Badgers and Bovine TB

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Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Badger vaccination. Photo by Tom Marshall.Badger vaccination. Photo by Tom Marshall.

Culling badgers is not the answer to the bovine TB problem

Latest news about badgers and bovine TB

6 July 2017 - Badger vaccination resumes

23 February 2017 - 108,319 people sign a petition to end the badger cull instead of expanding it into new areas

23 August 2016 - The Wildlife Trusts call for end to flawed badger cull policy 

23 August 2016 - Culls Extended to 5 new areas

3 September 2015 - Badger culls commence for 3rd season

17 April 2015 - British Veterinary Association withdraws support for free shooting of badgers

14 March 2014 - Backbench MPs vote overwhelmingly to stop the badger culls

28 February 2014 - Leaked report states culls were inhumane and failed to meet targets

 

BBOWT strongly opposes the badger culls and will not permit culling of badgers on its land.

Culling is impractical, deals with only a small part of the bovine TB problem and is not a precise tool.

BBOWT is very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes in the farming community, and the need to find the right methods of controlling the disease. However we believe that a badger cull is not the answer. 

For more information and facts about the science behind the badger culls, visit The Wildlife Trusts website which summarises some of the key scientific evidence on bovine TB, with papers available to download in full.

The impact on Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire

In 2013 the Government published its draft consultation document to eradicate bovine TB in England.

This divides England into High and Low Risk areas, with an Edge area between them.

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and most of Oxfordshire lie within the Edge area. But 72 parishes in west Oxfordshire are in the High Risk area due to the high number of incidences of bovine TB in cattle.

Click on the image to the right to enlarge.

Six BBOWT nature reserves are within the High Risk area.

Read The Wildlife Trusts' response to Defra's draft consultation document.

What BBOWT is doing

  • In April 2014 BBOWT set up a Mammal Project to vaccinate badgers on key BBOWT nature reserves. Several BBOWT staff trained with the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) to gain to be able to carry out badger vaccinations in a safe and humane way. Learn how a badger is vaccinated.
  • DEFRA launched its Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) in September 2014, offering match funding for vaccination programmes in areas where the disease is at greatest risk of spreading. This gave us an excellent opportunity to expand our scheme into Berkshire, which lies within the designated Edge Area between the high and low risk zones.
  • Following discussions with the Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) who provided us with information on the occurrence and spread of bovine TB locally, we identified an area of 15km2 in West Berkshire where vaccination would be most effective.
  • We successfully secured £45k funding from DEFRA to implement the vaccination scheme east of Newbury, covering Greenham and Crookham Commons and Thatcham Reedbeds, as well as West Berkshire Council sites and adjacent land in private ownership. During 2015 we also took over the vaccination operations at our Chimney Meadows reserve where the Badger Trust had been vaccinating badgers since 2012.
  • During 2015, BBOWT’s licenced vaccinators trapped and vaccinated a total of 46 badgers across Oxfordshire and Berkshire
  • In December 2015 the Government announced the suspension of sourcing of BCG vaccine for English badger vaccination schemes due to a global shortage of vaccine for humans. Vaccine was unavailable for the 2016 season and we were unable to vaccinate as planned.
  • In February 2017 DEFRA confirmed that it will continue to support Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) projects although it is unable to secure vaccine for the programmes in 2017. BBOWT are exploring the option of procuring their own vaccine whilst working with DEFRA on a comprehensive new BEVS agreement for 2018. 

What you can do

  • Email, write or tweet your local MP to ask them to continue to put pressure on the Government to scrap their cull plans and prioritise badger vaccination. 
  • Ask your MEP to press for the EU ban on a cattle vaccine to be lifted. A cattle vaccine is the long term solution to the bTB problem, but EU rules currently prevent it from being tested and used in this country. 
  • Become a member - the more members we have, the more effectively we can speak up for wildlife.

Pilot badger culls

For this reason, neither I, nor any farmer whose livelihood depends on cattle should be making this decision. Instead, we must rely on science. Good, solid, impartial, means-tested science. Read more.

Steve Backshall on the Badger Cull 

BBOWT and the Wildlife Trusts continue to urge the Government to drop badger culling from its bTB strategy and prioritise badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine.

The situation so far
The pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire, which began in 2013, were designed to test the 'free shooting' method of culling badgers, with the aim of removing at least 70% of the local badger populations within six weeks.
An Independent Expert Panel (IEP) was appointed by Defra to assess the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the 2013 culls. Further information on the role of the IEP and its membership is available here and you can download the IEP report here. The culls in 2014 were undertaken without an independent assessment.
The culls were deemed 'ineffective' and 'inhumane' in 2013, with no significant improvement - and further failures - in 2014.
As a result, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has withdrawn its support for the continued use of controlled shooting to cull badgers, calling instead for the culls to use the method of cage trapping and shooting only. BVA concluded that the results from the first two years of culling have not demonstrated conclusively that controlled shooting can be carried out effectively and humanely based on the criteria that were set for the pilots.
The pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset were authorised by Natural England to continue in 2015. An additional cull zone in Dorset was also licensed.
According to The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) the badger culls in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset were all ‘successful in meeting their targets' in 2015, with more than 1,400 badgers culled.

However, these targets have been widely criticised by leading scientists as arbitrary and deliberately set to be achievably low. Scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that culling badgers will not make any meaningful contribution to the eradication of bovine TB in cattle and the pilot culls in England have proven ineffective and inhumane.


Further rollout in 2016
On 17 December 2015, the Government confirmed it wants to see ‘badger control over a wider number of areas in 2016 and issued new guidance to Natural England that significantly relaxed the existing badger cull licence criteria. In August 2016, the government announced it will continue with the pilot culls and also extend these to 5 new areas, South Devon, North Devon, North Cornwall, West Dorset, and South Herefordshire.


The Government’s own cost-benefit analysis, which relies heavily on the results of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), indicates that the cost of each new cull zone could exceed the expected benefits by at least £1.49 million. The way that the pilot culls have been carried out to date is already significantly different to the methods used by the RBCT, and the newly relaxed licence conditions will ensure that any future culls bear little to no resemblance – meaning that they cannot be expected to deliver the same (minimal) benefits and are more likely to increase disease risk to cattle. 

 

Frequently asked questions, updated August 2016

Q1. Is BBOWT going to allow a badger cull on BBOWT nature reserves?

A. No. Based on the evidence to date of the previous trial badger culls and the lack of bovineTB on BBOWT nature reserves or in herds grazing land adjacent to them, there is no reason to cull badgers on nature reserves that we own and manage.

Q2. Is BBOWT doing vaccinations in its own area, like other Wildlife Trusts are doing?

A. In 2012 BBOWT commissioned the Oxfordshire Badger Group to start a five year programme of vaccinating badgers on Chimney Meadows nature reserve.

In April 2014 this year BBOWT set up a Mammal Project to vaccinate badgers on BBOWT reserves in west Oxfordshire.As part of DEFRA's badger edge vaccination scheme we extended vaccinations to a larger areas in West Berkshire.

Vaccinating badgers is a risk reduction measure only. It reduces the risk of badgers catching TB, resulting in fewer infected badgers. This is turn may reduce the risk of transmission from badgers to cattle. It is necessary to vaccinate badgers on an annual basis over a period of five years, most badgers have a lifespan of three to five years. More information on badger vaccination from Fera.

BCG vaccination reduces the severity and progression of tuberculosis in badgers. M. A. Chambers et al (2010).

Q3. Where is the research and evidence which says that it's the badgers that cause bovineTB?

A. Tuberculosis is a highly infectious disease of the lungs. BovineTB is transmitted between animals (cattle to cattle, cattle to badger and badger to cattle) through saliva, urine and faecal excretions on grass and soil. The bacterium resists desiccation and can remain viable for long periods in moist and warm soil. In cattle faeces it will survive up to 8 weeks. (Andrews, 1992).

High rates of infection have been found in badgers (Proud and Davis, 1998) and the consensus of scientific opinion is that badgers are a significant source of TB in cattle (Clifton-Hadley et al., 1995; Denny and Wilesmith, 1999; Eves, 1999; Martin et al., 1997; Martin et al., 1998). However, there appears to be a relationship between the type of landscape (e.g. southwest England) and the risk posed by badgers (White et al., 1993). More information on The Cattle Site.

Q4. Is bovineTB or TB in badgers infectious to other animals?

A. Yes. Information on the Defra website states: Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease of cattle. It is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), which can also infect and cause TB in badgers, deer, goats, pigs, camelids (llamas and alpacas), dogs and cats, as well as many other mammals.

Q5. If The Wildlife Trusts support the killing of species such as ruddy ducks and American mink, why do they oppose the cull of badgers?

A. Controlling some non-native species can sometimes be necessary where they are proven to threaten the conservation status of native wildlife. The Wildlife Trusts only support the killing of wild animals when a strong scientific case has been made for the impacts and where it would be effective and humane.

Q6. What is the current conservation status of the badger in the UK?

A. Badgers are one of only a handful of large native mammals left in the UK. They are protected by national and international law and are an important part of the nation’s biodiversity. The badger population had increased in the 1980s and 1990s following legislation to protect the species from persecution. The population is now thought to be stable at around 300,000 in the UK, although there are no up to date figures. One of the strongholds for the species is the south west of England. Here badgers may have reached carrying capacity, but in other areas, populations are at much lower densities. Importantly, the UK has 25% of the global population of the Eurasian badger Meles meles. We therefore have an international responsibility to conserve the species, and that includes protecting the range of genetic variation within the UK population.

Q7. Is the badger population out of control because there are no natural predators?

A. It is true that badgers in the UK do not have any natural predators, though elsewhere in Europe cubs may be taken by mammals such as bears and wolves. The main ‘predators’ for the badger in the UK currently are road vehicles. 50,000 badgers were killed on UK roads in 2006.