Badger Trust’s important new report emphasises the need for a collaborative and evidence-based approach to tackling cattle TB.
Around a quarter of a million badgers have been killed in England since 2013 in licenced cull zones that now cover roughly a third of England’s land area, as part of the Government’s strategy for tackling bovine TB in cattle.
The Badger Trust has today released a comprehensive report entitled: ‘Tackling Bovine TB Together: Towards Sustainable, Scientific and Effective bTB Solutions’, which calls the cull “an assault on a native species unmatched in British History”. The report details the history of bovine TB and government attempts to control it, emphasising that government policy in England over recent years has been heavily biased against badgers.
In the past, stringent cattle-based controls have led to significant reductions in bovine TB. Indeed, the disease was almost eradicated from the UK national herd in the 1960s before badgers were even identified as being susceptible. The scientists who conducted the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, which took place from 1998 to 2005 to establish the impact of culling badgers on disease in cattle, concluded that badger culling would make “no meaningful contribution to reducing TB in cattle”. Many independent studies have subsequently questioned the efficacy and ethics of culling. In Wales and Scotland, policies that do not include badger culling continue to show success in reducing and containing cattle TB.
As Professor David MacDonald from Oxford University points out in his commentary, published alongside Badger Trust’s report, the evidence that culling badgers is necessary or effective in controlling the spread of bovine TB among cattle is, at best, equivocal. He questions the ethics of continuing the culls, given the consequences for the welfare of badgers, the health of the wider ecology, and the considerable cost to the taxpayer. Professor MacDonald concludes that “…in 2023, much as in 2007, it is hard to see that killing badgers will make a meaningful contribution [to TB control in cattle].”
In spite of this, the Westminster Government, which is responsible for bovine TB policy in England, continues to insist that badger culling is a necessary ‘tool in the box’. A government consultation on introducing so called ‘epidemiological culling’, where badgers would be eliminated altogether in areas surrounding a cluster of bovine TB outbreaks in cattle, is widely anticipated.
In 2019, working with Badger Trust and Eurogroup for Animals, Born Free lodged a complaint against the continued culling of badgers in England to the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (‘Bern Convention’), to which the UK is a signatory and under which badgers are a protected species. Consideration of the complaint is ongoing.
The Badger Trust report demands an immediate end to the culling of badgers. It also emphasises the weaknesses in cattle-based measures in place across England to control the spread of bovine TB, and calls for a change in policy and messaging to reflect the fact that the solutions to bovine tuberculosis lie in increased biosecurity, improved testing, stricter cattle trading regulations, and cattle vaccination. The report recommends the establishment of a cross-sector coalition including devolved governments, farmers, veterinarians, and nature-based organisations to collectively work together towards a future free from bTB where native wildlife and farming practices can co-exist sustainably.
Welcoming the publication of the report, Born Free’s Head of Policy, veterinarian Dr Mark Jones, said: “We have always maintained that badger culling is unscientific, ineffective, inhumane and unnecessary, and that bovine TB can and must be effectively controlled through cattle-based measures. Badger Trust’s extensively researched and meticulously constructed report examines in detail the history of bovine TB, and highlights the serious flaws in past and current efforts to control it. We fully support its conclusion that badger culling must stop immediately, and that all stakeholders should be involved in shaping future policy to bear down on this disease that has such devastating impacts for wildlife and the farming community. The wanton and pointless government-sponsored destruction of such a keystone and iconic native wild mammal must end, particularly at a time when wildlife in Britain and across the wider world is under such pressure.”
You can help by signing Born Free’s petition urging the British government to end the inhumane, ineffective and unscientific culling of badgers, and to implement humane, evidence-based and effective cattle-focused policies aimed at reducing bovine TB in cattle.
To see a summary and order a copy of the full report, go to the Badger Trust website.