any given area. Restricting access to land helps to prevent a cull going ahead but cannot be relied upon. The Government has recently removed the criteria it set itself, and now any culling can be licensed within a given area, irrespective of whether 70% of the badger population can be reached.

Evidence and references:

1 In Wales the number of cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB has nearly halved in just 4 years, from 11,671 in 2009 down to 6,102 in 2013. This major decline of 48% in the number of cattle slaughtered per year have been achieved using cattle based measures alongside a badger vaccination scheme.
2 Quote ‘In practical terms this means that on average 20-25% of TB-infected cattle can be missed by one round of skin testing using standard interpretation.’
3 The Times newspaper article 4th November 2017. Jerome Starkey: ‘Test finds TB rampant in herds that are officially disease-free’: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/test-finds-tb-rampant-in-dairy-herds-...

Below is the recent background to the bTB badger consultation for reference.

Updated: 26th April 2018

The Government has recently consulted on a proposal to extend the badger cull in to Low Risk Areas such as Sheffield and Rotherham. The consultation closed on Sunday 15th April 2018. Here is a copy of our response.

This consultation was in relation to the Government’s Strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status for England, originally published in April 2014. In that strategy, South Yorkshire is identified as a Low Risk Area because there are relatively few cases of Bovine TB occurring in cattle here. As a result, the strategy clearly stated that the focus in these areas should be on good farm biosecurity.

This latest consultation was to change the strategy to extend culling in to low risk areas.

The consultation has now closed. Thank you to everyone who responded or who wrote to their MP to oppose the cull.

  

Previous 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/fer0659789.pdf

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

Previous 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 by other cattle through urine, slurry, contact etc, as well as by other infected mammals, including badgers. Defra estimates 50% of herd breakdowns in low risk areas are due to purchase of infected cattle. Research by Donnelly & Novellet 2013 suggested as little as 5.7% of the transmission of bTB is badger to cattle.

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 requires access to 70% of an area at least 100km2. This is to ensure that the target reduction of at least 70% of the badger population in that area is achieved. 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’ 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 allowing badger culling on our land - badgers are not the problem
  • 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 coordinated and 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 bTB 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 the infection - by tightening movement controls on cattle 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 subsidy payments
     

What we have done and will do:

  • Continue to monitor the developments of Government’s Strategy for 'Achieving bovine TB free England' and specifically the criteria for badger culling to be rolled out in South Yorkshire, despite it being a Low Risk Area because there are very few cases of bovine TB found in cattle in Yorkshire.
  • Work with partners to raise funds and deploy the badger vaccination if the situation arises that a cull is proposed in Sheffield and Rotherham. 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 but as this looks increasingly likely we welcome donations to help us develop the capacity to roll out a vaccination programme locally: make a donation to our Campaigning for Wildlife Fund.
  • 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.
  • Encourage local landowners 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 100 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) 

 

What you can do:

Evidence and references:

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 publicly 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 Government is pursuing badger culling. Pilot culls were carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire. A target was set of culling 70% of the badger populations, to reduce the perturbation effect. The culls were unsuccessful in that they have not met their targets. However the Government has extended the culls to other areas and removed the original targets.

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 The Wildlife Trusts website. Included is a great video as well as a useful ‘infographic’.
 


Updated 29th May 2018

Downloads

FilenameFile size
defra_bovine_tb_strategy_map_overview.pdf269.83 KB
srwt_final_badger_cull_lra_response_180413.pdf31.32 KB