Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Cull is tragic distraction to tackling devastating disease

 27th Aug 2013

Badge_WildstockAs the first shots of the badger cull are reported in West Somerset, Somerset Wildlife Trust warns that culling is a tragic distraction to tackling a devastating disease.

Simon Nash, Chief Executive of Somerset Wildlife Trust, said:  “We are very conscious of the hardship that bTB causes our farming community.  However science clearly shows that a badger cull is not the solution to bTB and, in fact, the shooting of badgers could make the problem worse here in Somerset.

“This cull is a distraction and gets in the way of implementing the right mechanisms to control this disease through improved biosecurity and the roll out of cattle and badger vaccines ­ a view shared by many landowners here in Somerset.”

The Wildlife Trusts have considered the evidence and issues related to the role of badgers in transmitting bTB over many years and urge Defra to prioritise badger vaccination programmes and the development of a cattle vaccine.  It should also divert the estimated £6m costs of licensing, monitoring and policing the pilot culls into a major programme of badger vaccination.

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, added:   “It is a sad day for the natural world.  We deeply regret that badger culls are proceeding despite the strength of scientific and public opinion against them.  No Wildlife Trust will allow culling on its land. 

“Anyone who feels duty bound to protest is urged to do so peacefully and respectfully, to the countryside and to the farming community.”

Somerset Wildlife Trust urge members of the public who may come across dead badgers not to touch or remove them.  Under no circumstances should people handle injured badgers ­ they can be very dangerous.  If found, call Secret World on 01278 783250 or RSPCA West Hatch 01823 253729.

Background to bTB campaign

Ahead of the Labour Opposition Day debate on the Government’s plans for a badger cull (Wed 5 Jun) The Wildlife Trusts emailed every English MP (more than 500) to set out our profound concern.   Individual Wildlife Trusts also met with their local MPs. 

Chief Executive Stephanie Hilborne OBE wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson MP, expressing the following points on this issue:

  • The Wildlife Trusts strongly oppose the proposed “pilot” badger culls and any proposals for rolling out culls beyond this year.  In our view this scale of culling of a native mammal, which is a valuable part of the ecosystem, is simply not justified by the small potential reduction in bovine TB transmission.
  • To achieve our goals we need to work closely with landowners and farmers, and we manage around 94,000 hectares of land ourselves including 20 working farms.  A cull risks dividing the conservation and farming communities who need to work together for the benefit of our natural environment.
  • We recognise the distress caused by herd breakdowns.  We do not take a simplistic or populist line over badger culling or any other issue.

The Wildlife Trusts have considered the evidence and issues related to the role of badgers in transmitting bTB over many years.  Defra should be prioritising badger vaccination programmes and the development of a cattle vaccine.  It should also divert the estimated £6m costs of licensing, monitoring and policing the pilot culls into a major programme of badger vaccination.

Scientific research funded by the Government has shown conclusively that badger culling, unless carried out in line with strict criteria including the requirement to be across very large areas, could be counterproductive.  Large-scale badger culling trials show an initial worsening of the disease due to perturbation.  Over the longer term, there may be a positive impact of a 12-16% reduction of bTB in cattle, but this still leaves at least 84% of the problem. Lord Krebs, who designed a previous trial, concluded that “culling is not a viable policy option”.

The problem is bovine TB (not badgers): The challenge is to control the disease. There is no single quick, cheap and effective fix. We recognise the seriousness of the situation for farmers but the emphasis of all our efforts should be to find a long-term solution.

Tackling the disease: should include the following measures:

  • Biosecurity: All possible measures should be pursued to prevent disease transmission on-farm.
  • Badger vaccination: Support landowners to use the injectable BadgerBCG vaccine. We also urge Defra to continue development of an oral badger vaccine.
  •  Cattle vaccine: Complete development of a cattle vaccine and secure change to EU regulation to permit its commercial deployment.

Vaccination - cheaper than culling

Trapping and vaccinating badgers, then releasing them, is cheaper.  The Welsh budget for the vaccination programme, being carried out by Welsh Government staff, is around £1million a year.  This is currently coming in slightly under budget.   The inefficacy and morals of killing badgers aside, a cull would be more expensive than vaccination, because Welsh Government staff would have to trap badgers, shoot them and dispose of the carcasses.  This is in addition to policing the culls and managing any public demonstrations.  Find out more about Wales’ plans here.

Photo: ©Wildstock