Natural England shuns its own advisor, and condemns thousands more badgers to death

Against the advice of its own Director of Science, Natural England has issued 26 new badger culling licences.

A badger is standing in long grass, facing towards the camera

(c) Richard Hurrell

In a deeply cynical move, Natural England, the public body supposedly charged with protecting and restoring the natural environment in England, has decided to issue supplementary licences for badgers to be killed across 17 existing and 9 unnamed new zones, in spite of the advice of its own Director of Science.

The move, which could result in the deaths of thousands of badgers this summer (adding to the roughly 230,000 that have been killed under licence since 2013 as part of the government’s policy to tackle bovine TB in cattle), came to light in a letter from Natural England’s Chief Operating Officer to the Director General for Food, Biosecurity and Trade at DEFRA, which was obtained by ecologist Tom Langton following a Freedom of Information request.

The decision flies in the face of internal written advice from Natural England’s Director of Science Dr Peter Brotherton stating that “…based on the evidence, I can find no justification for authorising further supplementary badger culls in 2024 for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease and recommend against doing so.”

Responding to the news, Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones said: “By choosing to ignore the advice of its own Director of Science, those charged with issuing licences at Natural England have confirmed what we have always argued – that the mass slaughter of badgers is being used as a political tool to appease elements within the farming industry, rather than having a sound scientific basis. This is particularly galling coming as it does from the very government agency charged with protecting our precious wildlife.”

Dr Brotherton’s advice also revealed his concern about the misinterpretation of a paper published by scientists from the government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) earlier this year, which government sources have cited as evidence that badger culling had resulted in substantial reductions in bovine TB among cattle. As Dr Brotherton emphasises, the authors of the paper were careful to point out that a range of cattle-based and other measures introduced over recent years could have resulted in the reductions, and further research is needed to establish their relative impacts.

Dr Jones continued: “For far too long, badgers have been used as a scapegoat for failings by government and industry to tackle the devastating impacts of bovine TB in cattle. Our colleagues at Badger Trust have written to the Chief Executive at Natural England calling for the reversal of this appalling decision and an end to the culling of badgers. We fully support these calls.”

Born Free is calling on all political parties to commit to an immediate and permanent end to cruel and ineffective badger culls. You can help by signing our petition to end the cull:

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