Adapted from an article originally published by Born Free (Tues, 9 Jan, 2024)
Around a quarter of a million badgers have been killed in England since 2013 in licenced cull zones that now cover roughly a third of England’s land area, as part of the Government’s strategy for tackling bovine TB in cattle.
The Badger Trust has today released a comprehensive report entitled: ‘Tackling Bovine TB Together: Towards Sustainable, Scientific and Effective bTB Solutions’, which calls the cull “an assault on a native species unmatched in British History”. The report details the history of bovine TB and government attempts to control it, emphasising that government policy in England over recent years has been heavily biased against badgers.
In the past, stringent cattle-based controls have led to significant reductions in bovine TB. Indeed, the disease was almost eradicated from the UK national herd in the 1960s before badgers were even identified as being susceptible. The scientists who conducted the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, which took place from 1998 to 2005 to establish the impact of culling badgers on disease in cattle, concluded that badger culling would make “no meaningful contribution to reducing TB in cattle”. Many independent studies have subsequently questioned the efficacy and ethics of culling. In Wales and Scotland, policies that do not include badger culling continue to show success in reducing and containing cattle TB.
As Professor David MacDonald from Oxford University points out in his commentary, published alongside Badger Trust’s report, the evidence that culling badgers is necessary or effective in controlling the spread of bovine TB among cattle is, at best, equivocal. He questions the ethics of continuing the culls, given the consequences for the welfare of badgers, the health of the wider ecology, and the considerable cost to the taxpayer. Professor MacDonald concludes that “…in 2023, much as in 2007, it is hard to see that killing badgers will make a meaningful contribution [to TB control in cattle].”
In spite of this, the Westminster Government, which is responsible for bovine TB policy in England, continues to insist that badger culling is a necessary ‘tool in the box’. A government consultation on introducing so called ‘epidemiological culling’, where badgers would be eliminated altogether in areas surrounding a cluster of bovine TB outbreaks in cattle, is widely anticipated.