The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) is heartbroken by the news that badger culling is to be extended into seven new areas of England this year, including Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
Natural England announced on Tuesday that it was issuing new licences which will also allow the killing of badgers in Hampshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and two areas of Shropshire.
The licences allow for between 5,365 and 7,273 badgers to be shot with shotguns in those areas in an effort to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB).
Julia Lofthouse, BBOWT Mammal Project Manager, said:
"As a trust, we are absolutely heartbroken by this news. Badgers are magnificent icons of the British countryside and the emblem of the Wildlife Trusts, and our Government has allowed thousands of them be needlessly slaughtered.
"We do sympathise with the plight of farmers and know the hardship that bovine TB causes - but culling badgers is not the answer. The Government has seen no definitive benefits from seven years of industry-led culling of badgers in England. The science tells us the main route of bovine TB transmission is between cattle – not from wildlife such as badgers.”
Natural England has also authorised existing licence holders to resume culling in 33 existing areas this year - which will result in up to 75,930 badgers being killed.
The issuing of licences comes after the Government ran a public consultation at the beginning of this year asking for people's views on the proposal. With the support of The Wildlife Trusts, over 39,000 people responded to the Government’s consultation and 36,958 of those went on to email their MP urging the Government to stop issuing badger cull licences immediately.
Despite that, the Government announced in May that it would issue licences this year and next year. As licences last for four years, this means that badgers will continue to be shot until 2026. By the end of the cull, 300,000 badgers out of an estimated population of 485,000 may have been culled. Approximately 25% of the European population is found in the UK – The Wildlife Trusts believe that the UK has an international responsibility to conserve them.
The Wildlife Trusts are sympathetic to the great hardship that bovine TB causes the farming community but do not believe that culling badgers is an effective way of halting its spread. Accelerated research into cattle vaccination and improved testing regimes for cattle are urgently needed – and improved movement controls on cattle would minimize the risk of further spread of bovine TB.
Since 2014, BBOWT has been running a successful badger vaccination programme. The results have proved there is a much more humane way to tackle bovine TB that is also at least 60 times cheaper per badger than culling.