Badger cull pilot fiasco, not the end of the story

Image c. Shutterstock www.shutterstock.comIt is tempting to believe that after the extension of the badger cull in Gloucestershire was cut short at the end of November 2013 because the target number of animals that needed to be killed was not reached, that this will signal the beginning of the end of this decade’s badger cull disaster.

Despite the fact that many animal protection groups joined together under the Team Badger umbrella, got the public behind them and also gained the support of most independent scientists, surprisingly there has been very little progress in stopping the misguided idea that killing badgers will solve the problem of BTb in cattle.

One can be forgiven for taking the announcement on the cull extension stopping (the only piece of good news about this issue) as a marooned desert survivor would take his first drink of fresh water: with overwhelming relief.

But now the dust has settled we can step back and reflect on what the bigger picture is here. The reality is that by refusing to reduce pressure on all the stakeholders of this cull, we eventually forced Natural England to revoke the licence of the extension of the cull, as the numbers had been made public, and they did not have any choice but to accept that the revised target was not going to be achieved on time, despite the infamous eight-week extension.

But we have not yet managed to change the minds of those that pushed this cull forward, and those in the Government that are blindingly implementing it, as they still want to carry on with two pilots for three more years and want to roll out the culling to other areas, up to 10 in each additional year.

So, the surviving badgers in Gloucestershire have been granted a couple of weeks of reprieve but the battle continues.

Let’s pause for a second and recap on how ineffective this culling has been so far. This is what we (Team Badger) have concluded:

  • The conditions in which the Government’s policy on badger control has taken place during the pilot culls deviates widely from the conditions of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), therefore any reliance on the results of the RBCT in predicting the likely outcomes of the policy is invalid.
  • The pilot culls have shown that shooting is an ineffective way to remove the required number of badgers in order to reduce the incidence of bovine TB in cattle.
  • The culls have shown that cage trapping is more effective than free shooting but is more expensive, and still ineffective as a method of removing the required numbers.
  • According to Government estimates, populations of badgers within the cull zones appear to have declined markedly in the months leading up to the onset of culling, but the Government has offered no satisfactory explanation for this, nor does it seem willing to conduct any meaningful investigation. The idea that legal badger culling may precipitate significant illegal activity, with serious consequences for badger populations and their welfare, should be a cause for great concern. DEFRA should be investigating these concerns as a matter of urgency and accounting for the impact of any illegal killing activity within cull zones in its assessments of culling efficacy and humaneness.
  • Members of the public have had their safety compromised on a number of occasions, and there are real safety concerns if culling is to be widened to other areas.
  • The costs of policing the cull have quadrupled in the past year; there would be no policing costs if vaccination was the preferred method of controlling the disease in badgers.
  • DEFRA has released little information on how it will evaluate the humaneness of the cull, but concerns remain about the data being collected and how this will be assessed.
  • The increased costs of the pilots, through extending the culling period, resorting to cage trapping instead of free-shooting and the permanent police presence led to the inevitable conclusion that vaccination would be a cheaper and more humane method of controlling the disease in badgers.

So, as we have been saying all along, this pilot showed that culling badgers to solve Bovine TB does not work, and some experts are already saying that it can make the problem worse by increasing the spread of the disease due to the ’perturbation‘ effect.

So, what now? Well, there are several things we can do, and we need your support to reach these goals.

We need to keep engaging politicians so they continue pressuring the Government to stop this irrational cull, be transparent about it and to let Parliament scrutinise any attempt to roll the cull out to more areas.

We can do this in several ways.

Firstly, ensure that as many MPs as possible attend the Westminster Hall debate in Parliament on Wednesday 11 December at 14:30 where they will be discussing the future of the badger cull. Please contact your MP asking him/her to attend the debate. Secondly, there is an Early Day Motion (EDM 661) http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2013-14/661 which is still active in Parliament which seeks to ensure full Parliamentary scrutiny of the outcome of the pilot culls and to enable Parliament to have the final say on whether a national cull should go ahead. In addition, you can also ask your MP to sign a second, earlier tabled EDM (229), which you can do though our Care2 Petition site.

We can also support local badger vaccination programmes that are appearing all over England as an alternative to culling, and engage the public to ask their local authorities to support such projects. This can be done by donating funds directly to such projects, or by helping “Operation Badger”, an initiative organised by B-R-A-V-E (Badger Rescue and Vaccination Everywhere) which IFAW supports, to set up a national network of local petitions across England and Wales, calling on councils to ban the culling of badgers on land which they own and to invest in local badger vaccination projects. You can become a ‘badger champion’ and organise your local petition if there is not one in existence already; please contact B-R-A-V-E, and they will tell you how.

We should not forget the unsung heroes of this constant battle: the people who left the comfort of their homes to spend numerous evenings trying to help badgers on the ground in very hostile conditions in the Somerset and Gloucestershire area, with the Wounded Badger Patrols and similar initiatives, and who despite the fact the shooting has finished for this year are still out in the field ensuring that no cages have been left by mistake and no unlicensed shooting is taken place.

You can support these groups by joining them next time they are forced to be on the ground again if common sense does not prevail and the cull is resumed next year.

We are not going away.

There is still lots that can be done to back Britain’s badgers.

--JC

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