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 21.

    If we start getting into the debate over the badger eating what they find in a farmyard - and that they will eat other mammals- because they are carnivorous- then we are in a very sorry state of affairs!- We could argue that the badger lived on the land thousands of years before farmers came along!! What about the cost of the culls to the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds- despite the public voice being anti cull and the scientific evidence and previous culls showing this does not work ideed that it will make the situation worse?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Chris, I agree it's not the UK taxpayer who should pay for farmers loss of cattle- it's the farmers themselves who should take responsibility and use better bio security- it's your livelihood after all- why should I as a vegetarian UK taxpayer fork out for farmers pockets?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    With regard to the bovine T.B. in badgers, bearing in mind that the main diet of badgers is earthworms, is it not possible that the badgers are being infected from their food source ?. Having bred earthworms for a number of years, we know that earthworms have no known diseases, but can carry soil borne diseases.
    Has any work been done into this possibility ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    When is the "human race" going to stop blaming and persecuting all of the other species on this planet in order to hide our own greed and bad management. Badgers get Bovine TB because they catch it from the cattle NOT the other way around. Culling Badgers will not eradicate Bovine TB, where as better husbandry and movement of cattle, plus vaccination would go a long way to controlling it - this government decision was only made to placate the farming community in an effort to protect conservative parliamentary seats at the next election. How can we make Badgers a protected species on the one hand and then glibly change the law and allow them to be killed wholesale when it is financially more attractive to do so. We should hang our heads in shame. Slaughtering them is not the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    You mentioned that badgers can pick up bTb from foraging and showed cattle being tested for bTb with the skin reactive test method.
    But you failed to mention that the cow that proved positive was still in the herd at testing and that it had already infected other cattle within that herd. The newly infected cattle are not then detected during the incubation period and continue the infection within the herd.
    That is why 84% of infection is cattle to cattle.
    Better testing is urgently needed, such as the Gamma Interferon Blood test, 98% efficient.
    Please correct your oversight on the next programme.
    In the 1960's we eradicated bTb by culling the whole herd if one cow was infected and this prevented reinfection and transmission of the disease to wild animals. 10 years later they allowed bad practices to take place and give us todays mess. We are still trying to fight the disease as we have for35 years and we wonder why it is still spreading across the country

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Regarding the badger cull, the above blogs from the experts are very interesting but both blogs are not referenced. In order to provide a balanced view the public need to be able to find and read the various reports and literature cited by these experts, otherwise there is no way to check that what they are saying is in fact true. Please could a link to the various reports commissioned by the government in the past to assess the efficacy of badger culling be made available here for everyone to see?

    Otherwise, great show tonight!

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Well said Ron Riley! I totally agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Thank you for a balanced informative view on the badger cull. It's really sad that both these poor animals are suffering due to our insatiable appetites. I was under the impression that Bovine TB was a problem we created through intensive farming so it does seem terribly sad that the badgers are being massacred due to our bad husbandry. As our population continues to grow and our meat consumption increases I desperately hope we can come up with better more humane solutions. Surely the more cows, the more chance of Bovine TB spreading leading to the slow demise of the badger? Sadly, it feels if we don't stop to look at the bigger picture sometime soon, the badger may simply be another poor creature on the long list of animals bought to near extinction by the human race naively believing it is smarter than nature itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    It would be interesting to find out how bovine tb fares on places like Islay, where there are no badgers, but lots of cattle, with cattle traffic to and from the island to the mainland

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    As a life member of the Badger Trust, my views will be as anyone could anticipate. I draw people's attention to the ISG Final Report of the 10 year study and the key finding that "killing badgers can make no meaningful contribution to eradicating TB in cattle". If badgers are made extinct (as seems to be aim of this government and the NFU) there will still be problem with TB in cattle. The killing programme has ben a shambles with the government making up the law as it goes along. It simply is not good enough for Owen Patterson to rubber stamp an extension to the killing period by declaring it is because "the badgers have moved the goalposts". The Secretary of State simply has no grasp of scientific facts, evidenced by his other utterance that "global warming isn't all bad news". This government seem to have declared war on the Natural World, roll on 2015 when we can kick them out via the ballot box!! Lets hope there may be a few badgers still left alive by then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Nicky75 - bTB is mainly a problem in DAIRY herds so if one wants to boycot something, boycot dairy produce (milk, dairy, cheese, yoghurt etc)

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Thank you for your compassionate report. It gives me hope that the public will at last open their eyes to the fact that their money is being spent, as I write, on slaughtering many hundreds of healthy, innocent badgers. This cull is unscientific, immoral and totally shambolic and will not help farmers.... and is probably making matters worse. Get the facts and complain very loudly!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Humans caused this problem -Leave Badgers alone

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Slightly different point but, although I understand why badgers were originally protected, why do they still have protected status? Are they not like foxes in that they originally had their population numbers managed by wolves etc. which are now extinct, and therefore they now have no predator but man? Does anyone actually know the numbers of badgers in this country currently?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I know you kind of pointed out that it's BOVINE TB but I still felt there was an element of blaming Badgers. Badgers were here before Cattle, it's not the Badgers fault that cattle have given them TB. I was talking to a farmer recently who said farmers are quite happy with the compensation they get for their slaughtered cattle as this can be better than market price and when a large number have to be slaughtered it's like winning the Lottery. Badgers are being killed irrespective of whether they carry the disease or not and this is wrong. I really could have excepted a Badger having to be culled if it was carrying the disease but only 1.7% of a Badgers carry the disease but Owen Paterson is sentencing them all to death. All this is making folks dislike farmers, they already kill our hedgerows, ruin creatures habitats and kill our Bees, now it's Badgers! Why don't we just stop farming altogether and import everything, we obviously can't do anything without being selfish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Well said Ron Riley! Autumn Watch this really needs pointing out. bTB will not stop until they take the same route as Foot and Mouth disease. All cattle in a farm should be slaughtered if one cow gas the disease and then a long period should pass before wildlife is introduced again. But when you start looking at the fact slurry is from cows and that's all over the fields and sprayed everywhere........we don't stand a chance......but it's not the Badgers fault and we shouldn't be making the Badger lay the price of poor Biosecurity and poor husbandry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    once again a fantastic show...just watch a very informative video so thought i would share it with you all

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Fabulous program. Regarding the cull, innoculate not annilate. The cull is needless slaughter and in this day and age we should be better than this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I have had bovine tb and have an interest in the sccientific truths being identified. Autumnwatch's assessment was oversimplified. How do badgers infect cattle? Autumn watch fails to say that cattle are the prominent transmitters. No mention is made of dormant tb and the conditions, physical and psychological which render cattle susceptible to disease.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    There is still far too much slaughter of the badgers by baiters ,gassing ,poisoning, filling their setts in ,barbed wire put in the entrance , !! and this is out of the cull zones ..for a protected animal..this is monstrous.!


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