Since the 1980s, bTB has been progressing north-east across the UK, from initial infections of cattle in the south-west.
Working with partners we have been vaccinating badgers against bTB in two strategic areas of Leicestershire since 2013, to help contribute to the local control of bovine TB by creating immunity in a population of local badgers.
Our current scheme in partnership with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, is part of a programme partially funded by DEFRA, targeting badger populations on the leading edge of the disease in the Vale of Belvoir. Over the course of five years of vaccination work, we vaccinated a total of 85 badgers across two areas of north Leicestershire.
Badger Cull Campaign
In August 2020, the UK Government made an announcement of new areas for badger culling to start in September 2020, which included parts of Leicestershire, putting our badger vaccination progress at risk.
We launched a campaign to oppose the decision and almost 15,000 people called out the bogus science, protested the inhumanity of slaughtering a protected species and told their MP loud and clear ‘NO badger cull in my county’. Sadly, the Government ploughed ahead and our voices were ignored.
Devastated but not defeated! - BEVS continues
DEFRA committed to 4 years of support up until 2022 to part-fund badger vaccination programmes across England including our scheme in partnership with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust on the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border.
Our position is clear - vaccinating badgers is a better alternative to shooting and thanks to your support Wildlife Trusts lead the way with badger vaccinations across England.
In January 2021, the Government announced their intention to end badger culling in 2022. This was welcome news to those of us opposed to the cull and perhaps a cause for celebration. However, closer inspection of what lies behind the headlines confirms that we must remain vigilant.
Read a full update from Head of Conservation, John Clarkson below.
Update from John Clarkson - 11/02/21
Recent press coverage of the Government's intention to end badger culling from 2022 was welcome news to those of us opposed to the cull and perhaps a cause for celebration. However, closer inspection of what lies behind the headlines confirms that we must remain vigilant.
These headlines relate to a recently launched Government consultation which canvasses opinion on a number of proposals, one of which is the ceasing of new cull licenses being granted after 2022. It is important to recognise here that decisions based on the outcomes of this consultation will not affect currently active cull licences, and that these may continue after 2022.
Another factor to consider is that in March last year the Government proposed to move away from culling as a means of controlling Bovine Tuberculosis, but then granted a number of new cull licences, extending the cull into new areas including many where badgers had already been vaccinated, such as in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.
Furthermore, whilst the press focussed upon the 'good news' in the consultation that we could at last be nearing the end of badger culling, the results of the 2020 cull were quietly released elsewhere. In 2020 alone, over 38,000 badgers were killed across 44 cull zones - 714 of these from within the Leicestershire (and Nottingham) cull zone – and so far more than 140,000 badgers have been killed across the 8 years of licensed culling. The official document detailing the 2020 figures can be viewed here.
Although we welcome the recent announcement that the end of culling could be brought forward, along with confirmation that trials of a cattle vaccine are imminent, news of over 38,000 badgers being killed during the last year's culls means we must remain cautious. 2022 is only the suggested date for an end to new cull licences, not all culling, and the current cull licence for Leicestershire (and Nottinghamshire) will continue as planned for at least a further three years. Any optimism that an end to the mass killing of badgers is in sight is balanced against the fact that tens of thousands more badgers – calculated as between 40,000 and another 140,000 - will continue to be killed in the meantime.
Our position is clear: for the good of the farming community, the problem of bovine TB leading to the annual death of about 30,000 cattle and costing on average £30,000 per breakdown must be resolved quickly and without further waste of life. Vaccinating badgers is a better alternative to shooting and thanks to your support Wildlife Trusts lead the way with badger vaccinations across England.
We call on the government not to issue any new cull licences and to focus efforts and resources on developing and rolling out a comprehensive badger vaccination programme which is fully supported and fully funded. We stand ready to help the government achieve this.
We call on the government not to issue any new cull licences and to focus efforts and resources on developing and rolling out a comprehensive badger vaccination programme which is fully supported and fully funded. We stand ready to help the government achieve this.Head of Conservation, LRWT
Find out more about Badgers, bTB, vaccinations and the Badger Cull
What is bTB?
Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a highly infectious disease of cattle which devastates thousands of farming businesses annually. Since the mid-1980s, the incidence of bTB in cattle has increased substantially creating an economic burden on the taxpayer and the farming industry, as infected cattle must be culled.
Government research shows that TB is not a major cause of death in badgers. Generally, infected badgers do not show any sign of infection and can survive for many years before suffering from severe emaciation.
How is bTB spread?
The disease may be transmitted between animals through saliva, urine and faecal excretions on grass, soil and in water. Cattle-to-cattle transmission remains the primary cause of outbreaks of bTB in cattle. Badgers also suffer from TB and are able to transmit the disease to cattle however 94% of bovine TB in cattle is estimated to come from other herds. Controlling cattle-to-cattle transmission is likely to have a much bigger impact than controlling badger-to-cattle transmission.
Why are badgers being culled?
Badgers are being culled as part of a Government initiative to reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis in cattle. Pilot badger culls commenced in Gloucester and Somerset in 2013 amid much opposition.
As of 2019, there are 32 cull zones across England, including across Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset and Cheshire.
More than 300,000 people supported a petition opposing the cull. An Independent Expert Panel (IEP) was appointed by Defra to assess the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the 2013 culls. The panel deemed the culls 'ineffective' and 'inhumane' in 2013, with no significant improvement - and further failures - in 2014.
Despite two parliamentary debates, a prominent opposition campaign and the support of numerous experts and high profile figures, the number of areas has increased year on year. In September 2017 the Government announced the cull will be rolled out to 11 new areas, and they authorised two new supplementary licenses in Gloucestershire and Somerset. This brings the total number of badger cull areas to 21.
Why are you vaccinating badgers?
As owners of cattle ourselves for conservation grazing purposes, we are very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes in the farming community and the need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease.
However, we believe that a badger cull is not the answer. This is a cattle problem, not a badger problem. The control of bTB in cattle should be the main focus of everyone’s efforts to control this disease. The evidence shows that badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of TB in cattle, cattle-to-cattle contact is.
Efforts to control bTB need to shift away from badgers, however the vaccination of badgers has an important role to play. Badger vaccination has the potential to reduce badger-to-cattle transmission by lowering the occurrence of infection on the badger population.
Badger vaccination involves adult badgers and cubs being humanely trapped and vaccinated by trained and licensed people. Vaccination does not remove infected badgers, but it does reduce their ability to infect other badgers, (which will also be protected by the vaccine). Over time, the infected animals will eventually die off, and the prevalence of infection will be expected to decline.
Badger BCG vaccine alone is not the solution to bovine TB, but it does have an immediate effect with no known negative impact other than cost. We believe that our vaccination programme has made a worthwhile contribution towards finding a solution to a serious animal disease problem. We will continue to support our colleagues at the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust who will be undertaking vaccination until at least 2022 in a 50km2 strategic area of South Nottinghamshire and North Leicestershire. Click here for more information.
How effective is vaccination?
The Wildlife Trusts firmly believe that culling badgers is not the answer to the fight against bTB. A study found that only 1 in 20 cases of bTB herd infections are transmitted directly from badgers. The scientific evidence demonstrates that culling is likely to be ineffective in fighting the disease and, worse still, risks making the problem even worse.
In a clinical trial, the vaccine reduced the risk of vaccinated badgers testing positive for progressed infection by 76% and reduced the risk of testing positive to any of the available live tests of infection by 54%. The trial also found that when more than a third of the badger social group was vaccinated it even protected unvaccinated cubs – their risk of infection reduced by 79%.
Badger vaccination alone is not the solution to bTB, but it does have an immediate positive effect with no known associated negative impact on badgers or cattle.
How else can we stop bTB?
We believe tackling the disease should include the following measures
- Better biosecurity: all possible measures should be pursued to prevent disease transmission on-farm
- Stricter movement controls: to minimise the risk of spreading disease when cattle are transported
- Improved TB testing: to increase detection of the disease - currently, many infected cattle are missed
- Badger vaccination: support landowners to use the injectable BadgerBCG vaccine and continue development of an oral badger vaccine. Vaccination project are currently on hold due to a global shortage of BCG vaccine.
- Cattle vaccination: complete development of a cattle vaccine and secure changes to EU regulation to permit its commercial deployment
Some people say there are too many badgers. Do they need controlling?
There is no clear link between the density of badgers and rates of bTB in either badgers or cattle.
Badgers are a valued species in the UK, protected by law. 25% of the European population is found in the UK, so we have an international responsibility to conserve them. The removal of one animal from the ecosystem has knock on impacts. For example, large-scale badger culling also led to a doubling of fox numbers.
Badgers and their setts are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, which makes it illegal to kill, injure or take badgers or to interfere with a badger sett.
If you are aware that a badger or sett may have been disturbed, then please report it as this is a wildlife crime.
- If you witness a wildlife crime taking place, call 999
- For a non-emergency, call 101
Hedgehogs and badgers
Hedgehogs and badgers have coexisted for thousands of years. They have very similar diets and therefore compete for resources. Competition becomes more intense when food becomes scarce, and any pressure on the food supply may cause a shift from competition between badgers and hedgehogs to predation of hedgehogs by badgers. As with all predator-prey interactions, this is a natural and essential part of a functioning ecosystem.
The badger is considered a forager rather than a predator and in the UK its diet is dominated by invertebrates (mainly earthworms) and plant matter. However, badgers are opportunistic and will eat a very varied diet and make use of whatever is locally abundant. This can include slugs, snails, berries, acorns, grubs, fruit, nuts, bulbs, crops (particularly maize), small mammals, carrion and eggs.
I have contacted my MP to stop the cull. What else can I do?
Thank you for contacting your MP. Many people have had a standard response, others nothing at all.
If you are unhappy with your MP’s response, write to them directly or request a virtual surgery. You can find your MPs contact details here. If you do secure time with your MP you might like to take a look at our MP talking points spelling out the issues.
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