Badgers and bovine TB

The Wildlife Trusts have opposed the badger cull since it first started and no Wildlife Trust will allow badger culling on its land.

What is bovine tuberculosis?

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a highly infectious disease of cattle and one of the biggest challenges facing the farming industry today. Since the 1980s the number of cattle that have tested positive for bTB has increased substantially.  Infected cattle must be culled, which is distressing but also creates an economic burden on the farming industry and the taxpayer.  The majority of positive tests come from South West England but bTB is also present in Wales, the Midlands and in an isolated area of East Sussex.

The scientific evidence suggests that cattle can get bTB from direct or indirect contact with badgers (and vice versa) or other wild animals. However, badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of bTB, which is cow-to-cow contact. Cattle based factors are being increasingly recognised as drivers of the disease, particularly cattle movements and slurry management.

Why are badgers being culled?

Badgers are being culled as part of a Government strategy to reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle.

  • Pilot badger culls were started in 2013 in Gloucestershire and Somerset amid much opposition. 
  • An Independent Expert Panel (IEP) was appointed by Defra to assess whether the 2013 culls were effective, humane and safe. 
  • The IEP deemed the culls 'ineffective' and 'inhumane' in 2013, with no significant improvement - and further failures - when the pilot culls were continued in 2014. 
  • Despite this the cull zones were extended significantly from 2015-2019. 
  • As of September 2019 there were 42 badger cull zones across Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset, Staffordshire and Wiltshire resulting in 35,034 badgers being killed over 2019-2020

What does the Government say now?

An independent review in 2018 of the Government’s policies for eradicating bTB said that badger culling can have a "modest" effect in reducing tuberculosis in cattle, but urges the government to accelerate the development of non-lethal controls and an increased focus on cow to cow transmission. In March 2020 the Government published their response to the review stating that culling will begin to be phased out in the next few years, with vaccination and biosecurity methods increasing.

What does the Sussex Wildlife Trust think?