Stop scapegoating our badgers

Badger Close-Up by Darin Smith
Badger Close-Up by Darin Smith

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Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust Chief Executive Debbie Tann laments the government’s approach to culling badgers

The government’s recent decision to expand badger culling to new areas has caused dismay throughout wildlife conservation circles.

The evidence for badgers being the main cause of bovine tuberculosis (TB), and culling being an effective way of managing the spread of the disease was always flimsy at best.

Research suggests that less than six per cent of TB outbreaks are even caused by badgers – the reality is that the sale and movement of cattle to and from affected areas is the primary way in which TB is spreading.

It’s not clear how or why the government became fixated on killing off our badger population, but the results from the pilot aren’t looking positive.

The trials in Somerset and Gloucestershire found that trying to shoot three quarters of a local badger population is near impossible.

Worse still, culling badgers is not only a wasteful way of getting to the animals, it disrupts stable social groups causing individuals to roam much wider than they usually do, and increasing the risk of spreading the disease.

Interestingly the badgers culled in the recent pilots weren’t even tested for TB, so we’ll never know just how effective (or ineffective) the culling was at reaching individuals carrying the disease.

In comparison, a badger vaccine available since March 2010 has reduced the risk of badgers testing positive for the disease by up to three quarters.

It doesn’t disturb their setts like culling does, and through vaccination, we could reach herd immunity within five years.

We and other Wildlife Trusts have been vaccinating badgers over the last few years – including at four of our reserves - to explore how this can and should be a key part of how we manage the disease. In fact we’ve found that vaccination costs about £336 per badger, compared to an astonishing £3,350 per badger (excluding police costs) for culling.

This is particularly relevant to us because Hampshire is considered an ‘edge’ location – there is currently no evidence of badgers carrying the disease here, so we can get ahead of it by vaccinating widely and properly.

However, the government needs to have the political bravery to take the common-sense decisions on the main cause of TB - cattle movement. They need to seriously consider proper cattle management measures such as strict biosecurity, regular TB testing and movement controls, in order to truly tackle the disease – rather than scapegoating our badgers.

Find out more about the trusts’ work to protect badgers at wildlifetrusts.org/badgers