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 an infectious disease of cattle and one of the biggest challenges facing the farming industry today. It is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis, which can also cause TB in badgers, deer, goats, pigs, llamas and a wide range of other mammals.

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 first badger to be found infected with bTB was a road casualty animal in Gloucestershire in 1971. The scientific evidence suggests that cattle can get bTB from direct or indirect contact with badgers (and vice versa) or other wild animals.  It is not know what proportion of bTB in cattle arises from badgers, and estimates range widely (1).

The Sussex Wildlife Trust is very conscious of the hardship that bTB causes in the farming community. As livestock owners ourselves, we understand the impact of this disease and want to eliminate it. However, we are convinced by the scientific evidence presented that killing badgers is not the answer (2,3,4).

Find out more about badger vaccination and why we believe this is a more effective way forward.

Why are badgers being culled?

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

  • Pilot badger culls were started in 2013 in Gloucestershire (Area 1) and Somerset (Area 2) amid much opposition. 
  • More than 300,000 people supported a petition opposing the culls.  
  • An Independent Expert Panel (IEP) was appointed by Defra (the Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 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 two parliamentary debates, a prominent opposition campaign and the support of numerous experts and high profile figures, badger culling was extended in 2015 to include a new area in Dorset.  
  • In August 2016, the Government announced seven new badger cull licenses across three new areas (Cornwall, Devon and Herefordshire) for a further extension of the badger culls.
  • In September 2017, the Government licensed 11 new cull areas and authorised two 'supplementary licenses' for culling to continue in Gloucestershire and Somerset.  
  • There are now 32 badger cull zones across Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset, Staffordshire and Wiltshire.  
  • In 2018, at least 32,601* badgers were culled across these 32 cull zones. 

*Data on the number of badgers culled in Areas 1 and 2 (in Gloucestershire and Somerset) and the Low Risk Area (in Cumbria) are yet to be released.

Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Position

We are very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB (bTB) causes in the farming community and the urgent need to find effective mechanisms to control the disease. However, we believe that a badger cull is not the answer.

The scientific evidence demonstrates that culling badgers is likely to be ineffective in fighting the disease and may even make the problem worse. We believe the emphasis of all our efforts should be to find a long-term solution and we are calling for the Government to end its policy of culling badgers.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust believes that action to address bTB should be based on clear scientific evidence that can be effectively applied in practice. Therefore our position is that:

  • The Sussex Wildlife Trust does not support a cull of badgers. We do not believe this will deliver a significant and sustained reduction in TB in cattle.
  • There is a very real risk that culling badgers will exacerbate the spread and incidence of bTB in the badger population due to the 'perturbation effect'.
  • This is a cattle problem, not a badger problem. The control of bTB in cattle should be the main focus of everyone’s efforts to control this problem. The scientific evidence shows that badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of TB in cattle: the primary route of infection is cow-to-cow contact.  
  • A vaccine for cattle should be a priority. The Government has failed to develop a vaccine to protect cattle from TB.  Cattle in the UK are already vaccinated for up to 16 diseases, so why should TB be any different?  
  • The badger cull is scientifically unsound. The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries & Food announced in December 2018 that the badger cull has been “effective” in terms of the numbers of badgers culled over the specified area of land.  But its impact on the incidence of TB in cattle remains unknown.  We are still waiting for the promised peer-reviewed analysis of the bTB incidence data in cattle to answer the question: does culling badgers reduce the level of TB infection in cattle? Robust evidence is still lacking to demonstrate that the badger cull is worth the loss of thousands of badgers and millions of pounds of public spending.

Find out more...

References

1. Patterns of direct and indirect contact between cattle and badgers naturally infected with tuberculosis. Drewe et el (2013)
2. Genetic evidence that culling increases badger movement: implications for the spread of bovine tuberculosis. Pope et el (2007)
3. Culling-induced social perturbation in Eurasian badgers Meles meles and the management of TB in cattle: an analysis of a critical problem in applied ecology. Carter et el (2007)
4. Culling and cattle controls influence tuberculosis risk for badgers. Woodroffe et el (2006)