Badger culls “ineffective and failed humaneness test”

Friday 28th February 2014

Badger cpt A Mason

In light of reports that pilot badger culls failed on the grounds of efficiency and humaneness, The Wildlife Trusts today strongly urge the Government to abandon plans to roll out its culling policy and find a better solution to tackling the devastating disease, bovine Tuberculosis (bTB)

An Independent Expert Panel was appointed by Defra to help evaluate the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of two pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire.  Its report has not yet been published.  However, the BBC today reports that its analysis found that “the number of badgers killed fell well short of the target deemed necessary.”  And “more than five per cent of badgers culled took longer than five minutes to die, failing the test for humaneness”.

The Wildlife Trusts understand that the independent panel’s findings will show a wider roll-out of this failed policy would be totally unacceptable.

The Government must take a long hard look at the panel’s findings and reconsider its policy on tackling this disease

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said:

“We understand the Independent Expert Panel report finds the pilot badger culls failed on the grounds of effectiveness and humaneness.  This failure reinforces our serious concerns that if unsuccessful the culls could make matters worse. The Government must take a long hard look at the panel’s findings and reconsider its policy on tackling this disease.

The culls were flawed from the beginning and this seems to be concrete proof. We look forward to the cessation of all rhetoric that culling should continue. We need to deal with bovine tuberculosis in a practical and meaningful way to support the farming community

Simon King OBE, The Wildlife Trusts’ President, said:

“The culls were flawed from the beginning and this seems to be concrete proof. We look forward to the cessation of all rhetoric that culling should continue.  We need to deal with bovine tuberculosis in a practical and meaningful way to support the farming community.”

The Government’s justification for a badger cull in England was also seriously undermined by Defra’s release of revised bTB statistics earlier this month which showed that the overall number of UK cattle herds infected with bTB in 2012-13 fell by 3.4%, rather than increasing by 18% as previously stated.  This raised serious questions about the quality of its record keeping.

The Wildlife Trusts continue to urge the Government to drop badger culling from its bTB strategy and prioritise badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine.

For more information and to see what action you can take, see www.wildlifetrusts.org/badgers-and-bovineTB

Notes for editors:

Ineffective badger culls
The pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire both failed to meet the key test of ‘effectiveness’.  The removal of at least 70% of the estimated badger population in the six-week licence period was not achieved.  Despite a three week extension in Somerset and five weeks in Gloucestershire, the percentages achieved were 65% and 39% respectively.  It is possible for the bovine TB problem to have been made worse, due to the ‘perturbation effect’.  This causes individuals to range beyond their usual territory and come into contact with neighbouring animals, increasing the risk of disease transmission.

Revised bTB statistics
The Government’s justification for a badger cull in England was seriously undermined by Defra’s release of revised bTB statistics earlier this month. Statistics showed that the overall number of UK cattle herds infected with bTB in 2012-13 fell by 3.4%, rather than increasing by 18% as previously stated.  The Government’s revised statistics are here. The greatest reduction in bTB in 2012-13 was seen in Wales, where an independent strategy of strict cattle measures coupled with badger vaccination has achieved a significant 23.6% decrease in the number of infected cattle herds – without culling badgers.  In contrast, bTB incidence in England increased by 1.7% during the same period.

Badgers and bTB
Most badgers are not infected with bTB.  Just 5.7% of outbreaks are caused by badgers.  These initial infections are amplified by cattle to cattle transmission. 83% of badgers culled during the RBCT were bTB free.  The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) is the largest study of bTB in badgers ever undertaken. It culled almost 8,900 badgers in TB hotspots between 1998 and 2005. The RBCT was designed, overseen and analysed by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle TB. The figure of 83% is taken from section 4.21 in the ISG Final Report which gave an infection rate of 16.6% in culled badgers and 15% in road-killed badgers tested 2002-5. None of the badgers culled in 2013 were tested for bTB. A full list of references is online at www.wildlifetrusts.org/badger-refs

Badger vaccination
Badger vaccination is a viable option and a strategic programme could make a real contribution to reducing levels of bTB infection: vaccinating a third of adult badgers reduces the risk to unvaccinated cubs by 79%; ‘herd immunity’ is achieved in five years, as infected animals die and the proportion of vaccinated individuals increases; it offers 54-76% reduction in risk of badgers testing positive for bTB.  The injectable vaccine has been available since March 2010. Find out about badger vaccination and donate to a Wildlife Trust vaccination project at www.wildlifetrusts.org/appeals/badgers

Earlier this month, Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Organisations, including The Wildlife Trusts, are already running badger vaccination programmes, with more than 180 trained and certified lay vaccinators in England and Wales.  Our work on nature reserves and in partnership with farmers, vets and other landowners has demonstrated that vaccination is a practical, cost-effective option.  The problem which must be addressed is bovineTB not badgers.  We strongly opposed the pilot badger culls and will continue to oppose any proposals for more. The 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.”

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