Badger cull numbers for 2023 released

New Government figures reveal almost 20,000 badgers killed under licence in 2023, bringing the total since 2013 to more than 230,000.

A close up portrait shot of a wild badger

According to data released by government on 11th April, a total of 19,570 badgers were killed in 2023 under regular and supplementary licences, bringing the total number of badgers killed under licence since 2013 to 230,125.

Responding to the news, veterinarian Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy, said: “These sobering figures reflect the continuing slaughter of our iconic badgers across England, who continue to be made a scapegoat for decades of failure by the government and farming industry to control the spread of bovine TB in cattle. The evidence for disease control benefits from the slaughter are at best equivocal and disputed, and most of the badgers are being killed using a method that has been shown to result in unacceptable suffering for a significant proportion. At a time of crisis for wildlife and biodiversity, it cannot be right to treat our precious wildlife with such distain.”

Of those badgers killed last year, more than 92% were targeted by ‘controlled shooting’, a method considered inhumane by the government’s own Independent Expert Panel and by the British Veterinary Association. The level of oversight of shooters to ensure they follow the rules also reached a new low.

Next year should be the final year of culling under the current licencing system. However, the government is now consulting on plans to allow culling to continue around ‘clusters’ of bovine TB outbreaks in cattle ‘where badgers are part of the problem’, although the details of how such clusters will be identified, how it will be determined that badgers are involved, how big the culling areas around clusters will be, how many clusters might be licenced in any given year, how long culling might continue in a cluster, and whether there will be any badgers left to repopulate when culling is completed, remain entirely unclear.

Dr Jones continued: “The badger cull is the largest destruction of a protected species on record, and it continues to expand, based on a grossly inaccurate and highly manipulated interpretation of the evidence for its effectiveness. Some of last year’s cull zones failed to reach their target numbers because they could find no further badgers to kill. To licence the slaughter of a protected wild animal to the point of local extinction is madness. It’s surely time to bring this travesty to an end, and to focus on the implementation of the cattle-based measures that can finally bring the devastating bovine TB epidemic under control.”

A peer-reviewed study co-authored by Dr Jones and published in the Veterinary Record in March 2022 concluded that there was no detectable link between the culling of badgers and any decline in the level of bovine TB in cattle herds. It also found that in Wales, where mass badger culling has not been deployed, similar reductions in bovine TB have been achieved through cattle-based measures.

Born Free continues to urge the Government to bring an immediate end to the cruel, costly and ineffective culling of badgers and move the focus to reducing the spread of bovine TB in cattle, through a combination of tighter biosecurity and cattle movement controls, risk-based cattle trading, use of more accurate TB cattle tests, and the urgent introduction of cattle TB vaccination.