Stand up for badgers

Stand up for badgers

© Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Tim Birch, Director of Nature's Recovery at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, tells us why badgers need our help now more than ever.

In the last two weeks, almost 37,000 people have let the Government know their views on current proposals to carry on shooting badgers as part of the cull in England until at least 2025.

By the end of the cull, it's quite possible that nearly 300,000 badgers out of an estimated population of 485,000 will have been shot. That is a truly shocking thought for a species that is protected by law.

We take inspiration and comfort knowing so many people have taken the time to #StandUpForBadgers - and our badgers now need our help more than ever.

Below are just a few of the powerful comments that people have sent to the Government. The question is - are they listening?

Your views on the badger cull

"I believe it is so important to value all wildlife. It makes no sense to continue culling badgers when there is an effective vaccination programme that can be implemented.”

“I am so disappointed that once again my taxes are being wasted in funding an exercise that evidence shows will NOT be effective as a solution to tackling bTB. The scientific community has condemned culling and there is almost zero public support for this outside of the farming lobby. Please pause, reflect on the evidence, and do the right thing for wildlife, science, and public funds.”

“As a farmer myself I feel there must be a better solution than this badger cull.”

“As a scientist I have yet to see any proper justification for culling badgers. The whole policy appears to depend on assertions in the face of contrary data & evidence. The first step in controlling bovine TB ought to be the effective control of disease transmission by the agricultural industry. Only when the industry has really put its own house in order should there be any consideration of other measures.”

“It’s called bovine TB for a reason. It is from cows not badgers.”

“We should value our wildlife not kill it. Vaccinate the cows.”

The Wildlife Trusts are very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes the farming community and the need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease. The Wildlife Trusts have always been and still remain firmly opposed to the badger cull.

The role of wildlife in the transmission of bovine TB has been greatly overstated by the Government, which has resulted in the public and the industry being grossly misled on this matter. Bovine TB is primarily a cattle disease spread by cattle. Cattle to cattle transmission is the major cause of infection and spread of bovine TB. We believe that the cull is an ineffective tool in the fight and we see no strong evidence to support the justification of intensive culling of badgers in delivering a meaningful reduction in herd breakdowns.

Every badger could be shot in England, but bovine TB would still remain in cattle herds

The Government maintains that it is moving away from lethal to non-lethal control of badgers. But the grim reality – set out in the consultation paper - is that this will not be happening any time soon. Cull licences may be stopped from 2022 but the killing of badgers would continue for another 4 years as each licence runs its course.

Where will badgers be culled? 

Thousands more badgers face being shot this autumn. Natural England says it has recently received 12 licence applications/expressions of interest in respect to 2021 licensing. There are already more than 40 existing four-year licences which will continue through 2021, alongside new licences that may be granted. Areas where new licences may be granted include Berkshire; Hampshire; Herefordshire; Northamptonshire; Oxfordshire; Shropshire; Staffordshire; Warwickshire; West Midlands; Wiltshire and Worcestershire. In addition, Berkshire, Hampshire and Northamptonshire are all counties where culling could begin as early as autumn 2021.

Badger © Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION

Badger © Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION

What will be the impact?

What will be the ecological impacts of removing such large numbers of one of the largest remaining land mammals we have left, from the English countryside?

There is a real concern now that, by the time the killing stops, badgers may have become locally extinct across large swathes of England. That is a very disturbing prospect. And this all comes at a time when there has never been so much public awareness of the crisis that the natural world is facing - both at home and globally. We know too that more and more people want to see more wildlife in their lives, not less.

Nature needs to be restored, not destroyed.

Our involvement with this issue over a long period, particularly through badger vaccination programmes we’re working on, have led us to conclude that the best means of tackling bovine TB are:

  • a sustained programme of badger vaccination (where required);
  • deployment of a cattle vaccine, alongside improved biosecurity measures; and
  • improved testing and controls on cattle movement.

The ongoing large movements of cattle across the country continues to be one of the most significant factors in the spread of bovine TB. An improved testing regime is, therefore, central to any strategy for disease control and eradication. Cattle are still being moved around the country and due to the inability to detect all cattle infected with the disease, they can spread bovine TB. Is it any wonder that bovine TB is proving such a hard disease to eradicate in cattle?

This is not science-led policymaking

What adds salt to this wound is that there is no reliable peer-reviewed evidence to show that badger culling alone is having a significant impact on lowering bovine TB in cattle in or around cull zones.

The vast majority of badgers that are killed are never tested for bovine TB - so there is simply no scientific evidence to support the argument that badgers are heavily infected, which is the justification for the ongoing cull.

The reality is that the Government is intent on removing huge numbers of a protected species based on extremely weak science. It’s unacceptable.

High Peak Badger Group by George Hutton

High Peak Badger Group by George Hutton

Even vaccinated badgers are at risk

To add extra pressure on this already struggling species, there is an alarming and serious ongoing risk that vaccinated badgers can be killed in ‘Edge Areas’ for bovine TB through current badger control licences (and new ones that could be issued in 2021 and 2022).

The "no-cull buffer zones" proposed by the Government to protect vaccinated badgers are simply not large enough to stop vaccinated badgers wandering into cull zones and getting shot. It is just not possible to run culling alongside vaccination, which the Government is proposing, without the risk of increasing numbers of vaccinated badgers, vaccinated through Government funding and public donations, continuing to get shot.

This is an appalling waste of taxpayers’ money, which is helping to fund vaccination schemes, as well as a huge waste of the significant time and effort of vaccinators, many of whom are volunteers. And the costs of the badger cull to the tax payer continue to mount.

Current estimates are that, up to 2020, the badger cull has cost the public purse at least £47 million.

Yet still, killing huge numbers of badgers is seen as key to getting on top of the problem.

If the Government is serious about moving away from a cull and towards non-lethal control of badgers through badger vaccination, a policy and strategy on exactly how to achieve badger vaccination at scale across England needs to be developed - fast.

At the moment, this sort of detail is sadly lacking but it’s absolutely vital that a national badger vaccination strategy is rolled out urgently – and by 2023 at the very latest. We will continue to advocate for this and lobby the Government to deliver.

It’s also clear that the continual intensive culling of this species as a mechanism to truly tackle bovine TB is not compatible with the Government’s stated aim in the Consultation paper of “enhancing the environment and biodiversity.” It is a truly shocking state of affairs and represents one of the largest ever culls of a protected mammal to take place in this country.

What needs to happen?

The ongoing destruction of a protected species will do nothing to help tackle the global biodiversity crisis and undermines the Government’s commitment to be the first to leave the environment in a better state.

We are urging the Government to draw a line under this policy and stop any new cull licences from being issued. Allowing cull licences to be issued up to 2022 means that thousands of badgers will continue to be shot until at least 2025.

Every single response to the consultation matters and so we’re pleased to have been able to enable individuals to send in their own submissions, and incredibly grateful to see over 36,000 people take part. Thank you!

The huge public response helps demonstrate that people do care about badgers which is heartening, and further amplifies the voice we’re raising for this incredible, iconic species.

Our response

Read our response to the Government's consultation on bovine TB

Read our response here

Discover more about our badgers

Learn more about these creatures, and why we are opposed to the cull.

Learn more

Bertie Gregory/2020VISION