Mark Car­war­dine

The con­ser­va­tion­ist dis­cusses the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the badger cull, and in­vites your thoughts on the sub­ject.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - CONTENTS -

The con­ser­va­tion­ist dis­cusses the badger cull

Claims that badger culling works seem to be based on cherry-pick­ing the data.

Bad­gers may have dis­ap­peared from the news – eclipsed by Brexit and cli­mate change – but they’re still be­ing slaugh­tered in many parts of Eng­land and Wales.

The UK Gov­ern­ment has au­tho­rised badger culls since 1975. First, they were gassed in their setts; now they are caught in cages (and shot) or hunted at night. Dur­ing the past seven years alone, more than £60 mil­lion has been spent killing up to 130,000 bad­gers. It is the largest mas­sacre of a pro­tected species in liv­ing mem­ory.

The rea­son is sim­ple: the farm­ing sec­tor blames bad­gers for pass­ing a highly in­fec­tious dis­ease – bovine tu­ber­cu­lo­sis – back to cat­tle. Bovine TB, as it is called, is a nightmare for many farm­ers and costs tax­pay­ers £100 mil­lion ev­ery year in com­pen­sa­tion (af­ter the com­pul­sory slaugh­ter of in­fected cat­tle).

But there is no con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that badger culling re­duces the in­ci­dence of TB in cat­tle. While some ar­eas where culling has been tri­alled have seen a de­crease in in­ci­dence, oth­ers have seen an in­crease.

The Gov­ern­ment’s own fig­ures show that, over­all, the prob­lem is ac­tu­ally get­ting worse. In 2005, 2,305 herds were in­fected and 29,824 cat­tle were slaugh­tered; by 2018, the num­bers had in­creased dra­mat­i­cally to 3,683 herds in­fected and 44,656 cat­tle slaugh­tered.

Claims that badger culling works seem to be based on cherry-pick­ing data from the Gov­ern­ment’s own un­sci­en­tific tri­als (in­ci­dences of bovine TB vary enor­mously from time to time and from one area to an­other, so it just picks the ones that suit its ar­gu­ment).

No one is deny­ing that bad­gers get TB. All Bri­tish mam­mals are sus­cep­ti­ble to the dis­ease. But what is so frus­trat­ing is that culling them is noth­ing more than a dan­ger­ous dis­trac­tion. It makes it look as if the Gov­ern­ment is do­ing some­thing con­struc­tive and avoids ad­dress­ing the real prob­lem – which is cat­tle-cat­tle trans­mis­sion.

Heaven for­bid sug­gest­ing that farm­ers them­selves may be partly to blame. So, the Gov­ern­ment ig­nores sci­en­tific and vet­eri­nary ad­vice – in­clud­ing ar­gu­ments that the cull is cruel and in­hu­mane – and kills more bad­gers.

The ter­ri­ble thing is that this dis­pute has been rag­ing for nearly half a cen­tury. Thirty-five years ago, I wrote a 111-page re­port en­ti­tled Bad­gers, Cat­tle and Bovine Tu­ber­cu­lo­sis, which rep­re­sented the views of many of the coun­try’s lead­ing con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tions, vets and badger ex­perts.

We rec­om­mended five cour­ses of ac­tion that still stand to­day: more rig­or­ous test­ing of cat­tle; fur­ther re­stric­tions on the move­ment of high-risk cat­tle; tighter biose­cu­rity on farms; cat­tle vac­ci­na­tion; and badger vac­ci­na­tion. If the Gov­ern­ment had taken our ad­vice – and the ad­vice of count­less ex­perts since – the prob­lem could have been solved years ago.

There is some move­ment in the right di­rec­tion. Hun­dreds of de­ter­mined vol­un­teers, for ex­am­ple, are busy vac­ci­nat­ing as many bad­gers as they can. And the Gov­ern­ment is in­vest­ing a rel­a­tively small amount of money in de­vel­op­ing a cat­tle vac­cine (ul­ti­mately the long-term so­lu­tion – the UK’s cat­tle are al­ready vac­ci­nated for as many as 16 dis­eases, so why should TB be any dif­fer­ent?).

But, mean­while, the cull con­tin­ues. Bad­gers are now be­ing killed across Corn­wall, Devon, Dorset, Wilt­shire, Som­er­set, Glouces­ter­shire, Here­ford­shire, Stafford­shire, Cheshire and Cum­bria, with more coun­ties likely to be added in the fu­ture (un­for­tu­nately, it feels as though the Gov­ern­ment tries to keep the de­tails se­cret).

It’s a na­tional dis­grace. The badger cull should be aban­doned im­me­di­ately, be­fore yet an­other one of our pro­tected species com­pletely dis­ap­pears from large swathes of the coun­try­side.

MARK CAR­WAR­DINE is a frus­trated and frank con­ser­va­tion­ist.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? If you want to sup­port Mark in his views or shoot him down in flames, email wildlifele­t­[email protected]­me­di­

Bad­gers are be­ing per­se­cuted, as they are able to spread bovine TB.

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