Badgers and bovine TB
Culling badgers is not the answer to the bovine TB problem
In spite of its promise that the badger cull was being phased out, the government has announced new badger cull areas including, for the first time, Oxfordshire.
The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) is aghast that more than 70,000 healthy badgers will be shot this autumn across England in the government’s largest ever seasonal cull. This will bring the overall total of badgers shot since culling began in 2013 to over 170,000 badger deaths, or approximately 35% of the UK badger population.
BBOWT opposes culling and believes the science used to justify the killing of thousands of badgers every year in the UK is flawed. Evidence shows that bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is primarily a cattle problem, not a wildlife one. The main route of bTB transmission in cattle is between cattle.
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.
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. Initially culling of badgers was not permitted in the Edge area but in 2018 DEFRA consulted on proposals to allow culling in Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
In 2020 a licence was granted, stating that free ranging and cage-trapped badgers in Oxfordshire can only be shot within a designated cull area.
Cattle in Oxfordshire and West Berkshire are currently subject to six-monthly testing for TB.
Why BBOWT is against badger culling?
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.
- In September 2020, more than 600 of our supporters contacted their MP and asked them to stop the cull coming to Oxfordshire after a leaked paper revealed government plans to introduce it to the county for the first time.
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?
Frequently asked questions
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 can 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 TB infection has been found in badgers (Proud and Davis, 1998), it is not clear how the disease is transmitted between badgers and cattle and how commonly this occurs. A recent study found that the two species very rarely come into direct physical contact and concluded that any 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, with 50,000 badgers killed on UK roads every year.
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