Government U-turn on promises to end badger culling

© Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION

Largest ever cull authorised this autumn – bringing the total shot to 35% of UK’s badger population

The Wildlife Trusts are aghast that more than 70,000 healthy badgers will be shot this autumn in the government’s largest ever seasonal cull. 

The move comes despite the government’s promise just six months ago to support badger vaccination and move away from shooting this protected species.

The cull will result in the deaths of badgers which have been vaccinated by volunteers in government-funded programmes. 

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust leads the country’s most extensive vaccination programme — Derbyshire is one of 6 new areas where culling has never previously taken place under government licences. 

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s CEO, Dr Jo Smith, says: 

“This is a staggering government U-turn and one which will result in thousands of healthy badgers being shot across England this autumn. 

“In March — following a review by Professor Godfray — the government promised to move away from lethal control. However, after seven years of badger culling, the government has failed to act on its own advice and is expanding its culling programme into new regions including Derbyshire, Oxfordshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire into what will be the biggest cull yet. 

“We are at a critical turning point for our natural world and this latest U-turn should set alarm bells ringing — culling is an outdated policy that seeks to eradicate protected wildlife rather than addressing the real problem which is the main cause of bovine tuberculosis (bTB): cattle-to-cattle infection. 

“Recent news that investment in a cattle vaccine is underway is welcome — but it is not enough. Moving the culling into areas where badger vaccinations have been taking place will also undermine this vital and under-funded work.” 

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust CEO Estelle Bailey says: 

“BBOWT remains adamant that a cull is not necessary for the control of bTB, if alternative approaches including vaccination are fully implemented. 

“Culling does not address the primary cause of outbreaks of bTB which is cattle-to-cattle transmission, and it undermines our vaccination programmes. Culling is outdated, ineffective and immoral. This government has repeatedly said it will be guided by the science, yet it seems to be ignoring its own advice.”  

The Wildlife Trusts’ latest campaign has resulted in over 14,000 people so far writing to their MPs raising concerns about the badger cull and plans to expand it into new areas. 

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. Evidence shows that bTB is primarily a cattle problem, not a wildlife one. The main route of bTB transmission in cattle is between cattle. 

This autumn’s cull brings the overall total of badgers shot since culling began in 2013 to over 170,000 badger deaths. This is approximately 35% of the UK badger population. The cull began in 2013 and is expected to continue for a further four years. 

Urban badger

© Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Editor’s notes:

References

A strategy for achieving Bovine Tuberculosis Free Status for England: 2018 review, led by Professor Sir Charles Godfray 

The figure for total estimated UK badger population is taken from Judge, J., Wilson, G.J., Macarthur, R. et al. Abundance of badgers (Meles meles) in England and WalesSci Rep 7, 276 (2017).

DEFRA publishes the annual numbers of badgers culled under licence for individual years.

Trusts have been vaccinating badgers in areas of Derbyshire, Shropshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Oxfordshire.

The 6 counties where culling is taking place for the first time are:

Derbyshire
Oxfordshire
Leicestershire
Lincolnshire
Shropshire
Warwickshire

The total 11 additional areas for this autumn are:

Avon
Derbyshire
Gloucestershire
Herefordshire
Oxfordshire
Leicestershire
Lincolnshire
Somerset
Shropshire
Wiltshire
Warwickshire

Badger culls have previously taken place in the following locations:

Avon
Cheshire
Cornwall
Cumbria
Devon 
Dorset
Gloucestershire
Herefordshire
Somerset
Staffordshire 
Wiltshire