Ineffective, cruel and costly: new study shows england’s badger culls have failed

18 March 2022


Vital new research, co-authored by Born Free’s Dr Mark Jones, finds no evidence the mass killing of badgers prevents bovine TB in cattle.

Research published today in the leading journal Veterinary Record, co-authored by Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones, concludes there was no detectable link between the culling of badgers and any decline in the level of bovine TB in cattle herds.

Since 2013 badgers in the designated High-Risk Area of the west and south-west of England have been shot on mass as part of a government effort to control bovine TB.

By the end of 2020 this policy has seen more than 140,000 mostly healthy badgers killed across 54 licenced cull zones, while more than £100 million of public money continues to be spent on disease control in cattle every year. This policy comes at a huge cost to the taxpayer, the farming community, and the UK’s precious wildlife.

Now, the largest and most extensive examination of government data from this High-Risk Area published to date, highlights the fact that the current policy has essentially cost a fortune and saved nothing. The comprehensive statistical analysis authored by biologist Thomas Langton and vets Drs Mark Jones and Iain McGill uses wide-ranging methods to compare the incidence and prevalence of bovine TB in the culled and un-culled areas within the High-Risk Area between 2013 and 2019. 

Their analyses show that while the disease peaked and began to decline during the study period, there is no statistical evidence that the rate and nature of the decline was any different in the areas where badgers were being shot and the areas where there was no cull in place. The findings of the peer-reviewed study suggest that the slowing up and initial reduction of bovine TB in the High-Risk Area cannot be the result of badger culling and is in fact down to the progressive introduction of cattle-based measures including more intensive testing requirements and movement controls. The conclusions of the study are further supported by data from Wales, where a similar reduction in the disease has been achieved without culling badgers.

As a result of their findings, Born Free is urging the Government to act. Firstly, by making these results widely available to the farming community, vets and the public and secondly, by bringing badger culling to an immediate and permanent end, in line with the new scientific analysis. Currently, licenced mass shooting of badgers is set to continue to 2025 and beyond.

The time, money and resource currently being directed to badger culling would be better spent on measures which will reduce the spread of bovine TB such as risk-based trading, the approval and use of more accurate cattle tests, and the urgent introduction of cattle vaccination. 

This research, which is welcomed by animal welfare organisations including the RSPCA, provides an opportunity and framework to reassess the current policy and stop the needless slaughter of badgers which is not only negatively impacting the image of farming but is also destroying healthy, protected wild creatures at a time of biodiversity and climate crisis. 


A graphic showing an image of a badger and key findings from the research

Dr Mark Jones, Born Free’s Head of Policy and one of the study’s co-authors states, “To justify the licenced killing of many thousands of legally protected badgers, the Government should at the very least be able to demonstrate a substantial and predictable disease control benefit. Our analysis of the Government’s own data found no evidence to support the mass killing of badgers and confirms the conclusion of scientists who oversaw extensive government research conducted between 1998 and 2005 that ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to the future control of cattle TB in Britain’ and that ‘…substantial reductions in cattle TB incidence could be achieved by improving cattle-based control measures’. There is no justification for killing any more badgers. It’s time to bring this unscientific, inhumane and unnecessary badger culling policy to an immediate and permanent end.” 

Tom Langton, principal author and consulting biologist adds “As the bovine TB epidemic continues to spread across England, government claims on badger culling ‘having worked’ are  supposition, using small amounts of data from small areas over short periods. Here, we have a real-world analysis, using extensive data from across England’s High-Risk Area, supported by comprehensive statistical analysis. It is what farm veterinarians, farmers and the public should already have been told regarding this continuing animal health emergency. Hard working beef and dairy farmers should be given the advice and support that they need, to protect hundreds of thousands of domestic and wild animal lives and to prevent ruined farming livelihoods.” 

RSPCA Director of Advocacy & Policy Emma Slawinski said, “We warmly welcome these definitive findings which come as no surprise to us, as they reinforce our long-held conviction that culling badgers does not prevent bovine TB in cattle. In the face of this conclusive evidence, the government should immediately call a halt to its cruel, ineffective and arbitrary programme based on the mass slaughter of badgers and focus on cattle-based solutions.”