An Open Letter to Somerset MPs about the extension of Badger Cull areas to the whole of Somerset

Badger - Jon Hawkins, Surrey Hills Photography

Somerset Wildlife Trust, Somerset Badger Group, Avon Wildlife Trust and Devon Wildlife Trust have joined forces to raise concern to local MPs about the extension of badger culling licenses in Somerset.

Ref: Extension of Badger Cull areas to the whole of Somerset

 

An Open Letter to Somerset MPs,

We are writing to you to raise our concerns about the announcement to extend badger cull licenses from the existing 43 areas to 11 new areas in England this autumn, including extending licenses and cull areas in Somerset.  We consider this to be a staggering Government U-turn which will mean by the end of this year, over 164,000 badgers could be killed since the start of the culling policy in 2013.

We welcomed the government’s announcement in its response to the Godfray review[i] in March 2020, to “phase out” intensive culling of badgers, support badger vaccination and develop and deploy a cattle vaccine.  The Government’s recent decision to give the green light to the cattle vaccine trials is a major step forward, but its intention to significantly expand badger culling this autumn, appears to be in direct contradiction to this stated promise.

Somerset Wildlife Trust work closely with the farming community so we hear directly from them how devastating Bovine TB is for both their livelihoods and for their families.  Somerset Badger Group have been working with farmers and landowners since 2012 successfully delivering low cost badger vaccination as a scientifically proven alternative to culling.

A modelling study (Donnelly et al[ii]) using data from the Randomized Badger Cull Trial (RBCT) suggests that the main route of bTB infection is cattle to cattle, yet the current bovine TB skin test for cattle is only around 60% accurate, leaving undetected reservoirs of infection within herds.   Since 2013 over 102,000 badgers have been killed with very few of these badgers being tested.  Those that were tested from both HRAs[iii] and the LRA of Cumbria[iv][v], confirmed that the level of infection in badgers was extremely low.

The Government has stated that badger culling has led to a significant reduction in bTB in cattle.  This is based on a study of 4 years of data (2013-2017) for West Somerset and West Gloucestershire carried out by Downs et al[vi], yet the report itself states that “these data alone cannot demonstrate whether the badger control policy is effective in reducing bovine TB in cattle”.  Improvements in cattle testing, cattle movement controls and biosecurity could also have been key factors.  Analysis of subsequent data released by APHA[vii] demonstrated that both the prevalence and incidence of disease in cattle herds in the Gloucestershire pilot cull zone were higher following five full years of culling than before culling began[viii]. While incidence had fallen in the Somerset pilot cull zone, prevalence among cattle herds remained static over this period, and in the Dorset pilot cull zone the prevalence increased by 20% over three years of culling.

We want to see an end to this disease in cattle and wildlife with non-lethal solutions based on sound scientific advice and evidence, specifically:

  • The rapid deployment of a vaccine for cattle.
  • Expansion of badger vaccination programmes including increased funding and information for farmers on the benefits of vaccination.
  • Improved cattle testing regime with increased use of the more accurate Actiphage and Gamma interferon blood tests.
  • Improved biosecurity on farms including recognizing and rewarding those farms with high standards.

Somerset Badger Group and Somerset Wildlife Trust, along with Wildlife Trusts nationally, are calling on the UK Government to act, and we are asking you for your support to:

  • Stop the policy of badger culling.
  • Invest in and rapidly advance the development and deployment of a cattle vaccine.
  • Expand the use of badger vaccination in all risk areas with increased funding and promulgation of the benefits to the farming industry.
  • Introduce an effective and more accurate cattle testing and movement controls regime.
  • Work with and support farmers to develop better farm biosecurity.

We want the farmers of Somerset to know that we understand the difficulties that bovine TB causes and that we want to support them.  We believe that the key actions we are calling on the Government to act on will support them without causing more harm to our wildlife.

Somerset Badger Group and Somerset Wildlife Trust would welcome an opportunity to discuss this with you in more detail.

Kind regards

Georgia Stokes, Somerset Wildlife Trust

Vanessa Mason, Somerset Badger Group

Ian Barrett, Avon Wildlife Trust

Harry Barton, Devon Wildlife Trust
 

[i] A strategy for achieving Bovine Tuberculosis Free Status for England: 2018 review, led by Professor Sir Charles Godfray

[ii] http://currents.plos.org/outbreaks/index.html%3Fp=22371.html Donnelly, CA & Nouvellet, P. PLoS Currents Outbreaks (2013)

[iii] TB surveillance in wildlife in England February 2018. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uplo… 

[iv] TB surveillance in badgers during year 1 badger control operations in eastern Cumbria, Low Risk Area (2018). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-surveillance-in-wi…

[v] Summary of 2019 badger control operations. March 2020

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-summary-of-badger-… 

[vi] Downs SH et al (2019) Assessing effects from four years of industry-led badger culling in England on the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle, 2013-2017. Scientific Reports 2019, 9, 14666

[vii] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/bovine-tb-incidence-of-tb-in…-

in-licenced-badger-control-areas-in-2013-to-2018

[viii] McGill I and Jones M (2019) Cattle infectivity is driving the bTB epidemic.

Veterinary Record, Dec 2019, 185 (22), 699-700