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 41.

    Stew Wallace, far more cows are killed each year because they have mastitis, lameness, aren't producing enough milk or are simply born male. The number of cows lost through btb is a drop in the ocean. The government also sells btb meat into the food chain. The number of cows slaughtered due to btb has also been declining steadily since January this year, before any badgers were shot, due to improved biosecurity rules brought in by the EU. Killing badgers will NOT solve the btb problem in this country!

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    How does killing healthy badgers improve TB rates in cattle? Isn't there away to identify which setts have TB and which don't?

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    Comment number 43.

    Reply to Judi Hewitt - 1 There is no cattle vaccine. 2. I thought the report was very fair (well done BBC!) 3. Are you vegan by any chance?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Unfortunately the majority of comments on here are anti farming or that 'we don't have the right to kill any animal'. This emotive line of thought does not address the eradication of tb. While I am for the cull I do not want to see the last badger and I don't believe anyone does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    It would be good for Autumnwatch to continue giving factual information, when there is so much contradictory information being bandied about. So Autumnwatch, monitor these blogs carefully and periodically correct any misconceptions and untruths.

    Exactly how do badgers transmit BTB to cattle? Is this actually known and scientifically proven?

    Do badgers really kill new born lambs? Is that a fact? Or are they eating ones that are already dead?

    Let's raise the profile of basic farm hygiene too. Have you ever stared into a water trough by a footpath and noticed the stagnant soup frequently to be seen there? How does this help cattle to remain healthy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    It was good to see the badger cull debate reawakened as it seems to have largely vanished from the news.
    There can be no real argument that the weight of serious scientific opinion ( that hasn't been paid for by the government) is that killing badgers would at best only make a very small difference to BTB. So the cull is happening for other reasons. I think that firstly blaming badgers means that farmers avoid taking any responsibility for the spread of disease. It must also be pointed out that those most loudly supporting the cull are the very same people who also loudly championed fox hunting.
    Farmers not involved in this slaughter should label their produce as ' badger friendly' to give the public a real choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Reply to ben reavey - tb in Derbyshire cattle but no tb has been found in badgers here. so clearly herd to herd transmission.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Reply to adrain52 - So Professor James Woods is wrong? Emotional propaganda against cull and the eradication of tb is not helpful.

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    Comment number 49.

    Reply to Mark Coldrick. Professor Woods is a vet who I imagine cares much for farmers and little for wildlife.. Would you rank his opinion over that of Lord Krebs?I do not deny that BTB is a big problem, but other areas such as Scotland and Wales are managing it without the apparent need to slaughter wildlife. The labelling that I suggested would allow those farmers who have chosen a different route to gain benefit from their choice and those who have chosen the Mr Paterson ' if it moves kill it' route to see that there is a cost to that

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Reply to adrian52 - To cast Professor Woods in such a dim light is a pity. tb simply hasn't reached the northern parts of the country. Wales is NOT managing tb well at all. Your argument is made redundant with your opinion of Owen Patterson and merely points to the fact the animal rights lobby are the most vocal on the topic and simply use the tb crisis as a vehicle to vilify farmers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Reply to Mark Coldrick. The isle of man has BTB and no badgers. Should farmers there imporst some so they have something to blame?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Roger, Badgers can quite happily live with tb. It rarely kills them and evidence suggests only 1% are secretors and can actually pass on the disease to others. They are the scapegoats and the real problem is poor animal husbandry and bio-security by farmers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I am disappointed that Autumnwatch didn't mention that Badgers can and are being vaccinated. Why not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Reply to adrain52 - bTb is carried by others animals other than badgers. I understand that your view is 'animal rights' - anti farmer orientated. It is difficult to debate the issue with anyone from this viewpoint. I am surprised that the anti cull faction are happy to see the badger continue bearing the disease. It is also worth noting that other animals such as hedgehogs, bees and ground nesting birds are possibly suffering at the incredibly large numbers the badger holds. Britain is a small country and its flora and fauna needs to be managed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Mark Coldrick- the anti cull folk are not 'happy to see badgers bearing the disease' but as someone has already pointed out only a tiny percentage are affected by it which is surely proven by their success in reproduction! The species is hardly suffering as a consequence. Most will have latent btb which is similar to when humans carry latent TB- did you know 1 in 3 humans are infected worldwide with latent TB? (This is a different disease in case you weren't aware). They aren't however infectious as it is lying dormant and healthy immune systems will keep in under control in 90% of people their entire lifetime. Would love to see a vaccine approval for cattle and badgers- this should be a joint aim and campaign.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Why are folk so sentimental re badgers? Is it just his pretty face? Why has there been no outcry re a proposed massive deer cull? Now the badger has no enemies apart form the motor car and he has an endless supply of food being an omnivore, are there too many and is TB among badgers nature's way of controlling their numbers in overcrowded setts. Jooles point re hedgehogs is a valid one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    I was bemused to hear chris packam say autumn is not the season of death..many innocent badgers will not be going home tonight due to being blasted with guns on the killing fields of gloucester and sommerset. Have any badgers been found to be infected?Have any been tested? Many have been found shot to death and thrown into the river. how is that right??

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Reply to RosieK - I was thinking more about the possible infection to humans. The occurrence of tb in badgers varies greatly and to say those that carry it are only a tiny percentage is ridiculous. The ISG group reported 40% in hotpsot areas in the west country.
    Vaccination on badgers is very difficult and very costly. £600+ per badger, administered once a year for five years. With an estimated 300K badgers who's going to pay?? The vaccine does not work on affected badgers so you can see the problems are myriad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Yes the population has risen dramatically; there are now too many. Their foraging in fields, hedges and gardens does significant damage. The badger is a top predator with no enemies except for man and the motorcar. Their population should be managed. Badger has been idolised by K Grahame, but actually is no wildlife saint. It is a pity that the reporter did not illustrate that once a badger population carries bTB, it is impossible to eradicate without a cull. Being honest, farmers and their family businesses are the most important component of the countryside in the infected areas. Vaccination is ineffective, control is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    50.Mark Coldrick
    3 Hours ago
    Reply to adrian52 - To cast Professor Woods in such a dim light is a pity. tb simply hasn't reached the northern parts of the country

    It's not as simple as that. Scotland has TB-free status due to a combination of factors, not least of which is tighter contols on cattle movement and testing before/after movement.


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