An open letter to the farmers of Leicestershire, Rutland and Nottinghamshire

The UK Government is due to make an announcement of new areas for badger culling this September. We are concerned about the possibility of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire where we work closely with our sister Wildlife Trust being included.

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.  

Even in the best of times, farming is a difficult business and it is reasonable to rely on the government and your representative bodies to supply you with the correct advice and information to ensure your businesses best interests are covered.

But we believe you have been poorly served by the unsubstantiated, weak science behind culling.

The evidence has always shown that badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of bovine TB in cattle: the primary route of infection 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. 

We have long advocated for a long-term solution and, along with many others, were pleased to see the Government commitments to developing cattle vaccines, improving bio-security on farms, increasing and expanding badger vaccination and phasing out the culling of badgers.

We were extremely concerned, then, to hear of potential cull licenses being issued for Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire where we have been delivering a successful badger vaccination programme for five years, part funded by DEFRA. The risk of vaccinated badgers being shot in a cull was one of the many reasons the campaign run by our colleagues at the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust received the media attention and public support it did last year. Nothing has changed in 2020 and this risk is just as acute here in Leicestershire and Rutland.

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. It also said that one way to do this would be to establish a “Cordon sanitaire’ in defined at-risk parts of the Edge Area…”. Our Vaccination programme is focused on an Edge Area and it is ideally placed to put this policy goal into action. Having a cull in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire would undermine advancement of that goal.

Aside from the needless killing of an iconic species, one of the worst aspects of all of this is how poorly served the farming community has been by weak evidence and half-hearted policy changes. The livelihoods and wellbeing of farming communities are severely damaged by bovine TB outbreaks. You deserve more clarity and better leadership than what has been offered to date.

If you are concerned about bovine TB in badgers on land you manage, then there is an alternative. Badger vaccination is humane and is effective in preventing the spread of bovine TB in badger populations.

Given the widespread public opposition to the badger cull, the lack of evidence for it and the strongly held views of our 16,000 members in Leicestershire and Rutland, we feel our only option is to launch a public campaign to amplify these concerns. 

But I want to be clear to the farmers of Leicestershire, Rutland and elsewhere. You are not the target of this campaign. It is the misinformation and short-term policy that we oppose. It is causing harm to wildlife and does nothing to protect farmers.

If you would like to discuss bovine TB, badger vaccination or any other issue please contact info@lrwt.org.uk

Yours sincerley, 

John Clarkson

Head of Conservation

Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust

Badger

Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION