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 81.

    1. It breaks my heart to see cattle being destroyed due to perceived infection, but culling badgers will exacerbate the problem until there are NO badgers and NO cattle and no money to compensate for the losses.
    2. Science does not support culling badgers, but that's inconvenient for those who want to remove badgers for other reasons ie shooting estates etc. A large part of the culling is being carried out on estates where no cattle exist, not on beef and dairy farms.
    3. OP admitted he'd seen evidence in the US of the method to successfully distinguish between vaccinated cattle and infected cattle, but that's inconvenient too, especially for badgers..
    4. Overall costs of culling are likely to be much greater than vaccination: the suggestion that caging badgers to vaccinate them costs too much is a red herring, since this method is also being used for the cull, having found it impossible to successfully shoot badgers in the dark.
    5. The cull has failed in its stated aims (to establish if badgers could be culled successfully, effectively, and humanely), since there is no attempt to establish 'humaneness', or even any planned standard to judge by, and no way to count the number of animals shot unsuccessfully, which may crawl away to die in setts, in horrendous pain and suffering. Since the number of badgers was miscalculated (or made up), 70% of the lesser numbers found should be a smaller figure, not greater. In addition, there is no intention to test the butchered badgers to establish how many are infected with bTB, so many thousands of healthy badgers may be shot. How can it be established whether it was successful, unless AT LEAST ALL of the dead badgers are tested for infection and examined for injuries to show whether the deaths were humane? Clearly, it cannot.
    6. There has already been a 10 year study into the efficacy of culling, which proved it was unlikely to be effective, certainly less so than vaccination, and would exacerbate the problem, so why is another trial cull required - Ah, that would be because they didn't get the answer they wanted. Let's face it, OP has already stated his intention to roll out the cull around the country, irrespective of this year's results!
    I can't believe those responsible don't understand all this; that's just a smokescreen. At the end of the day, it's not scientific, it's just propaganda to satisfy rich owners, at the expense of badgers and poor farmers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    There IS a vaccine that could be used for cattle but apparently it interferes with the existing (and famously unreliable) test for the TB therefore the EU won't accept it and we can't use it! Another example of politics getting in the way of welfare. However there are in general far too many badgers as they have no natural predators causing an inbalance and welfare issues for badgers as well as the species on which they prey, including other "cuddly animals" such as our hedgehogs. They need to have their numbers controlled if their general health is to be maintained, as do foxes and others at the top of the food chain. It may not be a nice task but it needs to be done. Do-gooders please take note!

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    Ah but the BBC and Autumnwatch have NOT remained impartial regarding the badger cull. Martin Hughes-Games ended the programme on Tuesday evening with a piece which can only be described as an endorsement of the belief that badgers are the cause of the spread of bovine TB! You cannot deny that! One wonders who wrote Martin's script for that programme, which he happily used and thereby sold his soul to the devil.. presumably the BBC...

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    I was bored with the chap in the boat. So much time for so little.

    Disappointed that Michaela wasn't given more time to explore Morcambe Bay. Had she done so (and augmented her perusals with a bit of research) then she might have found out about the industrial (and often illegal) harvesting of clams and other shellfish which is emptying the bay of its natural food sources. Tons and tons of shellfish carted off in lorries at the Barrow end daily over the last three weeks.

    Many amateur birders are still unsure about which wader is which so I think a golden opportunity is being wasted at Morcambe Bay to inform and teach about identification. You had a shot of a Curlew in last night's opening segment but no mention was made of the bird.

    The programme seems to lack focus. I just feel that a focusing on waders would make for better television than the night-time reed bank scenes which are frankly tedious, poorly articulated and generally uninformative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    No natural predators ! We are their natural predators,tens of thousands are killed every year ,,didn't you hear that chap say on Tuesdays show that of 25 setts where he lived there is now only one..!And it is funny that the people who are shouting the most about this cull are the shooting ,hunting estates .a few of the hunters are in the government ..impartial.! and the farmers that keep a 'clean' herd, have a lot less incidence of TB ..also, the price of vaccinating a a fraction of the £2,200 it is costing now in the cull area ..

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    The case that OP and the NFU have put before the public to justify what they are doing wouldn't convince a gullible 4 year old. It is very clear that the stated objectives of the cull are completely disingenuous and that decisions regarding the roll out were taken well before the first shot was fired. No real assessment of anything is being made, nobody can agree how many badgers there are to begin with and nobody dares to test the killed animals for TB as they wouldn't want to know the results. The goalposts are moved with every setback. The only conclusion that anyone can reach is that those behind the cull actually don't care at all what the public thinks. There is a small section of our society that believes it can do exactly as it pleases and unfortunately for the rest of the country, far too often they are proved right. Badgers, raptors et al have been killed illegally for years and the police and judiciary do nothing

    As others have said, the cull is less about BTB and more about the financial interests of the shooting estates. Those who are against cannot be dismissed as 'do-gooders' or animal rights extremists, or people with an overly romantic view of nature. Many of us are simply people who think it wrong to exterminate an indigenous species in the name of the greed and dubious pleasures of a tiny few. The bad science, half truths and downright lies put forward by the government add an air of corruption and general grubbiness to the whole proceedings.

    It is interesting that none of the newspapers have started digging into this ...............oh wait a minute. Who is it that runs the newspapers?..................

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Are they testing the badgers they cull for bovine TB?

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    reply to Doris. No they are very specifically not testing them for bovine tb

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    As I said in an earlier post , we need badger testing across the whole country, to map heavily infected or more hopefully clean, bTB free badger populations. It is a vital piece of the jigsaw of bTB that we are missing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    Badgers are disease-ridden TB-carrying vermin that deserve to die to preserve the profits of farmers. Badgers are cute cuddly creatures that should be legally protected and entitled to live. Which side you are on depends on whether you accept or reject the 'evidence' of the competing interests be they activists or farmers or scientists. For their varying views veer from idle speculation to wild prejudice.

    Moreover some people even perceive that the real reason for the present and future culling of badgers is a desperate vote-catching political ploy by an ever-increasing unpopular Government. In September 2013 a poll resulted in 35% of people finding that Dave Cameron was 'out of touch'. Only 32% found Dave to be 'smug'.

    The perspective on the Tories mass killing of badgers now and for the next quarter of a Century can only be judged by an analysis of the 'evidence'. In that respect the conclusion of the I S G in 2007 was simple and stark such that it succinctly placed the problem on the cattle rather than the badgers:

    '...Weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease of all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection'.

    Further to that independent Report, headed by Professor John Krebs, which investigated the issue over a period of 8 years, on 27 September 2013 he confirmed his present view that the politicians are wrong-headed as:

    'the scientific evidence is clear-cut...and cannot be used as justification for killing badgers'.

    [BBC Radio 4]

    Why then are the politicians intent on ignoring the contradictory evidence and choosing prejudice over truth? The reason is at its core the badger cull is borne of a cynicism that pervades politics who prefer to sacrifice animals as opposed to votes. The inherent bias of the Tories, shared by their pusillanimous Coalition partners, is manifest in the 'observation' by one to Professor John Bourne. He led the I S G investigation and co-authored the final Report. Bourne referred to a conversation which is startling in its perverse prescience:

    'I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician who said, "Fine John, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers" '.

    During the discussion that 'carrot' was suggested by Chris Packham to be 'a scapegoat'
    [The Independent: 9/10/12]

    Given the religious origin of 'scapegoat' where one goat is sacrificed while the other is chased into the hills so that we can 'escape' from our sins, it has a resonance that serves to prove why we should still distrust our politicians. For it is a smokescreen where today it is badgers and tomorrow it is foxes. For foxes also carry TB.

    Indeed the choice of Owen Paterson to carry out the killing was deliberate by Dave as prior to it becoming a crime, fox hunting was his enjoyable pastime. The pursuit of killing wild animals for fun was also Cameron's hobby. He pledged to abolish the Hunting Act 2004 during his present Parliamentary term. That is what most Tories, especially Dave, desire.

    So appointing Paterson was a calculated ruse where badgers are used as political scapegoats.
    His appointment was as neutral as making Eric Pickles chairman of a campaign on Nutrition. Meanwhile badgers become bait while politicians plan and play their biased game where Cameron and his cohorts win votes while badgers lose their lives.

    The position is so blatant as recent as yesterday, Paterson was asked by another Tory, Sheryll Murray, 'about the danger of posed to pet cats fro bTB unless its spread was checked'.

    Paterson answered with calculated ease devoid of discrimination:

    'I would not want to be alarmist but if this disease got out of hand there is a risk of it getting into other hosts...I've seen reports of a small number.'
    [W D P: 30/10/13]

    All in all the clue to Cameron's view and action can be seen in what he wants and what he needs. Cameron wants the support of other hunters and the votes of farmers as well as the opportunity to revive his pastime which at present remains a crime.To that end while badgers meet their end Dave's gains are balanced against their lives and his political future. While Cameron counts his votes the badgers become political cats' paws.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Has anyone conducted post-mortem examinations of badgers killed on the road? If they have, do we know what percentage had urinary tract/ pulmonary/gastro-intestinal or skeletal evidence of T.B?
    I think that such information would be useful to help prove/disprove the need to cull badgers!

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    Its all a farce , no badgers are being tested for TB in the cull zones , so, most if not all are healthy animals ,who knows ? why ,have figures not been released ..because they are embarrassed that this killing is farcical !and they won't back down , even my MP with some colleagues have asked for the figures ,but, they have been refused.The shooters /trappers are getting £10 per badger , whereas ,as I have said before , it is costing over two thousand pound per badger to kill them ..and tell me this , if they are now trapping them in cages , way on earth don't they vaccinate them instead of killing them ??

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    How long have Natural England been a branch office for the NFU? How can anyone have confidence that our wildlife and natural environments will be protected by those with a vested interest in destroying them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Two points
    1 My wife and I are fungi gatherers, and are passing this on to family RULE ONE if they touch or hold fly garrick was your hands before going near your mouth not like some people -no names no pack drill - take a piece of another mushroom and put in your mouth, we waited with bated breath but he was lucky. Best practice DON'T touch them!

    2 We live in a small crescent in Aldershot and regularily see at least five foxes most nights, in fact Aldershot seems to be a hot spot for foxes, if you really want an urban area. Their range seems small and all are quite happy by the others presence. Perhaps it is the fact that the crescent backs on to Brickfields which claims to be the smallest nature reserve in England.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    At last, the sort of response from the BBC that we have all been waiting for, a wildlife programme reporting the facts and opening up true scientific debate. The apparent ‘don’t mention the badger approach’, when the Badger is such an iconic species was of grave concern and not what we would expect from an independent BBC in a democracy. It is appreciated.
    Dr.Rosie Woodroffe has in my mind truly identified the effects of the badger cull, as the badger’s social structure in setts, some of which have existed for hundreds of years, is shattered. The social groups have fragmented sending the diseased badgers, along with the healthy ones, far and wide. The surviving animals, fleeing, stressed and unable to feed will inevitably become unhealthy and more prone to disease, resulting in an escalation of infection over a greater area.
    At this time of year badgers would normally be feeding up to sustain them through the winter. Although they don’t hibernate they do slow down and will stay in the sett for days on end, only emerging when it suits them. The prolonging of the cull is disrupting this behaviour leading to a further decline in health, making the chance of cross infection far worse.
    With some farms within TB hotspots, with free running badgers in and out, remaining TB free, it is my belief that there are other, as yet unknown factors, possibly, problems surrounding slurry management, and cattle medication affecting defecation decay etc. worthy of investigation.
    They seem so obsessed with killing badgers that the supposed objective of eradicating bTB in cattle no longer seems the primary concern. The RBCT gave figures of at best 16% reduction in the increase in bTB, a meagre benefit for the loss of the Badger. If you are going to cage-trap why not vaccinate, for probably less cost now. Cattle to cattle transmission remains the prime source of infection.
    Badgers are shy, retiring animals, they are difficult to see let alone shoot. The free shooting policy was always destined to fail and the new licence extensions will undoubtedly make things worse, much of the damage already having been done.
    The constantly fluctuating ‘conveniently timed’ statistics gives rise to grave concerns of localised eradication. With the illegal gassing reported by Sky, personal observations of increased ‘road-kills’ and illegally shot badgers dumped in ponds, the badger cull policy is no longer under control.
    We were promised science, in my opinion there is a total absence of science in that which is taking place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    we have two badgers and very occassionaly 3 badgers, coming to our garden every night to feed on peanut butter sandwiches and nuts, should we be giving them other stuff. last night they arrived very early 6.30pm and we watched them while we were eating dinner

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Latest news, more shooters being brought in at the request of Natural England. These will be non-contracted shooters, " keen to bag a protected species". A direct quote. The stakes have just got higher with a bounty of £150 per badger. This is more like blood lust.
    For those here clearly disturbed by the cull, you can join the badger patrols, saboteurs and go on a rather gentle demo march in Brighton this weekend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Reply for Eileen. Nuts are good to encourage badgers in to your garden, as a treat only, not to replace their natural food or behaviour. Simon King does this, see his website, I think. Also use the Badger Trust as a good source of info.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    It was the badger trust that told me they like peanut butter sandwiches

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    During your piece on badgers you conveniently forgot to mention the fact that the only predator for hedgehogs are badgers. Hedgehogs are an endangered species. In view of the increase in badgers over recent years there has been decrease in hedgehogs which are now disappearing fast. Reducing the badger population may give the hedgehog a chance to recover before it is too late. When did anyone see a hedgehog run over on the roads compared with the numerous dead badgers littering our roads.


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