Badgers: Splitting public opinion for more than 200 years

The common badger, a nocturnal animal of the otter and weasel family (c. 1850)

Related Stories

When it comes to a cull of badgers, it seems no amount of science will resolve the arguments.

A researcher who studied their role in popular culture has warned that politicians have not grasped the true nature of the cull controversy.

Dr Angela Cassidy from Imperial College London researched discourse on badgers from the end of the 18th Century.

She told BBC News that they have consistently divided opinion, with farmers wanting rid of them and animal lovers seeking to protect them.

Dr Cassidy said that bombarding people with science about TB in the animals would fail, as the debate was really about emotions and values.

"The sides have a very different understanding of what the countryside is for and how we should treat animals," she said.

"That's why I think one of the reasons why the focus on the evidence isn't getting us that far is because it can be interpreted in different ways and what we have to acknowledge is that there are different values going on, and this is a very political debate."

Pest or pet?

A Defra source told BBC News that some civil servants working on the badger issue acknowledged that people had very different views of whether farmers had a right to control badgers, or whether wildlife was in some way "owned" by everyone.

Start Quote

People not liking badgers talked about them being dirty and disruptive. It's the same now”

End Quote Angela Cassidy Imperial College London

Dr Cassidy discovered a divide stretching more than 200 years in the columns of The Times.

"Every so often I found these little flurries of correspondence between people arguing whether badgers were pests or likeable animals. This sort of thread pops up every 20 or 30 years.

"There's a link consistently about how people were talking about badgers then and now. When people were talking about liking badgers they would talk about them being clean domestic animals, very houseproud and family-oriented.

"People not liking badgers talked about them being dirty and disruptive. It's the same now."

She says the defining characterisation of the animals in the 20th Century was framed by Kenneth Graham's classic The Wind in the Willows with its gruff, wise, brave Badger.

The book was last made into a movie in 2006 and Amanda Craig, children's book critic for The Times, told BBC News that it has been massively influential for generations.

'Bunny eaters'

"Badger is the ultimate moral authority, portrayed as a rough but very kindly Tory gentleman. He has this speech about how badgers always endure - people come and go," says Ms Craig.

"You think of Badger a bit like an ideal father - someone who's going to protect you; a great comfort figure as well as an authority figure.

"You are likely to encounter Wind in the Willows somewhere between four and eight years old, so these creations are really important and influential - they really affect how we feel and see animals."

Dr Cassidy said a rare counter-example exists in Beatrix Potter's Tale of Mr Tod, in which Brock the badger plans to eat Benjamin Bunny's bunnies (bunny-eating is a genuine badger trait, as Potter - a countrywoman - would have known).

"This stands out because it's the only fictional portrayal I could find that has much in common with the older narrative about badgers as vermin which goes back to Tudor times," she said.

The most recent depictions have mostly been comic portrayals in cartoons, computer games and music videos like the 10-hour Badger Song, reputedly appreciated by students under the influence of substances.

The Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has accused people opposed to the cull of being seized by a "Wind in the Willows sentimentality".

But Dr Cassidy said it would be a mistake to confuse sentimentality with values.

"We have to take note of these cultural influences," said Dr Cassidy, whose research was funded by Nerc, the BBSRC. and the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme, which is itself part-funded by Defra.

"Both sides in the... debate use scientific argument to make the other side look bad. The values debate and the science are inextricably linked."

Follow Roger Harrabin on Twitter: @RogerHarrabin


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 466.

    all you see is picture of cute badgers people dont seem to think of the impact on farmers. the taxpayer paying more money, they never show you a picture or a video of a cow getting killed because of this Deadly Disease. Badgers are not cute and people donet seem to mind deer getting culled and wild boar come on get a grip they need to be controlled

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    "221. freindleonewhocares
    So many people want to forget that the Badger is top preditor in Britain,as such it thrives to such an extent to become a pest."

    You have the wrong species there - substitute "human" for "badger" and I agree with your comment...

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    i know a farmer who has a very large sett under his cow pasture - in the last 30 years, not one case of tb. Farmers anguish is easily appeased by doing something visible - quick fix - who cares if its only temporary?

    as to badgers character, they vary considerably - a visit to the badger sanctuary at postbridge would have revealed that - but that was many years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.


    I have not seen a single rational post here against the cull. If you of a position where you don't think the evidence supports a cull, fair enough

    The killing of badgers is a mob mentality by farmers that are wanting to do something about TB in cattle. No the evidence does not stack up,
    Deer,foxes, cats, dogs can all get Bovine TB, perhaps they could be all shot as game!

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    434.paul - ".....To think I supported the dairy farmers over the milk pricing issue......."

    I live in rural Devon & most of the farmers I have spoken to do not support the cull - the NFU is full square behind it, but a lot their
    members aren't......someone at the NFU is playing politics & probably lining a run for office as an MP......

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    448.kaybraes - "......Like raptors, becoming more and more numerous with a disastrous effect on smaller wildlife......"

    And your evidence for that statement is what exactly? Oh, you don't have any do you, because it is simply not true.....

    ....for sure they eat smaller animals, but nature left to it's own devices balances all populations within an eco system.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    isnt the problem with the bovines?

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    I studied badgers and bTB for my PhD thesis. It doesn't matter whether you think they cause trouble or not, the evidence from the RBCT and much scientific research clearly shows that culling badgers just makes the problem worse through social disruption and increased dispersal and ranging behaviour.

    Until we figure out how to cull effectively, or some other method, they should be just left alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    448.kaybraes-they are a vicious predator. Like raptors, becoming more and more numerous with a disastrous effect on smaller wildlife.

  • Comment number 457.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    Personally, I am opposed to the cull because the science has consistantly shown that culling badgers will not tackle bovine TB in the long term, only vaccination can. It seems irresponsible to waste time, money and badgers lives to appease farmers when it wont even actually help the farmers anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    If Badgers were suddenly discovered to be Tory voters, rather than being shot by Tory voters you can bet this move would be cancelled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    We saw a badger, alive in a trap, on a visit to France.
    Our friends told the local hunt master. The trap was very visible and looked 'official'.
    The explanation, to prevent damage to the nearby maize crop. We had seen no evidence of crop damage.
    Is there any Bovine TB in the Limousin? Was this to counter TB or was it simply panic?
    According to the internet it is illegal to trap them in France!

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    To Big Sammy

    Speaking of language, it's "opposed" not "appose" :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    @449 I don't disagree that humans have screwed it up - we have removed the predators that controlled badger populations and exacerbated the problem by protecting the badger. I doubt we will re-introduce bears and wolves so do we just let badgers increase exponentially? As an aside, if the re-introduced beavers take hold, wait for the damage they cause!

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    443. cherryblossomengland

    A varmint is a sole predator that raids an area and then leaves ie: a badger or a fox. As appose to vermin which are large groups of pests that infect an area permanently ie: pigeons or rats.

    Maybe you should learn your own language before you criticise other peoples.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    To Farmer Dave.

    Haha.....what a clever answer.
    Aren't we a wonderful species. Next time you cought or sneeze and spread sputum into the air be careful, you could be up the a list to be culled!!!
    Think of all the joyful things we spread then gimme an answer why we're not culling humans for spreading disease. Ooops, HAVEN'T GOT ONE :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    "I think you will find many animal species will prey on weaker members of their own" - bit like population control then? Nature is wonderful in it's balancing act. It's humans that have right royally screwed it up. Without us TB would still be around but nature would let the weak die out and the stong survive. Nothing more nothing less. But humans demand everything to fit their own agenda.

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    Cuddly on TV they may be, but they are a vicious predator. Like raptors, becoming more and more numerous with a disastrous effect on smaller wildlife. In addition, bovine TB is almost certainly endemic in this population, perhaps becoming worse due to the increasing numbers and closer social living. Like every other misguided attempt at artificial control of wild animals it has it's consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    It was reported recently that between 4 & 6 cows per hundred catch bovine TB (lets call it 5 in 100) Defra has said that their figures show that a Badger cull will result in a 16% drop in this figure - not 16% fewer cows catch TB but 16% of 5.
    So that actual fugure is a reduction from 5 cows in a hundred to 4 cows in a hundred. This cull cannot be justified morally or financially. It is stupid.


Page 1 of 24


More Science & Environment stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.