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 1.

    Fantastic programme this evening. On a different note, could you please tell me the make of the jackets the presenters are wearing? :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Regarding the Badger cull surely the answer is to vaccinate cattle?

    Of course we're told that vaccination is not to be available for at least ten years due to EU rules and bureaucracy - but this is ridiculous. We have successfully been vaccinating humans for years.

    It cannot be beyond the wit of man to produce a suitable vaccine for cattle - if there was a will do so and there were no vested interests blocking such action.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    What happens to an infected badger. Does it die or get better? Sorry if this has already been discussed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    The starlings distant and close were wonderful. In the badger debate there are too many out there eating the hedgehogs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Thank you for giving an overview of the situation with badgers-I thought that Martin Hughes Games report was very measured - I do think it would have been helpful to spell out exactly what is happening in the cull areas- and the extensions that have been given as this is fact and does not give partiality and what will happen with the results- might it be possible to do this in anther programe?
    I do have a question for you- why is there no bovine TB in Scotland- and therefore no problem with badgers transmitting it? Thank you

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    As I understand it, from tonight's programme, cattle farmers introduced Bovine Tuberculosis to the badgers. Why then are they, the badgers, painted as the villains? Scorpio

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Thank you for giving the actual science behind Bovine TB in badgers unlike The Archers, a mouthpiece for the NFU. As you reminded us, the badgers caught it from cattle (due largely to poor farm hygiene, more cattle movements from farm to farm than anywhere else in Europe coupled with almost non existent penalties for breaking TB regulations, and bad government decisions eg moving untested cattle into known TB hotspots to restock farms after the foot & mouth culls against scientific advice) and not the other way around. As you said, the clue is in the name: Bovine TB. If farmers would vaccinate their herds there would be no need for ineffective and expensive badger culls. We know where the cattle are and how many there are, unlike the badgers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I live in the middle of a bad area for bovine TB and a local vet recently told me that one of the reasons that badgers present such a threat to the cattle with which they freely mix is that they contract TB in their kidneys. This means that, unlike other animals which might carry the disease, their urine is incredibly infectious coming, as it does, through the animal's kidneys. This fact is either not widely known or routinely ignored but it seems to me very important and needs to be put into the equation when deciding how best to deal with this tragic problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    We don't all agree on the cull, but we can all agree on vaccination. It's the only way forward, and full protection must be reinstated for this native wild mammal.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Only 4-6% badgers are estimated to carry bTB - it is a disease of cattle and this a man made problem- why should nature suffer in order for us to eat cow?! this badger cull has not worked and this has been proven by the extension of >100% the original timeframe...when will the government admit they got it wrong? It's embarrassing for Owen Patersons intelligence to think it would ever work with all the scientific evidence to the contrary. I'd like to know how much this cull has cost the UK taxpayer so far...

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Two points:

    1. Above we have statements from two scientists. One says the scientific evidence says that culling does not work, the other says it does and then goes on to say that we should judge the issue on scientific grounds rather than emotive or moral ones.

    2. Surely this whole issue is an emotive/moral issue NOT a scientific one? The issue being "Should we kill one species just so that we can drink the milk and eat the flesh of another and make money/profit for farmers?

    My personal viewpoint is that we have no right to kill badgers to save cattle when it was the cattle that gave the disease to the badgers in the first place. If humans in this country wish to continue to drink cows milk and eat cattle flesh, we should vaccinate the cattle, or the badgers. I have read a lot of the scientific evidence and, in my opinion, the evidence supporting the badger cull is sketchy at best and unconvincing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    We cannot vaccinate the cattle.

    There is no legal vaccine available. Currently the only option is the BCG vaccine (Mycobacterium bovis Bacille Calmette-Guérin).

    The problem is that at present it is impossible to distinguish between a BCG-vaccinated and TB-infected cow. And for this reason it is currently illegal under EU law to vaccinate cattle with the BCG jab.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    If btb was such an issue in badgers how come their populations are thriving?!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I am a farmer and didn't feel that tonight's programme painted a true picture? Nothing was mentioned about the forage that they come into farmyards to eat, for example Maize, wheat, barley and other feed sources that we produce to feed our stock. On one of our farms we have had issues with Badgers killing new born lambs (which we have witnessed)- so they have a much more varied diet than just earthworms and apples! Also nothing was mentioned about the thousands of cattle that are having to be destroyed due to this disease. Or the cost of this to the taxpayer?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Regarding Hedgehogs & Badgers- I rescue hedgehogs and ensure that they are taken to our local Hedgehog rehab in Leighton Buzzard. Whilst badgers do eat hedgehogs as part of their normal diet it is not the badger that has caused the decline of the hedgehog to critical status- but as usual- the culprit is human. Our over farming- removing hedges etc- forced them into the cities where of course they have been subject to our roads, our slug pellets and poisoning, our de-greening of our properties- and creating walled gardens with no access- s preventing them to obtain adequate feeding and nesting areas. The poor badger cannot be blamed for all of these the problems that are human in origin- so let's be very clear about why there is a decline- and who is the culprit. Let's not persecute the poor badger even more. We gave them the bovine TB in the first place !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    NeilHamp - you are wrong- cattle CAN be vaccinated with BCG as it is not impossible to distinguish between a vaccinated cow and an infected one- there is a blood test called interferon gamma release assay which will say either way. It's used in humans in the same way and is highly accurate. The tuberculin skin test will come up positive in both so yes that one would be ineffective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    There has been a lot discussed about culling badgers to stop the spread of the disease, But I haven't seen or heard anything about prevention of culling the poor cows and calves which have the disease , the cost is huge and it is the taxpayer bearing the cost , legislation is holding up the process of preventing this disease spreading , all methods must be employed to stop the culling of cows and calves as well as other animals who can spread the disease , There is a body of people who are trying to protect badgers what about protecting cattle as well ????? They are very valuable to mankind , providing a lot of benefits to a lot of people , badgers are much loved wild animals , which people like to watch .

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    the badgers were there before cattle, the cattle gave them the TB, and now the badgers are giving it back. to kill anything for something that is not it's own fault is disgusting. how about giving up meat? you can actually survive without it, and no cows or badgers have to die.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Surely the way cattle are farmed is what causes Bovine TB, plus farmers don't want their cattle vaccinated because it will effect their income. Also cattle suffer stress from being intensively farmed and many live in squalid conditions (seen them here in Wales) so is it any wonder these animals succumb to disease. Plus TB is way down the list when it comes to other diseases and reasons for killing them. I was very disappointed with your report - it seemed to point the finger at badgers being the problem when it is clearly cattle to cattle that is the root cause of transmission. There are times I am ashamed to be human!!


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