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 61.

    The actual vaccination cost, after training, certification, equipment and licencing costs have been met (hence the previously bandied £660 per badger figure) is £25.00. Vaccination doesn't cure an infected badger, but it does reduce its risk of passing on infection. Only a third of badgers need vaccinations in a colony to provide herd immunity from bTB. // To answer a previous question (3) badgers will eventually die of bTB, however, if they are caught, tested and identified early enough bovine TB can be treated with antibiotics. Don't believe those who state the BCG vaccine, which is used to treat both humans and badgers, is failing. BCG has successfully controlled [human] TB with only 45-50% efficacy. The efficacy in controlling badgers with bTB is up to 70%. If you need further convincing, then ask if vaccination doesn't work, why DEFRA through FERA are running a badger vaccination training scheme(?)

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Reply to Concerned bystander - yes this true and all these measures will be needed in future control of tb. If however an infected badger rolls up then all is derelict. Which makes the present cull all the more important. It is spreading and needs to be controlled quickly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Ladybirder Comment 30/31 Everyone out there should read & comply with boycott to demonstrate the strength of public feeling! The coalition will be held accountable @ the next general election.
    Thank you, Ladybirder!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Good 1st show. Waiting arrival of brambling and barnacle geese. Live on NW coast Ireland big on seabirds

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @62 I agree that tighter movement controls are needed in England, however I don't agree re:culling: it causes dispersal of infected badgers to new areas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    @62 If you don't disturb the badgers, they stay in one tight area because of their fiercely territorial nature. I do understand that the situation has become desperate in the SW of England but that is a result of a combination of factors, not just infection from badgers. Relaxing of catlle movement cotrols after foot-and-outh played a big part.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Sorry, my post at 66 should have read "cattle controls" and "foot-and-mouth"

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Reply - concerned - Perturbation occurs when culling is not carried out through territorial area. There are measures that can practically eliminate this. All of this is without doubt regrettable. If the disease was addressed 10-15 years ago we wouldn't be in this mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    I notice no one has commented on the eradication programme in Southern Ireland.There

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Has anyone commented on the programme of eradication in Southern Ireland. .There, if there is an outbreak of btb the reactor is culled and all badgers on the farm are also culled.This I believe has led to a huge decrease in the number of btb outbreaks

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    I am very sad about the badger cull. Although it is sad for cattle that react to the test too. The cattle vaccine could be available much earlier if cattle were not for export. This could be a few years away rather than the 10 often quoted. It has already been used in Ethiopia. If badgers are cage trapped which they are being increasingly, then vaccinating them would be so much better. I feel that Paterson wants to exterminate badgers from the south west, farmers and pheasant shoots have long been annoyed by their protected status, and doesn't care too much about science (he has admitted that politics have come into his decision). The NFU apparently spent 2 years working with the Conservatives on the cull plans before they came into office. I think the whole thing is dreadful andif it is to rolled out in February absolutely terrible. This seems to be a foregone conclusion even without the evaluation that is supposed to happen. This would mean 10 more cull areas. Every time the current culls hit a problem DEFRA and Natural England change the criteria for it. A scandal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Firstly I would like to say how much I enjoy the programs - an ideal mix of images and information.
    Regarding the badger piece, Martin mentioned on more than one occasion that badgers favourite food was worms but no mention was made of the fact that badgers predate hedgehogs?
    It seems to be a taboo subject as I have never heard it mentioned in programs about badgers or hedgehogs for that matter.
    It seems that badgers have a very good P.R. dept!

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    MikeK, re badgers eating hedgehogs. Yes they do, but prefer worms as their food of choice. Someone running a hedgehog rescue has already stated as such on this message board. The Hedgehog Society will confirm this. The Badger Trust is another great source of information around this subject, equally The Wildlife Trust, Woodland Trust.....many other conservation groups.
    My grumble with the majority of the cull coverage has been skirting around the bigger picture. It's not just about a terrible disease; this is a political slaughter of our native wildlife to placate The NFU (representing only 18% of farmers), jumping on board we have The Countryside Alliance, a political arm of the blood sport brigade, backed up with commercial shoots.
    I want future generations to feed well, while benefitting from a balanced, sustainable, rich environment. Well done Autumn Watch for broaching the subject. Needs follow up reports, including vaccination, rife persecution & DEFRA's plans to gas setts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    There was no mention of how badgers catch Btb from cattle, simply that they do. In there natural habitat they walk through, and eat contaminated earth from slurry spread on fields and secondary reservoirs sheep, when they share fields with cattle. The badger is a victim and scapegoat, and this is why Btb will remain in our animals. There is a need to break the cycle with vaccination which has also an effect of spreading a limited natural immunity within badger groups.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    A badger vaccine exists so why is no one using it? The government estimate that every badger culled costs the taxpayer £1000. Vaccinating badgers surely can't cost that much. Furthermore, badger culls have been practiced in the past and have shown to both theoretically and practically increase TB as oppose to reduce it. It seems we cannot learn from our mistakes. If badgers were vaccinated against the disease and more strict rules with regards to the movement of cattle introduced the problem would be reduced but for some reason which is beyond me, despite what scientists are calling for, the government appears not to be listening

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    I was pleased to see that the BBC has finally acknowledged that bTB is a cattle problem as it has previously seemed biased against badgers and in favour of the cull. It would have been worth stating that badger numbers are held in check by their biology and social structure; by continued persecution and through many thousands being killed on our roads each year. Their numbers are not expanding out of control, as the Government would have us believe. There is a cattle vaccine available now, together with a DIVA to differentiate between cattle that have bTB and those that have been vaccinated, it just requires the political will to implement a vaccination programme.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Surely this is not the Badgers fault.Cattle introduced it to the Badger not the other way round.The answer is to vaccinate the Badgers there are less of them.Milk is pasturised and humans are innoculated for TB so what is the problem

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Why do you make it so difficult for people who refuse to use your favorite sponsored medium, otherwise known as Twitter, to get involved with anything the BBC does. You say on the program that you can contribute on the Autumnwatch web page but I am yet to find the page that the presenters describe on the show despite extensive searching... Other than that I have to sign up for a Flickr account! I have a BBC account which I am using now but that doesn't appear to allow me to contribute pictures... So BBC, get your act together and adapt and use your own in-house systems to enable full viewer interaction such as the picture I want to send you direct of a Brambling that is unusually well off course on the west side of the country. Not sure if you ever listen so I'm not expecting much as the same happens on the football pages where Twitter comments get priority over this in-house system!

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Don’t lose sight of the reason to control bTB. It is because it is a serious disease that humans can catch, and the more there is, the more people will catch it.

    Vaccination for TB has a very poor success rate, W.H.O. figures show (
    “• Tuberculosis (TB) is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent.
    • In 2012, 8.6 million people fell ill with TB and 1.3 million died from TB.
    About one-third of the world's population has latent TB”

    There is very little evidence to suggest it will be any more effective on cattle or badgers.

    Farmers do want to vaccinate ( we vaccinate for a wide range of diseases) but not with an ineffective vaccine like BCG. I hope the trials starting soon prove me wrong .

    The bTB status of badgers must be monitored across the whole country. We MUST know where badgers are healthy , and where they are infected .Help from all Badger and wildlife groups please. Cattle are already heavily tested. If money is to be spent on Badger vaccination , it should be on healthy populations to help stop further spread.

    Yes , cows give bTB to badgers , cows give bTB to other cows , But Badgers DO give bTB to cows and are therefore part of the problem. Who got it first? I want to know how they know that one, and does it matter?.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    The science and the morality seems very clear to me - the cull is cruel, inhumane, at best it will make little difference to bovine TB and at worst it will make things worse. I have been completely mystified about why it has gone ahead. Autumnwatch provided some possible insight - it seems that some people simply hate badgers! How you can hate a species and consider yourself sane and rational is beyond me - I'm not keen on rats and spiders, but I have the sense to recognise their place in the ecosystem.


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