The rising badger death toll
Katie Dancey-Downs, Tuesday 20th December 2016
As 2016 draws to a close, a new report highlights the impact of badger controls. The latest figures from Defra show that badger culls in England resulted in 10,886 badger deaths between 29th August and 18th October alone. This is part of a government strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis.
A consultation is now open to consider the next steps for badger control in the areas where culls have already taken place. It looks likely that the cull will ramp up the pace, with environment secretary Andrea Leadsom suggesting 30 more culling zones. She claims that the control “is right and is working.”
Many believe that the badger cull is failing to address the real cause of bovine TB. One of those people is Dominic Dyer, chief-executive of the Badger Trust and policy advisor to the Born Free Foundation. He says: “The badger cull is built on three pillars of sand — incompetence, negligence and deceit — and will ultimately collapse as it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB, which is cattle to cattle infection.”
This latest round of badger culls was carried out in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Somerset. 5,219 badger deaths resulted from cage trappings, and 5,667 badgers were shot. The largest cull took place in one area of Dorset, where 3,000 badgers were killed. In addition, there were 14 self-reported instances of badgers being ‘wounded and lost.’ Far from a quick death, it’s possible that those badgers suffered serious injuries.
On Saturday 10th December, over 350 people turned out in Chester to march against the badger cull. It’s thought that Cheshire, a high risk area for the spread of bovine TB, may be a new area for the expansion of badger culls in 2017. Spearheaded by the Badger Trust, this peaceful protest was the 40th of its kind to be held in England since 2013. With that many people turning out to speak up for badgers, it’s difficult to ignore public opinion.
However, it’s more than just opinion standing in opposition of badger culls — science has a strong argument that badgers have little to do with the spread of the disease. Reports suggest that the spread of bovine TB may be less to do with badgers, and more to do with cattle to cattle infection. Dominic comments: “We could kill every badger in England, but bovine TB would continue to spread in cattle herds due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor biosecurity controls.”
A study of badgers killed in road accidents suggests that there is no evidence proving badgers are the culprits. Although there appears to be a link between the infection of both species, this does not mean badgers are responsible for infecting cattle. Even if infected badgers can spread TB, it’s unlikely that they get close enough to cattle for this to happen. A study into badger and cattle interactions in Northern Ireland shows no direct interaction between badgers and cattle, and demonstrates badgers actively avoiding cattle sheds.
Dominic, who authored the book Badgered to Death, believes that badgers are being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern intensive livestock industry. He says: “Recent changes to the cull licensing regime have made it clear this policy is now just a ‘numbers game’ based on indiscriminate and untargeted killing of this protected wildlife species. The government have abandoned any pretence of science or control.”
Dominic says: “By extending the disastrous cruel badger cull, the government is leaving the taxpayer to pick up an estimated bill of £100 million by 2020, for a policy which could risk the local extinction of a protected species which has lived in our Isles for over half a million years, without delivering any reduction in bovine TB for livestock farmers.”