The Wildlife Trusts response to today’s government announcement on the badger cull

Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

The Wildlife Trusts welcomes the government’s recognition of the importance of badger vaccination in their bTB eradication strategy but asks – is the badger cull really worth it?

Today the government released their annual figures on the year’s badger cull. In 2018, at least 32,601* badgers were culled across 32 badger cull zones in England. The badger cull has gone ahead for the first year in Staffordshire and Cumbria, in addition to the existing areas of Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset, Cornwall, Devon, Herefordshire, Cheshire and Wiltshire. 

Is the badger cull effective?

The Minister announced today that the badger cull has been “effective” in terms of the numbers of badgers culled over the specified area of land. However, we are still waiting for the promised peer-reviewed analysis of the bovine tuberculosis (bTB) incidence data in cattle. Robust evidence is still lacking to demonstrate that the badger cull is worth the loss of thousands of badgers and millions of pounds of public spending. 

Badger vaccination

The reopening of the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme 2 demonstrates the government’s commitment to moving away from the lethal control of the disease in badgers which was highlighted as “highly desirable” in the Godfray Review published last month.

There is robust scientific evidence to prove that badger vaccination reduces the transmission of bTB in badgers [1]. Several studies demonstrate that vaccinating badgers reduces the progression, severity and the likelihood that the infection would be passed on, once a badger is infected [2,3,4].

Biosecurity

The Wildlife Trusts believe that bTB is primarily a cattle problem, not a wildlife one [5]. The main route of bTB transmission in cattle is between cattle [5]. We welcome the news that the governments for England and Wales have set out 20 new actions to map out their commitment to improving biosecurity. We believe that strict biosecurity procedures are key to tackle this key route of the spread of bTB. Defra should provide as much support as possible to farmers to make sure these procedures and rigorous tests are in place. This announcement shows a move to refocus the efforts of bTB eradication away from wildlife, as was proposed in the Godfray Review.

Ministers must find the courage to end the cull and focus efforts on preventing transmission between cattle where the heart of the problem lies

 

Stephanie Hilborne, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts, says: "The impact of bTB on farmers is undoubtedly terrible. But the ongoing badger cull will not help anybody.  At least some value is now being placed on badger vaccination but Ministers must find the courage to end the cull and focus efforts on preventing transmission between cattle where the heart of the problem lies." 

The Wildlife Trusts will continue to work collaboratively to find the best way forward to lessen the impact of this devastating disease, in a way that works best for farmers and wildlife. 

 

*Data on the number of badgers culled in Areas 1 and 2 (in Gloucestershire and Somerset), and the Low Risk Area (in Cumbria) are yet to be released.

 

References

 

[1] M. A. Chambers, S. P. Carter, G. J. Wilson, G. Jones, E. Brown, R. G. Hewinson, M. Vordermeier, 2014. Vaccination against tuberculosis in badgers and cattle: an overview of the challenges, developments and current research priorities in Great Britain. Veterinary Record, 175: 90-96.

[2] Chambers, M.A., Rogers, F., Delahay, R.J., Lesellier, S., Ashford, R., et al. 2011. Bacillus Calmette-Guerin vaccination reduces the severity and progression of tuberculosis in badgers. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, 278: 1913–1920. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21123260

[3] Lesellier, S., Palmer, S., Gowtage-Sequiera, S., Ashford, R., Dalley, D., et al. 2011. Protection of Eurasian badgers (Meles meles) from tuberculosis after intra-muscular vaccination with different doses of BCG. Vaccine, 29: 3782–3790. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21440035

[4] Carter et al., 2012. BCG Vaccination Reduces Risk of Tuberculosis Infection in Vaccinated Badgers and Unvaccinated Badger Cubs. PLOS One, 7: e49833

[5] Badgers are responsible for around 6% of all new bTB breakdowns in cattle. See: Donnelly, CA & Nouvellet, P., 2013. The Contribution of Badgers to Confirmed Tuberculosis in Cattle in High-Incidence Areas in England. PLoS Currents: Outbreakshttp://currents.plos.org/outbreaks/article/the-contribution-of-badger-to-cattle-tb-incidence-in-high-cattle-incidence-areas/