In 2012, the UK Government decided to conduct a pilot cull of badgers in England in a misguided attempt to solve the bovine TB crisis. They intended to do this by shooting badgers as they roam during the night: an untested, inhumane method.
This despite the fact that a 10-year study performed by The Independent Scientific Group on bovine TB, which cost taxpayers £50 million, concluded that culling badgers would make no meaningful contribution to bovine TB control in Britain and could indeed increase the spread of the disease.
Pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire began on 26 August 2013 despite Parliament voting against the plans in 2012 and huge opposition from leading scientists, animal welfare organisations and the general public.
If you think the Government is shooting in the dark, please write to Secretary of State for Defra, Owen Paterson, to voice your opposition.Have you written to your MP?
Network for Animals is a non-profit organisation fighting to protect animals internationally. Founded by veteran animal welfare activist Brian Davies, who made his name braving dangerous conditions to end the slaughter of baby seals in Canada, NFA has long been concerned with the plight of badgers in Britain.
We are campaigning against a cull because culling can never be a humane solution. If the cull goes ahead thousands of badgers, mostly uninfected, will be shot as they roam freely on the land. This untested method will not only result in setts being disrupted and badgers killed, but many more will be injured and go on to experience a slow, painful death.
Culling is a needless and inhumane practice which will unsettle and divide rural communities and, crucially, will not achieve the goal of eradicating TB in cattle.
As a non-profit animal welfare organisation, Network for Animals relies entirely on your support to fight cruelty to animals in the UK and overseas. If you would like to donate to our campaigns, please click here.
To date our campaign funds have been spent on contributing towards legal challenges against the cull, funding vaccination projects in Somerset and Cornwall, supporting a small badger rescue organisation in St Ives, producing a short film about badger vaccination, lobbying MPs, producing campaign materials for regional activist groups and running online public awareness campaigns such as this site.
The British Badger
Badgers are an instantly recognisable symbol of the British countryside. They make their home in woodland areas, often near pasture. They are social animals, living in large underground tunnels called setts. These tunnels can be centuries old. There are over 90,000 badgers widely distributed across the UK, most commonly in the south and south-west of England.
Although badgers are protected under the Protection of Badgers Act (1992), there is a provision which allows them to be killed to prevent the spread of disease.
Badgers and TB
Although bovine TB (bTB) is an infectious disease of cattle, it can also infect badgers, deer, goats and pigs, as well as many other mammals. In 2010 the Government spent £63m in England on addressing the disease. The same year 24,899 cattle were slaughtered for bTB control. The staggering economic impact of bTB has been a key motivator in the hunt for a solution and badgers have become the prime target by those wanting a quick-fix solution.
Despite the desire to blame badgers, a 10-year study performed by The Independent Scientific Group on bTB (ISG) at the behest of the previous Government, which cost taxpayers £50 million, concluded in 2007 that following a careful review of all currently available science, "badger culling is unlikely to contribute positively, or cost effectively, to the control of cattle TB in Britain." (section (iii)1, p.23 of Final Report of the ISG on Cattle TB).
The ISG trial, or 'Krebs Trial', conducted by the previous Government is the largest peer-reviewed scientific study into the culling of badgers and has been broadly ignored in the development of badger cull policy. Lord Krebs, the respected scientific advisor who oversaw the trial, called the current plans 'crazy'.
Since coming into power in 2010, the Coalition Government has cancelled four out of the five vaccination trials set up by the previous Government.
After conducting an impact assessment, Defra decided to commence a pilot cull of badgers by granting licences to shoot them as they roam during the night rather than trap them. Experts argue that not only is this method untested but also has the potential to be far less humane and targeted.
An optimistic interpretation of the predicted results of the cull using the Government’s chosen method puts reduction in bTB at between 12-16% over nine years, meaning at least 84% of the problem will remain after thousands of badgers are killed.
The Pilot Cull
The pilot cull was due to take place in parts of west Gloucestershire and west Somerset in Autumn 2012 before being rolled out to other areas pending its results.
Following a hard fought campaign over the summer which included legal challenges, a parliamentary debate in which the House voted against the cull and increasingly high profile opposition, the Government announced that the beleaguered cull would be delayed until Summer 2013.
Culling began in Gloucestershire and Somerset on 26 August 2013.
Trials researched by the Bow Group have shown vaccination to reduce the incidence of positive serological TB test results by almost 74% and leading figures say that culling is not the answer.
We are calling for greater investment in sustainable and humane alternatives which are more likely to achieve success. These include:
- Effective implementation of biosecurity on farms
- Improved cattle welfare
- The vaccination of badgers and cattle
In summer 2012 a cattle vaccine and associated DIVA tests for differentiating between infected and vaccinated cattle became ready for licensing. The lack of a viable vaccine has often been cited as the reason to cull badgers. In light of the new research and need for field trials of the vaccine, we believe the vaccination of cattle should be treated as a top priority for this Government if they truly wish to eradicate bTB.
Shooting badgers 'humanely' is technically difficult. The recommended target area over the heart is small, and obstructed by the foreleg with every step. Wounded badgers will inevitably escape to die slow, painful deaths. The survivors are likely to flee, spreading the disease with them into new areas. The best available scientific evidence indicates the decrease in bovine TB will be very small, even without such spread. A much greater effect would be achieved by stricter cattle testing, controls on cattle movement, and vaccination. The badger-shooting stance of the Conservative Government clearly reveals its contempt for wildlife and the wishes of the overwhelming majority of British citizens, who clearly do not support such wanton, and ineffective, cruelty.
Dr Andrew Knight is a Diplomat of the European Veterinary Specialty College for Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law, and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. He practices veterinary medicine in London.
You have a very distinguished scientist working with an expert panel to sort things out. The committee, headed by Lord Krebs, have done that and they say killing badgers will not make the situation better, except in the very short term, and will almost certainly make it much worse. So I'm with that.
Sir David Attenborough
(interview with Radio Times)
The last government's massive culling trials demonstrated conclusively that badger culling has such a small impact on TB in cattle that it's next to useless. It's clear that vaccination of badgers and cattle must be advanced as swiftly as possible in preference - anything else is bad for farmers, bad for wildlife and bad for taxpayers.
Chairman, Bristol West Conservatives and member of the Bow Group
Although badgers have been granted a temporary reprieve we want the Government to hear the public opposition loud and clear so the culling of badgers becomes a political disaster and will be stopped once and for all.
What can you do?
Write to Owen Paterson
Write to Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs using the widget on the home tab. He is responsible for the decision to conduct a pilot cull and will have to pay attention if enough people contact him on this issue.
Contact your MP
Contact your MP. MPs recently held a backbench debate on the cull and voted overwhelmingly against the cull. Many said they only attended the debate because their constituents were concerned. Please remind your MP that the issue is not permanently resolved and request they maintain pressure on Defra for alternatives.
Write to the supermarkets
Write to the supermarkets. Consumer pressure is a powerful tool and we need to urge supermarkets to take a strong stance on the badger cull. Why not tell them that you will refuse to buy milk that comes from farms where badgers will be culled?
Share this site as widely as possible
Write to local tourism bodies in Gloucestershire and Somerset
The specific locations of the two pilot cull areas being kept secret by the Government but we know that the majority of the Gloucestershire area lies near Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean, while the Somerset area includes part of Taunton Deane. For a cull to take place, at least 70% of landowners in the cull area need to allow access to their land.
A group of landowners in Stroud, the Stroud 100, have shown that people can join together to effectively block a cull on their land. If you live in those areas, write to your local council and ask them to refuse culling on council land and join together with your neighbours to say NO to a cull on your land.
Do you live in Somerset or Gloucestershire?
The specific locations of the two pilot cull areas are being kept secret by the Government but we know that the majority of the Gloucestershire area lies near Tewkesbury and the Forest of Dean, while the Somerset area includes part of Taunton Deane. For a cull to take place, at least 70% of landowners in the cull area need to allow access to their land.
Groups like Stroud100 and Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting have shown that people can join together to effectively block a cull on their land. If you live in those areas, please get in touch with the Stroud 100 to ask them to how you can lobby your council to refuse culling on council land and join together with your neighbours to say NO to a cull on your land.