Badgers and bovine TB

Badgers and bovine TB

Culling badgers is not the answer to the bovine TB problem

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

Whilst we are very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes in the farming community, and of the need to find the right methods of controlling the disease, 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 Berks, Bucks and Oxon

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 Oxfordshire all lie within the Edge area. 

The government’s strategy for dealing with bovine TB in the Edge area includes supporting badger vaccination schemes. Culling of badgers is not permitted in the Edge area although the strategy is under review and DEFRA recently consulted on proposals to allow culling in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. Cattle in Oxfordshire and West Berkshire are currently subject to six-monthly testing for TB. **Julia to confirm this final sentence**

**Read our response to these proposals. - Include link to this page http://www.bbowt.org.uk/news/2018/03/08/wildlife-trust-response-possibl… - needs to be a new news story?**

Why BBOWT is against badger culling?

Having reviewed the scientific evidence available, along with other Wildlife Trusts, BBOWT strongly opposes the badger cull and will not permit culling of badgers on our land. 

What is BBOWT doing?

BBOWT own and manage cattle and understand the impact that bovine TB can have on farmers. We want to find long-term effective solutions for controlling the disease.

We run a programme to trap and vaccinate badgers on our key nature reserves in Oxfordshire and over a 20km2 project area in West Berkshire. 

Along with other Wildlife Trusts, we continue to urge the Government to drop badger culling from its bovine TB strategy and prioritise badger vaccination, a cheaper, more effective and humane alternative, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures.

BBOWT is working hard to influence government decisions on dealing with badgers and bovine TB by responding to consultations on government proposals, lobbying local MPs and raising awareness of the issues to landowners and the general public:

  • In March 2017 a debate on badger culling was held in Westminster Hall in response to an e-petition calling to end the badger cull, which gained more than 100,000 signatures. BBOWT lobbied local MPs ahead of the debate, highlighting facts on badgers and badger culling and advocating alternative approaches to controlling the disease. 
  • In March 2018 BBOWT responded to a DEFRA consultation regarding applications to cull badgers in Berkshire and Oxfordshire, expressing our concerns over the proposals.

What else needs to be done?

Badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of TB in cattle with research suggesting that 94% of cases in cattle are from other herds. It is therefore crucial that the disease is addressed in cattle and solutions to control the spread of TB should include: 

  • better biosecurity, 
  • stricter cattle movement controls, 
  • improved TB testing for cattle, 
  • development of a cattle vaccine

We can look to Wales as an example of how to deal with the problem of bovine TB. In January 2017 more than 95% of cattle herds in Wales are free from TB and this has been achieved through a programme of badger vaccinations, improved cattle tests and good farm management practices with no badgers killed.

What can you 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 bovine TB problem, but EU rules currently prevent it from being tested and used in this country. 

Become a member of BBOWT - the more members we have, the more effectively we can speak up for wildlife.

Frequently asked questions (updated June 2018)

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

No. Based on the scientific evidence to date, BBOWT does not support the culling of badgers and we will not permit culling to take place  on nature reserves that we own and manage.

Is BBOWT vaccinating in its own area like other Wildlife Trusts?

Yes. We are currently vaccinating badgers against bovine TB on key nature reserves in west Oxfordshire, and in West Berkshire where the vaccination project includes nature reserves, local authority land and private farmland.

How do badgers transmit TB to cattle?

Tuberculosis is a highly infectious disease of the lungs. Bovine TB may be transmitted between animals 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).

Although high rates of TB infection have been found in badgers (Proud and Davis, 1998), it is not clear how the disease is transmitted between badgers and cattle. A recent study found that the two species very rarely come into direct physical contact and concluded that transmission of the disease is most likely happening through the environment (Woodruffe et al, 2017).

This raises the possibility that cattle to cattle transmission also happens through the environment and contamination of fields and yards, as well as practices such as spreading manure and slurry, could play a significant role in spreading the disease. A study is currently underway to produce heat maps tracking the disease in the farm environment which will help to improve our understanding of how bovine TB is transmitted.

Is bovine TB infectious to other animals?

Yes bovine 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.

If The Wildlife Trusts support the killing of some species why do they oppose the cull of badgers?

Controlling 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. For example, as part of BBOWT's Water Vole Recovery Project, we support the trapping and humane culling of American mink at strategic sites to protect local populations of water voles.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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