POLL: Should the UK Government be allowed to gas badgers?

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Secret government trials of gassing badger setts have been underway since the summer of 2013, according to documents released under freedom of information rules on Thursday. The tests, at an undisclosed location, are examining how the poisons carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide flow through complex badger setts. No animals or active badger setts have so far been involved in the tests, which are ongoing and have no end date.

The research follows serious failings in the farmer-led badger culls, which involve night-time shooting of free-running badgers. Photograph: Christopher Mills/Alamy

The research follows serious failings in the farmer-led badger culls, which involve night-time shooting of free-running badgers. The culls are intended to curb the rise of tuberculosis in cattle in England, which saw more than 26,000 cattle slaughtered in 2013. But the pilot culls failed to kill the target numbers of badgers and was not judged sufficiently humane by an independent panel, causing a planned wider rollout to be abandoned.

Gassing badgers with cyanide was outlawed in England as inhumane in 1982, but some farmers have called for gassing to return, as did Princess Anne in April. There have also been suggestions that some illegal gassing using vehicle exhausts already takes place.

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) response to the freedom of information request stated the trials aimed to “determine whether any available mechanisms have the potential to achieve humane and effective outcomes in real sett situations”.

In October, Owen Paterson told parliament: “Gassing is under consideration, but we will not use it unless it is proven to be safe, humane and effective”.

However, a Defra report in 2005 concluded that gassing “cannot be reliably expected to kill all the animals in a complex burrow system”. It also found that, even including carbon monoxide, “there are no currently available poisons that would be effective without causing deaths that would be considered markedly inhumane and/or significant risks to non-target wildlife”.

A badger sett. No animals or active badger setts have so far been involved in the tests, the government says. Photograph: Sam Frost for the Guardian

Until now Defra was understood to be looking at previous research on gassing but the revelation of active research has horrified animal rights campaigners. “Gassing has already been shown by research to not be humane,” said veterinarian Mark Jones, executive director of Humane Society International/UK.

He said sub-lethal doses caused suffering to the animals and that it had been shown to be less effective on badger cubs: “So you could end up with orphan badgers with all the welfare concerns that brings.” It could kill other animals that use badger setts, he added, such as rabbits, foxes, otters and even endangered reptiles like the sand lizards.

“We need Defra to come clean on why it is spending that public money on research into badger culling methods which have already been shown to be indiscriminate, inhumane and ineffective, and are in any event prohibited under international agreements,” Jones said.

But Minette Batters, deputy president of the National Farmers Union, said: “The government’s TB eradication strategy gives a clear commitment to tackling the disease in wildlife, so the NFU welcomes its decision to carry out research into methods of doing this as possible tools to be used in the battle to combat bovine TB. The disease continues to take a devastating toll on farming families both emotionally and economically.”

Badger expert Prof Rosie Woodroffe, at the Institute of Zoology in London, said: “The problem with gassing seemed to be that badger sets are built to hold warm air in and keep cold drafts out, so it was very difficult to achieve a lethal concentration of gas. And sub-lethal concentrations of gas were inhumane – that’s why ministers banned gassing in 1982.”

A Defra spokesman said: “Initial investigations into the use of gas as a potential culling method are taking place as set out in the 25-year strategy to free England of bovine TB, which includes plans for more sophisticated TB testing, developing cattle and oral badger vaccines, tighter cattle movement controls, badger vaccination in the buffer zone and badger culling in areas where disease is widespread.”

The eradication strategy also states: “Research into the application of fertility control [of badgers] using an injectable contraceptive is ongoing.” Defra is funding three current studies on contraceptive treatment for badgers, including one on the potential to develop an oral contraceptive.

Many scientists and campaigners have condemned the badger cull as a waste of time and money and argue that even stricter controls on cattle movements, better TB testing and vaccination are the only was to control the disease. In Wales, where badger culling was rejected in favour of the alternatives, TB in cattle is falling.

We invite you to register your opinion, whether the UK Government should be allowed to gas badgers or not.  Please vote and also leave your comments at the bottom of this page.

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The editorial content of this article was written by Damian Carrington for The Guardian.

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Rosalyn Cullan
Rosalyn Cullan

Well said Laura

Karen Crilly

NO

Jeni Jacques
Jeni Jacques

stop scapegoating wildlife, getting the farmers to clean up their acts has already proven to reduce btb in cattle .

Anna Beswick

Gary Nicholass I think you need to do homework contact Badger Trust they will tell you what Badgers eat, as for TB all animals and humans carry it or didn't you know??

Jill Domin

Totally agree with you Bumble. We should not be slaughtering our wildlife just to appease farmers!

George Holloway

Couldn't agree more, thing is even if you eradicated all the badgers you wouldn't solve the problem of cattle to cattle transmission. Animals would still need to be moved around to prevent inbreeding and just a few irresponsible farms are responsible for the majority of disease spread, as the recent models showed. Perhaps these cattle farmers should try and understand that this is a problem associated with intensive farming. They could easily switch to deer farming if they can't profit from cattle. It wouldn't require a huge investment as they could make use of the cattle sheds and pastures and… Read more »

Bumble Bina
Bumble Bina

This earth is the home of badgers too. It does not belong just to humans. When are we going to wake up to the fact that evading and killing is not a good traits of our species

Heidi Gardner
Heidi Gardner

It is cruel and we would not do this to humans so why do it to anaimals

George Holloway

Gary Nicholass how do you know they don't? We know from tests that a wide variety of mammals can carry TB, so it wouldn't be at all surprising.

Badgers and hedgehogs have co-existed in Britain for thousands of years. It is pesticides, loss of hedgerows, and habitat fragmentation that is responsible for the decline in hedgehogs.

George Holloway

Gassing would be hideously cruel as sub-lethal doses cause severe pain and a slow, agonizing death. We shouldn't even be culling badgers let alone gassing them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TyOiNYt5KQ

Judi Hewitt
Judi Hewitt

STOP KILLING BADGERS, ITS BARBARIC!!

Paula Heakin
Paula Heakin

Oh my, this Government really needs to take heed of what the professionals tell them, instead of dismissing all the evidence and research done now and in the past, It’s about time they conserve our beautiful natural wildlife.

Kim Sutterby

This must be stopped

Leigh Lofgren

I had no idea that badgers were being killed let alone this idea being considered. They are not the problem as has already been said and when does the stupidity end? Princess Anne? Seriously? This killing of these animals must be stopped and gassing should not even be an option…..are you all so sick?

Jonathan Cranfield
Jonathan Cranfield

It is an argument for mega farms where milk and beef is produced in biosecure farming units of 8,000 cows or more. Allowing the fields to regenerate to semi natural habitats. People giving up on their addiction to cow flesh and milk is a long way off so these mega farms seem to me part of the solution…(awaits backlash)

June Williams

No they should not be allowed to do it!

Sue James
Sue James

When are we as humans going to understand that nature has its own levels of intelligence, and will find its own way, nature should not be hurried, patience, is what we require, not intervention.

Helen Wood
Helen Wood

Gassing is illegal internationally because it is so cruel. Of course they should not be allowed to do it, but we should make it clear to them that they are NOT allowed to do it.

Phillip Anderton
Phillip Anderton

You are Eleanor – you ARE! 🙁

Lillian M Curtis
Lillian M Curtis

Culling badgers should not be considered! As for “gassing” don’t even go there!

Roger Weeks

Gassing is a disgusting weapon of eradication. It is banned for very good reasons and we seriously have to question the mentality and morality of a Government that presides over this most sinister and abhorrent of actions, whilst they Ignore the historical implications, the wisdom of the past and world opinion. I for one will never support the use of gas and if called upon will spend the rest of my days campaigning against any Government that choses to adopt it and I call upon our MPs to halt this research forthwith.

Shadowmoon Jewellery
Shadowmoon Jewellery

It's humans that are the problem, NOT Badgers!…Leave our wildlife alone!

William Norwood
William Norwood

Badgers are (or were) a protected species. Gassing on public land is illegal. This cursed government think they can ride roughshod over the law of the land. It`s the same with the unenforced hunting act. It`s time the good people of Britain stood up and said NO MORE

Lesley Jane Hazelhurst
Lesley Jane Hazelhurst

no

Philippa McKee
Philippa McKee

oh well if Aliens land and want to exterminate them.. we wont have much to say will we.. eh .. we can direct them to defra members and gov.. and tell them to sort them out first… of course Gassing is not right… but hey will they listen to the likes of us .. however if we vote them out we will have our say on the matter… vote Labour the only gov who did their best for the fox hunting and I know they helped me in the past and put on a coach to London from Berks when… Read more »

Donna Donz Hopton
Donna Donz Hopton

We should not be killing badgers in anyway!!! Considering Bovine TB can be carried by most mammals, including rats, farm bio-security needs increasing. We also need to be tackling the EU ruling over cattle vaccination or putting more effort into developing a cattle vaccine with a detectable marker to get round the EU ruling!!! This governement's attitude to wildlife is disgraceful!!

Natalie King
Natalie King

gary is an idiot

Natalie King
Natalie King

Gary Nicholass aren't u the only idiot here ..

GAvin Hodge
GAvin Hodge

Its outrageous that right thinking people would say gassing is done by badger baters and that a government that has continuously let down the people now believes that is the answer to Bovine TB will help. Inoculation and just leaving Badgers alone is the answer and that is what should be done.

Laura Fewtrell

Gary – firstly badgers only occasionally eat hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are endangered because their habitat is being eroded, they get killed on roads, they get poisoned by slug pellets and other pesticides. Secondly, any mammal can spread bTB, not just badgers yet badgers are getting the blame. Bear in mind this is BOVINE TB in the first place. Thirdly only 1% of TB cases in humans is spread from bTB.

Gary Nicholass

Ellie – badgers eat hedgehogs. Hedgehogs are an endangered species. Hedgehogs do not infect cattle with a disease that can be transmitted to humans. Kill badgers, save hedgehogs. Don't really give a shit about the humans because we're about 2 billion over the limit for the world. But I like hedgehogs. And I#ve got more guns than you.

Garnetstar Sparkle
Garnetstar Sparkle

its so sick, it seems this government wont be happy till they have irradicated our indiginous wildlife! its not our badgers that are the problem, its the bloody slurry pits on farms that a leden with the dam virous! first gign of rain brings up infected worms!!! the badgers staple food. Get your facts staight and treat the problem, dont kill our badgers!!!

Joan Lorenz
Joan Lorenz

Mass murder is what it would be. That's not legal.

Val Bridgewater
Val Bridgewater

The gassing of badgers was outlawed years ago and for very good reasons. We should be moving forward not backwards.

Daphne Ricketts Wood
Daphne Ricketts Wood

When is Cameron going to listen to the voices of the people !

Patty Peek-brady
Patty Peek-brady

Why do we feel that we need to kill off so many different species of animals on this planet horses badgers dear certain birds wolves it's got to stop

Elaine Davies

I still want to know why all cattle in the UK are not vaccinated against TB, and no one can give me the answer.

Fi Goldsmith
Fi Goldsmith

They shouldn't be killing badgers in the first place, Badgers are NOT the problem. Gassing has been banned for 30 years for a reason. Its considered absolutely abhorrent if used against humans so why do they think it is acceptable against animals. No better than the Nazis.

Eleanor Rachel Jade Hamilton

Its utterly sick that they are murdering our wildlife its disgusting makes me feel like im living in a country run by lunatics

Megan Lebasci
Megan Lebasci

Most wildlife and humans and domestic animals carry this disease so should we also cull all of these Mr Cameron?

Bob Bushell

It was a bunch of cats that carry the disease, possible. Therefore, no we shouldn't gas Badgers!!

Sue Baker
Sue Baker

All the evidence shows that badgers are not the problem, poor farm biosecurity and unreliable testing is. Gassing was banned for a reason, it's totally inhumane, cruel and not species specific.