Dec 232015
 

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The government is to relax the restrictions on its controversial badger culls as it rolls them out to new areas in 2016.

But a leading scientist has warned that the move makes it even less likely that culling will achieve its aim of reducing tuberculosis in cattle and could even make it worse.

The badger culls in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset met their kill targets in 2015, environment secretary Liz Truss announced on Thursday, although scientists had warned in October that the low targets set were unlikely to be effective. Truss said a worldwide shortage of TB vaccine has led to another strategy, badger vaccination, being halted in order to prioritise human health.

In the 2015 culls, 1,467 badgers were killed, with over half in the Dorset cull zone. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

“Badger control in the south west has been successful and we will enable it to take place over a wide number of areas next year,” said Truss. “Our comprehensive strategy to eradicate bovine TB through tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control is delivering results.”

Truss said the “low risk area”, which covers over half of England, was on track to achieve officially TB-free status by the end of 2019, the first time any part of the country will have achieved this status.

Over 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in England last year to control TB, costing taxpayers £100m. Badger culling, which began in Somerset and Gloucestershire in 2013, is a key part of the government’s strategy to tackle the problem. However, the architect of an earlier, decade-long trial of badger culling, Lord John Krebs, has described the policy as “mindless”.

The landmark trial showed that small reductions in TB were only achieved if more than 70% of badgers in an area were culled. A smaller proportion led to “perturbation”, in which unculled badgers roamed more widely, increasing TB infections in cattle.

The initial restrictions imposed on badger culling were to ensure 70% of badgers were killed and included having access to 70% of cull land, a six-week time limit on the cull and a minimum size of cull area. The government has now decided to abandon the time limit and access requirement and to reduce the minimum cull area.

“Overall, these changes seem to be designed to meet the short-term goal of ‘ticking the boxes’ to kill a certain number of badgers at lowest cost, while downplaying the associated impacts on cattle TB control, which are all negative,” said Prof Rosie Woodroffe, at the Zoological Society of London and one of the scientists who ran the Krebs trial. “Cheaper and easier culls are much less beneficial and can make cattle TB worse rather than better.”

The six-week cull deadline was proposed by the Department of Environment’s own science advisory council, said Prof Woodroffe. “We found that increases in badger TB after prolonged culls were 74% greater than those after rapid culls.”

She said reducing the land access required raises concern about badger welfare, as badgers have to be shot further from their setts. “When this was done in the [Krebs trial] it was associated with an increase in the estimated numbers of young cubs left to starve when their lactating mothers were killed.”

In the 2015 culls, 1,467 badgers were killed, with over half in the Dorset cull zone. The original culling plan was for free-running badgers to be shot by marksmen, a less expensive option than trapping the animals in cages first. But in 2015, only half the badgers were shot by marksmen.

The National Farmers Union welcomed the 2015 cull results, and said lessons had been learned from the first two years. NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “The desire [of government] to see culling carried out over a wider area of the country next year will be welcomed by farmers in areas where bovine TB is rife and where culling can play a vital role in disease control. It is vital that we use every option available to us so we have the best chance of controlling and eradicating this devastating disease.”

But Philip Mansbridge, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “The government is claiming success because the minimum number of badger deaths has been achieved [in 2015 but] that’s simply because they moved the goalposts and drastically reduced the targets. It is naturally shouting much less about the latest figures that show that new TB incidences have actually gone up by 7.75% in Somerset.”.

Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust said the cull had wasted £20m. “The claims by the NFU and pro-cull politicians that badger culling is delivering a significant reduction in bovine TB are looking increasingly bogus,” he said.

The Badger Trust said the Welsh government’s approach, which focuses on improved testing and movement controls in cattle and does not involve badger culling, had been far more successful. It said new incidents of bovine TB in cattle are down by 28%, with a 45% cut in the number of cattle being slaughtered.

This article was first published by The Guardian on 18 Dec 2015.


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Elizabeth Lewis-Cracknell

The overall health of cattle is due to management and husbandry, quite often it is the cattle that have infected the Badger population.

Elizabeth McCall

I'm no expert, but I would presume that, unless every TB carrying badger were killed, it would still be a problem, as the disease would spread. Even if you did kill every TB carrying badger, the healthy ones could get it from cattle and would have to be killed. So you would have to kill every single badger, which would wreak havoc on the ecosystem and be a great tragedy. So why not vaccinate?

Roselle Angwin

This barbaric practice is worse for the fact that it contravenes the science.

Bobby Balfour

Badger culling is just another instance of the government bowing and scraping to the NFU lobby. There are many biosecurity measures that farmers could take to lower the level of btb in their cattle. They're all listed on the Defra website but some would cost money and none are compulsory. A very simple measure is the disinfectant foot baths at markets and virtually none of the farmers use them. Cow-to-cow transmission is a much greater cause than badger-to-cow which has never yet even been proved.

Rosie Bliss

This is a disgrace beyond words, when will those who carry out this wicked practise be stopped; I wish I could see a way…..not in my name

Olga Raffa

woops! I voted no…I meant yes it should be stopped!- so minus one vote on the no's please. Poll ID #246

Mark Gritt

This cull is an absolute disgrace and should be stopped imedietly by this heartless slag Truss

Nancy Peak Schweiker

Yes

Tony Palmer

All the incompetent idiots in Governments should be culled and the Badgers put in charge. They could not make a worse job.

Hannah Lucy Louise Butterfield

It should be banned all hunting should be and killing animals just cause there a problem and there's loads is wrong

Athene Noctua
This government offers up badgers as a sacrifice and a scapegoat to its chums at the NFU. It knows, must know, that badgers have nothing to do with the spread of bovine TB, but effective measures would require hard work on the part of the livestock industry and the government working together. Stringent controls in livestock movement, strict adherence to best practice in the industry together with testing would work – that's what's been done in Scotland with NO culling. Scotland is now an official EU "region free of bovine TB". Why does England's government not wish to follow suit,… Read more »
Athene Noctua
This government offers up badgers as a sacrifice and a scapegoat to its chums at the NFU. It knows, must know, that badgers have nothing to do with the spread of bovine TB, but effective measures would require hard work on the part of the livestock industry and the government working together. Stringent controls in livestock movement, strict adherence to best practice in the industry together with testing would work – that's what's been done in Scotland with NO culling. Scotland is now an official EU "region free of bovine TB". Why does England's government not wish to follow suit,… Read more »
Maggie Brotherston
This is an absolute travesty which will have ramifications for years to come, notably the intrisic value of the countryside and it's delicate ecosystem. Goodness knows how a roll-out will now affect colonies further north, as in Scotland, – baiting & demonisation will surely become even worse here as a direct result of badgers being systematically & ruthlessly exterminated in England to make way for awful mega dairies, pheasant rearing facilities and development of green belt. This is a cruel, heartless, ignorant, pointless, greedy, expensive (to the taxpayers) mistake and does not have the backing of the British wildlife loving… Read more »
Dan Evans

it just guts me

Val Oprey
it is an evil and obscene act to condemn badgers when they do not cause Bovin Tb, if we culled the correct cause we would have very few Farmers left as they are the people who are dirty and negligent in their care of cattle…have you ever seen a clean farm? Foot and Mouth; Bovine Tb and Mad cows disease are all down to dirty and greedy farming practises, not wildlife. I feel there is a bigger notion with this government, far more to do with the economic value of the land than to do with eradicating Bovine Tb. This… Read more »
Karen Lyons Kalmenson

culling is a sick euphemism for culled, cold blooded murder.

Janet Margaret Lyon

It is cruel and inhuman and they is no evidence that badgers spread TB. Vaccinating makes more sence and is the way forward.

Helen Wood

Of course badger culls should be stopped. Their only purpose is to wipe out a much loved species.

Michele Grainger

Yes immediately!!!

Doreen Ogden

No scientific evidence that killing badgers will help eradicate btb and in fact could make it worse.Vaccinating protects badger and its family. Cattle and bad husbandry are the culprits in the spread of this disease.

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