Drop the cull: the problem is bovineTB not badgers

Monday 24th March 2014

Vaccination cpt Neil Aldridge

The Wildlife Trusts today ask David Cameron - via an e-action petition - to drop the Government’s failed badger cull policy and develop an alternative strategy for tackling bovine tuberculosis.

 

We are today launching an e-action to ensure the Prime Minister feels the weight of serious public concern that any plans for continued and extended culling will make matters worse

Despite strong public opposition, a string of Government failures and MP recognition that an alternative strategy to deal with bovineTB is needed, plans to continue - and extend - badger culling - are expected this week.

The Wildlife Trusts today launch an appeal aimed at the Prime Minister to bolster support for alternatives.

According to yesterday’s edition of The Sunday Times, the Government’s badger culls are to restart this summer, with a third zone in Dorset added to the existing areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

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

“We are today launching an e-action to ensure the Prime Minister feels the weight of serious public concern that any plans for continued and extended culling will make matters worse.  The Government must take a long hard look at its policy and drop the failed culling approach to effectively tackle this disease.  The justification to continue, and further extend, culling in other counties will be totally unacceptable.

“If the news reported yesterday is confirmed later this week, it will reinforce serious unease that lessons are not being learned; that the basic facts and strong public opinion are falling on deaf ears with what can only be dire consequences.  We continue to push for badger culling to be dropped from the Government’s bTB strategy.  It must prioritise badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine.

According to The Sunday Times, an announcement by the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra), is expected this Thursday (27 March) along with the publication of the Independent Expert Panel report.  The newspaper also reported Defra is “planning another three years of culling in Gloucester and Somerset, for which licences have already been issued, and four years of culls in Dorset. Proposed culls in Cornwall and Devon are understood to have been dropped for now.”

Paul Wilkinson, added:

“Earlier this month, MPs overwhelmingly backed a motion calling on the Government to drop culling.  They listened to the views of the public, took into account the facts and backed alternatives.  It is long overdue for the Government to do the same.”

To sign The Wildlife Trusts’ e-action visit http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/dropthecull

Read Dr Gordon McGlone's blog on this issue

Notes for editors:

For more information and to see what action you can take please see http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/badgers

Find out about badger vaccination and donate to a Wildlife Trust vaccination project at www.wildlifetrusts.org/appeals/badgers

  • On 13 March, 219 MPs backed a motion calling on the Government to drop culling and instead vaccinate badgers
  • On 28 February, the BBC reported the culls had failed on effectiveness and humaneness
  • On 14 February revised Government statistics showed 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
  • In September 2013, over 304,000 people had signed an e-petition against a badger cull

Parliamentary debate and vote on the badger cull

Ahead of the vote in Parliament, The Wildlife Trusts, and other organisations, contacted MPs to encourage them to attend and vote in favour of an alternative strategy for deadline with bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The motion of badger cull debate in the House of Commons (13 Mar), put forward by Anne Main MP, was followed by a vote on whether the Government’s current policy should continue. At that time, The Wildlife Trusts strongly urged Government to drop culling from its bTB strategy and commission an independent expert review to examine how badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine can better tackle bovine TB.

The Independent Expert Panel

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 is expected to be published on Thursday 27 March. At the end of February, the BBC reported 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”.

Pilot badger culls failed

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

In February, the Government’s justification for a badger cull in England was seriously undermined by Defra’s release of revised bTB statistics.  These 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.

Badger vaccination

Organisations, including The Wildlife Trusts, are running badger vaccination programmes, with more than 180 trained and certified lay vaccinators in England and Wales. The Wildlife Trusts’ work on nature reserves and in partnership with farmers, vets and other landowners has demonstrated that vaccination is a practical, cost-effective option.

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.  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.

Tagged with: Species, Badgers, BovineTB, Culling