Badgers update - autumn 2013

Tuesday 29 October 2013, 20:46

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones Excecutive Producer Springwatch

On Autumnwatch, we’re well aware that the issues surrounding the on-going badger cull have remained in the news and continue to be an emotive subject for many of you.

As usual, we are asking you to use the comments section below to have your say on the subject. We ask that you respect the views of others, even if they differ from your own. In the past we’ve found that people from both sides of the issue have brought interesting and useful extra insights and information to our blog, and we encourage this kind of contribution to a respectful discussion.

Some of you have asked why Autumnwatch and Springwatch hasn’t covered more of the badger cull story and asked why we haven’t taken a position on one particular side of the debate. As a BBC programme, Autumnwatch has to remain impartial, however much the subject impacts on audience feeling. To state a position on any political situation would compromise our ability to bring you high quality information that everyone can trust. This is vital for all BBC programmes, ourselves included.

It’s also worth clarifying that Autumnwatch is a nature series designed to give our audience insights into the science and biology of UK wildlife. It’s not a platform for political or topical debate regarding public policy, which is covered elsewhere on the BBC, particularly on BBC News output. The decision to licence a badger cull and the interpretation of the scientific results behind this decision are now matters of politics and policy and therefore out of scope for this series. We have, and will continue to, report on the science and biology.

With this remit in mind, we have set out below a series of links to short films, guest blogs, BBC news articles and official government documents that describe the scientific and biological background to the story. We’re also pointing you to the output of other BBC colleagues for further information on the issue and the latest news and debate on the politics and policy aspects of the story. We have set out to give you the impartial information that allows you to be fully informed and help you make up your own mind as to where you stand on the issue.

Autumnwatch 2013 has filed a new report where Martin Hughes-Games takes things back to the basics, looking at what it is in the very nature and ecology of badgers that has got them into trouble in their relationship with us humans – more than once - over the years, from badger-baiting to bovine tuberculosis. You can watch that here.

Back in 2010, We covered the original scientific research into how a cull might work. This was known as the Krebs Randomised Badger Culling Trial. Kate Humble talked to Dr Rosie Woodroffe, one of the scientists who undertook this work from 1998-2005, and looked at the results in some detail. You can see this film here

Since then, there has been a robust debate around the interpretation of the science behind the badger cull. To bring both sides of the issue right up to date, we have commissioned two new guest blogs to provide expert views of the scientific results that influence both government policy and the views of those opposing the cull. Two eminent scientists, Dr Rosie Woodroffe and Prof James Wood both work extensively in this area, and have contributed significantly to relevant scientific research. They recently co-authored a Royal Society review of scientific evidence surrounding badger cull trials. Read the blogs from Dr Woodroffe and Prof Wood below.

Many people from both sides of the debate have suggested that vaccination – of either cattle or badgers – may provide solutions in the future. In 2011, we looked at how badger vaccination might work – Martin Hughes-Games investigated. You can see this film here. More recently, our colleagues at BBC Countryfile have covered the cattle vaccination story – you can see this film here

For the official government position at the start of this process, we are linking to [hyperlink] the government’s approach to tackling bovine tuberculosis and the consultation on a badger control policy as well as DEFRA’s information about bovine tuberculosis - .

For even more background to the science and the cull, please click here for a BBC News Q&A on the badger cull.

As the cull began, the story turned to aspects of politics and policy. These have been covered extensively by our colleagues in BBC News Online. To give you easy access to these - from a special search page which constantly updates itself to give you the very latest stories - please click here

In addition, the BBC’s Inside Out West programme has covered the recent issues around the implementation of the cull, including a perspective on what it has been like to police the situation. You can see this film here.

Finally, bringing things right up to date, with the announcement last week that Natural England has granted a licence extension for the pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire, BBC Points West News covered the story here.

In this blog post, we have set out to present all of the films, blogs, news articles and official documents linked to above to provide the all broad, balanced and impartial information and insight you need to reach your own, informed decision on where you stand on this ongoing, complicated and emotive issue.

If you feel you have more to add, do please have your say in the comments section below. Once again, may we remind you to please be respectful of the opinions of others.

Many thanks,

Tim Scoones, Executive Producer, BBC Natural History Unit


Dr Rosie Woodroffe is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Zoology, London

Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is a major problem for cattle farmers, which deserves an effective solution. There is strong evidence to show that badgers transmit infection to cattle. Paradoxically, though, culling badgers contributes little or nothing to TB control.

Left undisturbed, family groups of badgers remain within their own fiercely guarded territories, prevented from wandering far by their equally territorial neighbours. Infected badgers interact mostly within their own groups, and so disease does not spread far. Culling, however, removes these natural constraints on transmission. This means that the proportion of infected badgers increases, and disease spreads across the landscape.

Even where culling reduces badger numbers substantially, declines in cattle TB are much smaller. This is because each remaining badger ranges more widely, so can interact with more cattle herds and is also more likely to be infected. As a result, where culls kill fewer badgers, cattle TB is increased.

As farmers in Somerset and Gloucestershire have been learning, culling large numbers of badgers is a challenge, but the stakes are high because culling too few will worsen the problem. So, culling is a risky proposition.

By contrast, vaccination is likely to drive infection in badger populations down, not up. Vaccination is also cheaper. The benefits for cattle are not yet known, but the only way to find out is to try.


Professor James Wood is Alborada Professor of Equine and Farm Animal Science, Department of Veterinary Medicine, University of Cambridge

Much has been stated in the polarised debate over killing badgers to control bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle. Both sides of the debate claim to have the support of science.

Scientists should produce and interpret scientific data. An individual can make moral judgements, but this needs to be done explicitly, distinguishing such views from scientific interpretation. Thus, it can be valid to believe that culling badgers is effective in controlling bovine TB, but that this fact does not provide a moral justification for doing so.

In high-incidence areas in Britain, bovine TB spreads in cycles between cattle and badgers. A recent review of the scientific evidence relevant to bovine TB control demonstrates the importance of the pattern of disease transmission, illustrated by a reduction of around 60% in incidents of bovine TB on farms involved in the random badger culling trials, 18 months after culling ended. No other control of the disease in cattle has been shown to have anything like such strong an effect. There is no study that has shown specific on-farm biosecurity measures reduce bovine TB. Although there are measures that can help to exclude badgers from farm buildings, it is unclear whether most transmission is inside or at pasture.

Controls that include badger culling have a scientific evidence base, and l describing the impact of culling as just 16% for bovine TB in cattle understates its importance. Many farmers are now being caught in the middle of the badger cull controversy with little evidence to guide their husbandry, despite what is widely claimed. This means they have no real ability to influence the risks to their herds from wildlife. More stringent cattle measures, such as radial testing around infected herds in the ‘edge area’, are already being implemented, but to date the media have not reported on these. Their impact may also take some years to become apparent.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    The overview was helpful; it gave a measured overview of the issues but I feel it didn't go far enough. The badgers are the scapegoats for the bTB spread - something which could be reduced by increased biosecurity and simple cleansing methods utilised in both fields and farms. When do you ever see water troughs cleaned properly? The badgers feed on both dairy and pheasant shooting land - which make them unpopular. As such the Government is appeasing its farming voters and killing, maiming, caging, gassing and poisoning this protected species for financial gain and to appease the hunting/shooting fraternity in its very midst. With a PM who shoots boar, enjoys hunting our badgers will continue to be prosecuted and killed whilst a scientifically proven vaccine would stop BOVINE TB in its tracts. Interestingly enough the infected meat still enters the human food chain ... the cull is travesty. Cruel and intent to wipe out badgers - indeed Patterson has already stated this intent. NO wildlife will be safe under his jurisdiction. It will be deer, foxes and otters next ... just wait!

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Anybody wishing to find out more and to see many posters that put available information in an easy to read format would do well to visit the facebook page TB Free England. There is new information added daily and it becomes obvious very quickly that eradicting btb is a very complex problem and cannot possibly be solved by simply culling infected cows and healthy/unhealthy badgers. Comparison to other countries is also not valid as each, apart from Ireland, are tackling a completely different species. Ireland is now looking at vaccinating badgers as culling there has not eradicated btb.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    'Kill badgers to save hedgehogs'what a load of tripe , these two species have been co-existing on this planet for thousands of years , its only man that has chosen to disrupt them ,

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    If you really want the facts listen to Dominic Dyer from 'Care for the Wild'.He will be speaking again on Saturday in Brighton.or by Facebook.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    an excellent programmes by why do Chris and Martin keep quoting kilometres - in this country ware are in MILES ........... they are driving me mad - they should know better - PLEASE PLEASE tell them to refer to miles

    many thanks

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Dear Team, thanks for another splendid series. I heard on BBC R2, a couple of nights ago (Simon Mayo show), that hoopoe's have been seen at Coventry - very exciting news. I last saw them in Menorca this year, along with the hummingbird hawk moth you featured on last nights show.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    URBAN BADGERS- Live just north of Brighton in Southdowns Village. For several years we had one large "silver-back"male visiting & Wildlife Trust advised feeding peanuts to discourage hole-digging in lawn. Now have additional under-fence burrow & seen new one. Village Pet Shop owner who goes out late to feed foxes has seen family, parents + 4babies walking along pavement to our house! Costs me a lot of peanuts. The obvious thing is not to cull but to find vaccine for cattle as you know where they are.Leave it to (dysfunctional)DEFRA & it will never happen.Farmers get compensated for TB lost livestock so they will not put pressure on for vaccine.They should protect livestock feed - that is where infection comes from as Badgers urinate on it. As usual they love to moan but are not easily parted from their money to instigate protection measures & through NFU, DEFRA keels over - hence wicked cull .

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    If we reduced our meat intake, there would be less cattle and probably less need to cull badgers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    hy, could you tell me where chris had his jacket from please, thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Reply to Gay re hedgehog predation. Sorry, as per previous posts you have been ill informed. Please check out the hedgehog society for facts. You will see farmers have played a substantial role in this. This old ploy is being used by DEFRA to win backing for the cull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Claire try reading
    " The difference in mortality between sites was due in large part to badgers , which accounted for seven Wytham and no Eynsham deaths. Badgers neatly skinned the hedgehogs, leaving only the dorsal coat of spines ."

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Can this be right? Having clearly lost the argument regarding the control of bTB, the NFU is now pretending that it is all about protecting hedgehogs? If the central issue were not so tragic this would be comical.

    I know that there are plenty of farmers who believe that they can make a living while working with nature rather than trying to destroy it. They should stand up and say so loudly. If they allow Paterson and the NFU to represent them they are in danger of completely alienating the public. Or don't they care?

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Farmern, reporting incidents in isolation , isn't scientific. I gave you positive rating, for your research effort. However the Hedgehog Society will say quite the contrary. Skinning of our protected species is becoming apparent. Skins being sold on eBay. I wonder if that is after the farmers have gassed them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    Sorry I thought “ Proceedings of the Royal Society” was a reputable journal , clearly you know better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    The 10 year study that the Labour party accepted in 2007 but which the Tories/Coalition have rejected is the Final Report of the Indepent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, called "Bovine TB The Scientific Evidence". It was at one time placed in the National Archives but it now seems to be on the DEFRA website here
    This is the report that has that key conclusion about "killing badgers can make NO MEANINGFUL CONTRIBUTION to eradicating TB in cattle" ..... I'm not just making his up, it's what the scientists found. This report also contains almost all of the answers to the questions posed in this Autumnwatch comment board.
    There are many further excellent resources for finding more information, notably the website of the Badger Trust
    There are many people passionately against the cull (or, let's not be coy, the KILLING) One project I can commend is that being run by DERBYSHIRE WILDLIFE TRUST. Visit this page to find a wealth of good information and exlanation about the whole issue. You can even DO SOMETHING to help the cause by donating to the appeal they have in place to do practical things to work against killing badgers. I've donated as much as I possibly can and thank DERBYSHIRE WILDLIFE TRUST from the bottom of my heart for doing this. I also thank the BADGER TRUST for taking the government to court at judicial review to do their utmost to challenge the legality of what is happening. Unfortunately, we seem to have a government at present that is not willing to listen to non-farmers.
    If any of the links I've quoted don't work, just "google" with a few suitable search terms and you'll find the pages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    ..... and as a flippant last comment - hey Chris, never mind the war films theme, why not FOOTBALL in honour of Owen Patterson's scholarly remark about why he was extending the cull period ("the badgers have moved the goalposts") Do you remember visiting a school in Wendover a few years back? I'm pleased to say the local badgers are still pooing well, no culls round here YET, thank goodness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Regarding the badger cull it is very hard to seperate the politics from what is happening to our badgers because it is quite clear that the cull is a political decision because all the science and expert opinion is being ignored.
    Somerset cull has know ceased but in Gloucester it unfortunately goes on until 18th December. Which brings me onto the fact that pregnant badgers will be shot because the breeding time is approaching!
    If this is corredt how absolutely disgaceful!
    We have also heard of reports that badgers are illegally being gassed, if this is going on how can we be sure how many badgers there actually are? So therefore how can the government say how many badgers need to be culled?
    Surely a combination of badger and cattle vaccine along with better bio security on farms is the way forward. Badgers are being used as a scapegoat, we must always remember it was cattle that gave badgers bTB in the first place.
    I would welcome comments about the fact the cull will be killing pregnant badgers in Gloucester. We must also remember that this is a pilot cull and if it is deemed successful it could be rolled out accross the country. I for one would do everything I could possibly do to sop this needless slaughter of our wildlife!

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    117.rhys “we must always remember it was cattle that gave badgers bTB in the first place”
    .Some evidence for this statement please, I’m not sure how anyone can know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Great programme so far but two questions; do starlings roost under roof tiles? As I know they nest under them, and my wife wants to know what is the cake and why hasn't it been eaten yet!

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.



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