Somerset Wildlife Trust today express deep disappointment that badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire will resume this year.
Badger culling retains a high profile in the Government TB Free Strategy for England, published today, although Environment Secretary Owen Paterson also confirmed that culling will not be rolled out to other areas in 2014.
Tim Youngs, Head of Nature Reserves at Somerset Wildlife Trusts, said: “Although we are relieved to hear culling will not start in other counties, it is completely unacceptable that culling will continue here in Somerset. The evidence is clear; the pilot culls have been ineffective and inhumane. It is highly likely that they have already made the bTB situation worse, due to perturbation, and their continuation will serve to exacerbate the situation. "
In the last week, more than 5,000 people have signed The Wildlife Trusts’ e-petition asking David Cameron to drop culling badgers from the Government’s TB eradication strategy and instead focus on vaccination and other alternative measures.
Tim Youngs continues: “We want to ensure the Prime Minister feels the weight of serious public concern around continued culling. The Government must abandon its failed culling approach if we are to effectively tackle this disease. The TB strategy must prioritise badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine.”
To sign The Wildlife Trusts’ e e-action visit http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/dropthecull
Parliamentary debate and vote on the badger cull
Ahead of the vote in Parliament, The Wildlife Trusts, and other organisations, contacted MPs to encourage them to attend and vote in favour of an alternative strategy for deadline with bovine tuberculosis (bTB). The motion of badger cull debate in the House of Commons (13 Mar), put forward by Anne Main MP, was followed by a vote on whether the Government’s current policy should continue. At that time, The Wildlife Trusts strongly urged Government to drop culling from its bTB strategy and commission an independent expert review to examine how badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine can better tackle bovine TB.
Pilot badger culls failed
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
In February, the Government’s justification for a badger cull in England was seriously undermined by Defra’s release of revised bTB statistics. These 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.
Organisations, including The Wildlife Trusts, are running badger vaccination programmes, with more than 180 trained and certified lay vaccinators in England and Wales. The Wildlife Trusts’ work on nature reserves and in partnership with farmers, vets and other landowners has demonstrated that vaccination is a practical, cost-effective option.
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. 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.