Pilot badger culls extending with no scientific justification

Wednesday 23rd October 2013

Badger (credit: Don Sutherland)

Natural England today announced it will be extending the badger cull in Gloucestershire. The Wildlife Trusts believe that the granting of extensions to licences to cull is simply not justifiable.

With extensions now granted in both Somerset and Gloucestershire, The Wildlife Trusts believe this failure to meet required targets should lead the Government to abandon its culling policy.

Both pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire have failed to meet the key test of ‘effectiveness

Stephanie Hilborne Chief Executive Officer of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “In our view Natural England is being put in an impossible position. Now that this flawed approach has started, perturbation (and hence worsening of the disease) is almost certain. NE has apparently been advised by the Defra Chief Scientist and Defra Chief Veterinary Officer about this matter. Surely the whole purpose of a statutory agency with its team of experts is to give advice to Defra, not vice versa. The priority for Natural England should be to promote nature’s recovery not to license killing of wildlife to worsen a disease of livestock. Extending these culls further is the worst response to successive governments’ failures1 to prioritise the right approaches to control bTB. All their effort has instead been put into justifying the unjustifiable – a badger cull."

Both pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire have failed to meet the key test of ‘effectiveness’. In both areas, the removal of at least 70% of the estimated badger population in the six-week licence period has not been achieved. It is possible for the bovine TB problem to have been made worse, due to the ‘perturbation effect’. In the six weeks of the pilot cull in Gloucestershire, 708 badgers were killed, representing just over 30 per cent of the estimated local badger population of 2,350. The Government’s pilot culls had aimed to remove at least 70% of the population. Estimates of the badger population in each pilot area have been significantly reduced twice and still the pilot culls have failed to meet the conditions set out in Defra’s guidance to Natural England. The original population estimate in Gloucestershire was 3,644 in autumn 2012.

The Wildlife Trusts strongly oppose the pilot badger culls and any proposals for rolling out culls beyond this year

The Wildlife Trusts' Paul Wilkinson added: “Defra’s badger cull policy remains a distraction from tackling this devastating disease. The pilot culls have clearly proven that the necessary criteria cannot be met; there has been a failure to cull the target numbers of badgers and a failure to do so within the set timeframe. These failures, combined with huge uncertainties over the badger population’s true size in the cull zones, carry very real implications for remaining badger populations. They also run the risk of further spreading the disease from disrupted social groups of badgers, known as the perturbation effect. The granting of extensions to licences to cull by Natural England is simply not justifiable. Defra set out its strategy for a six week period; it has been a complete failure and the cull should be pulled. We are reiterating our calls for the Government to focus efforts on badger and cattle vaccination, stricter cattle movement controls and improved biosecurity.

The Wildlife Trusts strongly oppose the pilot badger culls and any proposals for rolling out culls beyond this year. This scale of culling of a native mammal, which is a valuable part of the ecosystem, is simply not justified by the small potential reduction in bovine TB incidence in cattle. The pilot badger culls The two pilot badger culls have failed to meet one of the primary conditions set out in Defra’s guidance to Natural England as follows: “In the first year of culling, a minimum number of badgers must be removed during an intensive cull which must be carried out throughout the land to which there is access, over a period of not more than six consecutive weeks. This minimum number should be set at a level that in Natural England’s judgement should reduce the estimated badger population of the application area by at least 70%” - Guidance to Natural England, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 14 December 2011, p.5

Successive governments’ failures1
Although Hilary Benn made a welcome decision against a cull in July 2008 this was ten years after labour assumed power.  His predecessors at Defra had spent far too much of that time asking civil servants to justify or question badger culling rather than in looking for alternative solutions.

The perturbation effect
Badgers typically live in social groups of four to seven animals with defined territorial boundaries. Culling disrupts the organisation of these social groups, increasing the risks of disease transmission as shown in the attached document. This is known as the 'perturbation effect'. The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB concluded in its final report (2007) that it was 'unable to conceive of a system of culling, other than the systematic elimination, or virtual elimination, of badgers over very extensive areas, that would avoid the serious adverse consequences of perturbation'.

Diagram showing the peturbation effect

Peturbation diagram

Tagged with: Species, Badger, BovineTB