A badger cull is expected to be announced shortly and to begin across over 50 areas in England this autumn. A list of the cull areas, believed to have been leaked by Government, revealed several areas including Derbyshire appearing on the list for the first time.
The Wildlife Trusts oppose culling and believe the science used to justify the killing of thousands of badgers every year in the UK is flawed. A recent study by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has shown that a badger cull cannot be justified in Derbyshire, including in the Government’s own terms, because there is no evidence that TB is endemic in badgers in the county (1).
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust runs the largest and most established Government funded vaccination programme in the country and is concerned that a cull will result in vaccinated badgers being shot and disrupt the ability of the programme to expand, now in its sixth year.
Tim Birch, Director of Nature’s Recovery at Derbyshire Wildlife Trust said: “Earlier this year the Government said that it was committed to expanding and supporting vaccination of badgers and phasing out culling. Yet the reality is the complete opposite and for the first time badgers could be shot in Derbyshire this autumn. Hundreds of volunteers working on our nationally important badger vaccination project will feel betrayed.”
Bovine tuberculosis is a highly infectious disease of cattle which devastates thousands of farming businesses annually. Since the mid-1980s, the incidence of bovine TB in cattle has increased substantially creating an economic burden on the taxpayer and the farming industry, as infected cattle are culled. However badgers form only one small dimension of the ecology of the disease (2). Badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of bovine TB in cattle, which is via cow-to-cow contact. These cattle based factors are being increasingly recognised as drivers of the disease, particularly cattle movements and slurry management. (3)
Derbyshire Wildlife Trusts has written an open letter to farmers in which they say they have “been poorly served by the unsubstantiated, weak science behind culling”, see here. The letter adds, “We are very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes in the farming community and the need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease. However, we believe that a badger cull is not the answer and have been vaccinating badgers as a positive alternative.”
The Wildlife Trusts have long advocated for a long-term solution and were pleased to see the Government commitments earlier this year to developing cattle vaccines, improving bio-security on farms and phasing out the culling of badgers announced earlier this year. (4)
Tim Birch added: “Derbyshire Wildlife Trust ran a highly successful campaign last year and received huge public support which helped to stop a cull in Derbyshire. However, the threat to Derbyshire badgers remains unchanged. The science used to justify any shooting of badgers in Derbyshire is flawed. The Government has spent thousands of pounds supporting what they themselves claim is the flagship badger vaccination project in the county yet they appear to be on the brink of caving into pressure from the National Farmers Union and allow badger culling in Derbyshire for the very first time.”
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust are asking people to support their public campaign to stop the cull coming to Derbyshire by signing their online action and contacting their local MP here.
- Critical evaluation of the Animal and Plant Health Agency report: ‘Year End Descriptive Epidemiology Report: Bovine TB Epidemic in the England Edge Area – Derbyshire 2018’
E. Wright BVSc Cert VA Dip (AS) CABC MRCVS & S. Mayer BSc BVSc PhD MRCVS
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Sandy Hill, Main St, Middleton by Wirksworth DE4 4LR
- C. Donnelly and P. Nouvellet, “The Contribution of Badgers to Confirmed Tuberculosis in Cattle in High-Incidence Areas in England,” PLoS Currents Outbreaks, vol. 1, doi: 10.1371/currents.outbreaks.097a904d3f3619db2fe78d24bc776098 2013.
- A review of the government’s 25 Year Bovine TB (bTB) Strategy, led by Sir Charles Godfray,
In their response to the Godfray Report, which reviewed bovine TB control, the Government said that it wanted to move from lethal to non-lethal forms of disease control in badgers. One way to do this would be to establish a “Cordon sanitaire’ in defined at-risk parts of the Edge Area…”). Derbyshire forms part of the Edge Area and has the largest and most developed badger vaccination programme in the country. It is ideally placed to put this policy goal into action. Having a cull in Derbyshire would undermine advancement of that goal.
For a cull to be justified in the Government’s terms, bovine TB has to be shown to be endemic in badgers in the area. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has published this scientific review of the Government’s Animal and Plant Agency (APHA) evaluation of causes of bovine TB in cattle in badgers in the county. It showed that the methodology used to estimate the source of infection in outbreaks of bovine TB in cattle is subjective and biased, without clear evidence to support the claims of the level of bovine TB present in badgers in Derbyshire.