A badger cull is expected to be announced shortly and to begin across over 50 areas in England this autumn. A list of the cull areas, believed to have been leaked by Government, revealed several areas including Leicestershire appearing on the list for the first time.
The Wildlife Trusts oppose culling and believe the science used to justify the killing of thousands of badgers every year in the UK is flawed. A recent study by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has shown that a badger cull cannot be justified in Derbyshire, including in the Government’s own terms, because there is no evidence that TB is endemic in badgers in the county (1).
Over the last five years, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust in partnership with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has been running a successful vaccination programme in two strategic areas of Leicestershire, proving that there is a much more humane way to tackle bovine tuberculosis that is also much cheaper per badger than culling. The Trust is concerned that a cull will result in vaccinated badgers being shot and disrupt the ability of the programme to expand.
John Clarkson, Head of Conservation at Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust said:
"Bovine TB is a horrible disease with devastating effects on affected cattle, farmers and their livelihoods. However, we do not believe that culling badgers is the answer to the spread of the disease with evidence showing no scientific case for culling locally and our supporters have made it clear that they do not support culling either. The possibility that badgers could be shot in Leicestershire for the first time is devastating news, it will seriously undermine the long-term investment we and the public have made and risk the future of our vaccination programme.”
Bovine tuberculosis is a highly infectious disease of cattle which devastates thousands of farming businesses annually. Since the mid-1980s, the incidence of bovine TB in cattle has increased substantially creating an economic burden on the taxpayer and the farming industry, as infected cattle are culled. However badgers form only one small dimension of the ecology of the disease (2). Badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of bovine TB in cattle, which is via cow-to-cow contact. These cattle based factors are being increasingly recognised as drivers of the disease, particularly cattle movements and slurry management. (3)
Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust has written an open letter to farmers in which they say they have “been poorly served by the unsubstantiated, weak science behind culling”, see here. The letter adds, “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 and have been vaccinating badgers as a positive alternative.”
The Wildlife Trusts have long advocated for a long-term solution and were pleased to see the Government commitments earlier this year to developing cattle vaccines, improving bio-security on farms and phasing out the culling of badgers announced earlier this year. (4)
Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust are asking people to support their public campaign to stop the cull coming to Leicestershire by signing their online action and contacting their local MP here.
- Critical evaluation of the Animal and Plant Health Agency report: ‘Year End Descriptive Epidemiology Report: Bovine TB Epidemic in the England Edge Area – Derbyshire 2018’
E. Wright BVSc Cert VA Dip (AS) CABC MRCVS & S. Mayer BSc BVSc PhD MRCVS
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Sandy Hill, Main St, Middleton by Wirksworth DE4 4LR
- C. Donnelly and P. Nouvellet, “The Contribution of Badgers to Confirmed Tuberculosis in Cattle in High-Incidence Areas in England,” PLoS Currents Outbreaks, vol. 1, doi: 10.1371/currents.outbreaks.097a904d3f3619db2fe78d24bc776098 2013.
- A review of the government’s 25 Year Bovine TB (bTB) Strategy, led by Sir Charles Godfray,
In their response to the Godfray Report, which reviewed bovine TB control, the Government said that it wanted to move from lethal to non-lethal forms of disease control in badgers. One way to do this would be to establish a “Cordon sanitaire’ in defined at-risk parts of the Edge Area…”). Leicestershire, Rutland and Nottinghamshire form part of the Edge Area, Our Vaccination programme is ideally placed to put this policy goal into action. Having a cull in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire would undermine advancement of that goal.
For a cull to be justified in the Government’s terms, bovine TB has to be shown to be endemic in badgers in the area. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has published this scientific review of the Government’s Animal and Plant Agency (APHA) evaluation of causes of bovine TB in cattle in badgers in the county. It showed that the methodology used to estimate the source of infection in outbreaks of bovine TB in cattle is subjective and biased, without clear evidence to support the claims of the level of bovine TB present in badgers in Derbyshire.