In light of reports that pilot badger culls failed on the grounds of efficiency and humaneness, The Wildlife Trusts today strongly urge the Government to abandon plans to roll out its culling policy and find a better solution to tackling the devastating disease, bovine Tuberculosis (bTB)
An Independent Expert Panel was appointed by Defra to help evaluate the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of two pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Its report has not yet been published. However, the BBC today reports that its analysis found that “the number of badgers killed fell well short of the target deemed necessary.” And “more than five per cent of badgers culled took longer than five minutes to die, failing the test for humaneness”.
The Wildlife Trusts understand that the independent panel’s findings will show a wider roll-out of this failed policy would be totally unacceptable.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We understand the Independent Expert Panel report finds the pilot badger culls failed on the grounds of effectiveness and humaneness. This failure reinforces our serious concerns that if unsuccessful the culls could make matters worse. The Government must take a long hard look at the panel’s findings and reconsider its policy on tackling this disease.”
Simon King OBE, The Wildlife Trusts’ President, said: “The culls were flawed from the beginning and this seems to be concrete proof. We look forward to the cessation of all rhetoric that culling should continue. We need to deal with bovine tuberculosis in a practical and meaningful way to support the farming community.”
The Government’s justification for a badger cull in England was also seriously undermined by Defra’s release of revised bTB statistics earlier this month which showed that the overall number of UK cattle herds infected with bTB in 2012-13 fell by 3.4%, rather than increasing by 18% as previously stated. This raised serious questions about the quality of its record keeping.
The Wildlife Trusts continue to urge the Government to drop badger culling from its bTB strategy and prioritise badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine. For more information and to see what action you can take, see www.wildlifetrusts.org/badgers-and-bovineTB
Notes for editors:
Ineffective badger culls
The pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire both failed to meet the key test of ‘effectiveness’. The removal of at least 70% of the estimated badger population in the six-week licence period was not achieved. Despite a three week extension in Somerset and five weeks in Gloucestershire, the percentages achieved were 65% and 39% respectively. It is possible for the bovine TB problem to have been made worse, due to the ‘perturbation effect’. This causes individuals to range beyond their usual territory and come into contact with neighbouring animals, increasing the risk of disease transmission.
Revised bTB statistics
The Government’s justification for a badger cull in England was seriously undermined by Defra’s release of revised bTB statistics earlier this month. Statistics showed that the overall number of UK cattle herds infected with bTB in 2012-13 fell by 3.4%, rather than increasing by 18% as previously stated. The Government’s revised statistics are here. The greatest reduction in bTB in 2012-13 was seen in Wales, where an independent strategy of strict cattle measures coupled with badger vaccination has achieved a significant 23.6% decrease in the number of infected cattle herds without culling badgers. In contrast, bTB incidence in England increased by 1.7% during the same period.
Badgers and bTB
Most badgers are not infected with bTB. Just 5.7% of outbreaks are caused by badgers. These initial infections are amplified by cattle to cattle transmission. 83% of badgers culled during the RBCT were bTB free. None of the badgers culled in 2013 were tested for bTB. A full list of references is online at www.wildlifetrusts.org/badger-refs
Badger vaccination is a viable option and a strategic programme could make a real contribution to reducing levels of bTB infection: vaccinating a third of adult badgers reduces the risk to unvaccinated cubs by 79%; ‘herd immunity’ is achieved in five years, as infected animals die and the proportion of vaccinated individuals increases; it offers 54-76% reduction in risk of badgers testing positive for bTB. The injectable vaccine has been available since March 2010. Find out about badger vaccination and donate to a Wildlife Trust vaccination project at www.wildlifetrusts.org/appeals/badgers
Earlier this month, Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Organisations, including The Wildlife Trusts, are already running badger vaccination programmes, with more than 180 trained and certified lay vaccinators in England and Wales. Our work on nature reserves and in partnership with farmers, vets and other landowners has demonstrated that vaccination is a practical, cost-effective option. The problem which must be addressed is bovineTB not badgers. We strongly opposed the pilot badger culls and will continue to oppose any proposals for more. The 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 incidence in cattle.”
The Wildlife Trusts (TWT)
There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK. All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch. Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas. We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife. Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors. Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas.