Extension of badger cull flies in the face of science

So far more than 3,943 badgers have been shot and killed as a result of the cullsWith a feeling of complete disbelief I am flabbergasted that the Government has announced its intention to extend the badger cull to seven new areas. All of the research from the 10-year pilot study showed that culling of badgers will make no meaningful difference to controlling Bovine Tb (BTb), yet still they are intent on repeating the same mistake again and again.

The Government’s ability to turn a blind eye to science is staggering and how they managed to get endorsement for a failed policy still leaves me speechless.

Having attended a scientific panel in Parliament before the summer holidays it was quite clear that the top BTb and badger scientists all agreed that killing badgers will make no meaningful difference to controlling BTb. They reported that the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset were ruled ineffective and inhumane by an Independent Expert Panel. Yet still the Government refuses to listen and wants to kill more badgers.

It is with great sadness that I have to report that the new cull zones will be in South Devon, North Devon, two areas of Cornwall, Gloucestershire, South Herefordshire and West Dorset. This is in addition to existing cull zones in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset.

I looked at the licences granted by Natural England for 2016 on the Defra website yesterday and added up the figures. The Government aims to kill a minimum of 9,847 badgers this year with a maximum number of up to 14,213 and the licences run from 26 August until November. 

So far more than 3,943 badgers have been shot and killed as a result of the culls, at an estimated cost of £6,700 per animal of taxpayers’ money or £19.7 million over three years. The Government wants to continue culling badgers until 2020. This would mean that the Government could spend up to £100 million on a policy that is scientifically proven not to work and will make no meaningful contribution to BTb control in Britain.  

I stand resolute in my strong opposition to the continued cruel, irrational and unnecessary culling of badgers. The cull is without scientific justification. I want to encourage as many volunteers as possible to join the peaceful Wounded Badger Patrols in the cull areas so they can help any injured badgers in need, as well as bearing witness to what is happening in the countryside.

I would encourage anyone interested in helping to look at the Team Badger website.

All of the experts agree that the meaningful solution to Bovine Tb is not to kill badgers, but to adopt a joined-up approach to tackle the problem; including better control of cattle movement, an improved testing regime and increased biosecurity on farms. Farmers in Devon have seen a reduction in the incidence of bovine TB at the same rates as their neighbours in Somerset, but without the shooting of a single badger.

The elephant in the room is that this is about cattle, a disease mainly spread by cattle to cattle. So how hard can this be to listen to? If the Government is serious about tackling Bovine Tb it needs to take serious action to ensure that infected herds are removed, the affected land is kept fallow and no new stock is introduced for 12 months. Alternatively, until the land is safe, new stock should only be introduced from BTb free areas, all movement of cattle from BTb infected herds or areas should be prevented, farmers should be compensated and bloodlines protected.

Unfortunately the Government is listening to the cattle industry and lobbying from powerful groups like the NFU, while real solutions may be deemed too expensive or unpalatable.

Yes we need better cattle testing and better control of cattle movement. Bio-security is the big game changer here in relation to fences, land and animals. The Government also needs to devote more energy and effort to getting a cattle vaccine for BTb into use and stop using badgers as a scapegoat. Rats and domestic cats can also spread BTb - scientific fact - and can come into closer contact with cattle than badgers.

I would like to finish with some more science. Dr Rosie Woodroffe’s latest paper in 2016 looked at collared cattle and badgers and monitored their interaction. After “5380 collar-nights in the home ranges of GPS-collared badgers, we detected no direct contacts between the two species. Simultaneous GPS-tracking revealed that badgers preferred land greater than 50m from cattle.

“Moreover, the possibility that some proportion of cattle-to-cattle transmission might occur through the environment is worth further consideration because, while TB test-positive cattle are compulsorily quarantined and slaughtered, contaminated pasture, manure, or slurry are seldom managed as potentially infectious.”

So the inference is clear; contaminated cattle infect the land, contaminated slurry infects the land and spreads disease and may lead to BTb re-occurrence in cattle herds.

Let us look at the problem holistically and come up with real solutions rather than sanctioning the wholesale slaughter of badgers and blindly thinking this will help solve the problem, when it will not - scientific fact.

The Government must stop the cull immediately and direct funds towards real solutions that will eradicate BTb once and for all.

If you feel as strongly as we do at IFAW that the badger cull should be stopped instead of being extended, please sign this petition.

--DC

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