Viewpoints: The badger cull

 
Badger in the fields The badger: Wildlife icon or pest?

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The issue of culling badgers in England has polarised opinion, within the town and the countryside, across the political spectrum and among the public. Few disagree that bovine tuberculosis causes serious hardship to farmers, and costs the taxpayer millions of pounds a year to control the disease. But there is very little agreement about everything else, including the interpretation of scientific evidence, policy making and wildlife conservation issues. So what are the different voices in the debate?

Adam Quinney, vice president of NFU

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is not as clear cut as you might think. It is the biggest challenge facing the UK livestock industry today and that is why something needs to be done now. No-one, including farmers, wants to cull badgers. However, it is a regrettable, but absolutely necessary step while TB increases its vice-like grip on our family farms.

Start Quote

Adam Quinney, NFU

At the end of the day, we all want the same outcome: healthy cattle, healthy badgers and healthy countryside”

End Quote

In 1998 less than 6,000 cows were culled because they had TB; in 2011 it was more than 34,000. And every single one of those cows was culled to prevent them passing the disease on. It's a fact that TB exists in wildlife and no amount of culling of cattle will ever control this disease while there are still badgers spreading it further.

Since the link between badgers, cattle and bTB was established by Sir John Krebs in 1997, the farming industry has been seeking a long term solution to the problem. Trying to control this endemic animal disease cost the GB taxpayer £91m during the 2010/11 financial year, an increase of 44% on the previous financial year. We can only begin to reduce this cost if we carry out an effective badger cull in areas where badgers are known to have the disease.

It is very difficult for a farmer to prevent a wild animal from coming into contact with his cattle. But farmers are working hard to prevent potential contact and disease transmission to their herds through improved biosecurity.

Some measures that farmers take in bovine TB hotspots include raising feed and water troughs off the ground, trying not to feed cattle directly on the ground, ensuring doors to feed sheds fit well and are kept shut at night, storing feed in covered bins and fencing off badger setts and latrines.

Adam Quinney

  • Vice president of the NFU, which champions British farming
  • Says a badger cull is regrettable but absolutely necessary

Vaccination can play a part and the NFU fully supports the development of effective vaccines for badgers and cattle as we believe that they will play a role in the long term eradication of bTB. Of course we shouldn't have got to this point.

Bovine TB is hardly a new disease and farmers were promised a vaccine against the disease more than 20 years ago. However, at the moment the only badger vaccine available is in an injectable form. This means that you need to cage trap the badgers to vaccinate them which is practically very challenging and has to be done annually for a period of at least five years. There is currently no vaccine available for cattle nor an approved test that can distinguish between a vaccinated and an infected animal.

So in order to tackle this disease, we must reduce the reservoir of bTB in the wildlife. The proposed cull pilots due to take place this autumn are targeting two specific hotspot areas in the South West where the incidence of TB in wildlife is persistent and high; with the possibility of further culls in other hotspot areas in the coming years. Most of England is TB free and there are no plans to carry out culls of badgers in areas where there is no TB.

For those still in any doubt, this TB policy has been through two rigorous public consultations. It has also been upheld after challenges in both the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The policy is backed by scientists, vets and government who all agree that this is the best way of controlling the spread of this awful disease throughout the country. At the end of the day, we all want the same outcome: healthy cattle, healthy badgers and healthy countryside.

Gordon McGlone OBE, Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

My personal view, and that of the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the Wildlife Trusts, is that badger culling is not scientifically proven. It is an extremely difficult approach to tackling the disease and we don't feel that it is appropriate that it is effectively being portrayed as an essential part of bringing bovine TB under control. The Wildlife Trusts don't support it.

Start Quote

Gordon McGlone

What industry would choose to take action against Britain's most iconic mammal, the one mammal that most members of the public would identify?”

End Quote

Biosecurity is absolutely key, and that is biosecurity in terms of the way that individual cattle and herds are managed and the separation of badgers from livestock, where there are substantial areas that could be improved. One-off capital investment can keep badgers away from livestock when they are being housed and I think that has to be something that is pursued more vigorously. The work done in Gloucestershire by the Fera (Food and Environment Research Agency) team has showed that when used properly it is 100% effective - badgers can be kept away from cattle when they are indoors or when they are in pens.

I think the wildlife trusts accept that the [badger] vaccine does not cure the disease; we accept it is not 100% effective. However, the research shows that vaccinating badgers does substantially appear to boost their immunity to bovine TB, which is a very good thing. I really don't understand why a vaccine that has been developed at huge public cost - over £16m - that has been shown scientifically to have a beneficial impact is not part of any government strategy. All the reasons given are cost and difficulty. Well, the badger cull is not exactly going to be cheap, it is not going to be simple and it is not going to have 100% effect either. And even more strange is that the modelling carried out by government, by Fera, has shown that if a badger cull is going to happen, then should badger vaccination be used as well [as culling], you get another 4-8% benefit. If you compare that to the 12-16% effect that the cull can allegedly deliver, that is not insubstantial. And yet it's being written off as inappropriate, the secretary of state is saying that it's not appropriate, that it is expensive, and I just think it is daft. If it was a human disease and there was a vaccine like that I very much doubt that people would say that we shouldn't be using it.

Gordon McGlone

  • Chief executive of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust
  • Says badger culling is not scientifically proven and does not support the policy

We must remember that farming is an industry even though it is a very personal industry. What industry would choose to take action against Britain's most iconic mammal, the one mammal that most members of the public would identify? If the badger cull goes ahead I think the farming industry will continue to receive very bad press which is one thing it absolutely can't afford.

If it is proposed to take out 70% of a population of a key mammal, that is going to have an impact. And it is not just about the fact that individual badgers will be killed, it is about this huge assault on part of the way that the countryside works, and I think that is what people have got very upset about - whose countryside is it? And this is where you get the real division between people who own the land and the people who live in it and I think that is what you're probably seeing through the e-petition - it is something really deep about our native wildlife.

Denis Leonard, cattle vet from Cheshire

TB is a disease with a long incubation period and is also slow and debilitating rather than lethal, which helps it to survive as an infection within populations, as an infected animal left to its own devices can spread disease for years to uninfected animals. As with most diseases the best way to rid a group of animals of the disease is to remove the source of infection (carrier animals - infected animals) and protect uninfected animals from future infection. In cattle this is done by regular testing and culling of infected animals aligned with restricting the movement of animals within herds known to be infected. In badgers nothing is done at all and hence the disease can propagate freely and extensively through this species. Because badgers and cattle eat together this lack of badger control renders any cattle controls completely ineffective.

Denis Leonard

  • Works as a cattle vet in Cheshire
  • Says farmers need to make hard decisions in the interests of domesticated and wild animals

Any serious attempt to control TB must involve the removal of infected animals and to that end I support the culling of badgers in infected areas. It is well known that partial culling creates an upsurge of disease due to perturbation of infected badgers, in other words increasing the movements of infection among the population by the badgers scarpering to neighbouring sets, potentially setting up a new geographically infected area. For this reason any cull needs to be very large and to be done with a significant margin around any geographical area that contains infection. It also needs to be extremely thorough, as leaving infection in badger populations is unfair to the badgers that are to be born in the future, or which migrate over time into the cull area, as they will become infected by the populations that we haven't cleaned up.

Due to the lack of backbone of successive governments this hasn't been done and hence the geographical disease area is now much of the west of England and Wales, so an effective cull would now have to be incredibly widespread. Because the government has run out of money it is forced into a position where it has to look at costs and therefore it has identified that if it reduces TB it can save itself quite a bit of money, so the possibility of a badger cull is now on the agenda. It is incredibly clear that the current policy of TB control is an abject failure, so carrying on as we are is doomed to increase the size of any effective future badger cull.

Farmers, vets and keepers of animals have always had to make hard decisions in the interest of the health and welfare of animal populations, both wild and domesticated. Similarly we have controlled verminous creatures and predators for the sake of human disease control and food since before records began. If this disease was carried by rats, people would be breaking the door down demanding we get on and sort it out. Because there are too many people who think they understand the countryside and disease control, but clearly don't, we are hamstrung by a lot of misplaced emotional nonsense.

As far as badger vaccination goes I am willing and in fact encouraging its use as an adjunct to the control of disease, but ultimately culling should be done as well to expedite the overall success of control of TB. Vaccination is still an unknown but I will do anything I can to get this disease reduced in our wildlife and livestock. I will help anyone who is trying to do something positive about controlling this disease.

Lorraine Morgan, Greenway Farm Caravan and Camping Site, Forest of Dean

I don't know the intricate science of it but I have gone to enough meetings and read enough about it to know that the argument is very flawed. The Forest of Dean markets itself on being this bucolic place where everyone comes to walk and cycle, spot wildlife, and photograph wildlife. To have an active cull area in the Forest of Dean I think can only do damage to its reputation. It is so cloaked in secrecy, and we have so many footpaths crossing so much farmland here, and high calibre rifles being shot at dusk, I think it is asking for trouble. This is a tourism area, we are now coming up to October half-term, which always brings people down here, it is the last big holiday before we shut and if they are right and the cull is in place by then, I can't advise people where they can go, where it is safe.

Lorraine Morgan

  • Owns a caravan and camping site in the Forest of Dean
  • Says the badger cull is bad for tourism

Once those badgers are gone, it is going to take a very long time to establish a population again. I think it is a recipe for disaster; it is going to be like a powder keg. Obviously they're not going to tell us where they are going to start culling so you're going to have marksmen firing at dusk when you have lots of people walking about. They say they are not going to do the shooting on Forestry Commission land or in the forest itself but there are a lot of footpaths around here that cross open farmland so that does raise concerns. As far as the Forest of Dean's reputation goes, it will be a very dark chapter in our history. If it goes ahead, it can only do us harm.

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 102.

    Badger culling is wrong on many different levels. There has never been any strong scientific case for it, it has always been very unpopular with the public and it is opposed by most conservationists. So it has to be asked why did the government give culling the go ahead, when this policy is not supported by any of the normal criteria government's usually use when implementing unpopular measures?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 101.

    brigwit... there a double the badgers there was in 1997, you wont notice a difference..imagine if humans had doubled by that amount? They will be culled in tb hot spots were the majority will be carrying and spreading TB. Most can live with the disease and excrete vast amounts,but many will die of the disease, getting thrown out of there setts they lose weight and die a long lingering lonely death

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 100.

    I would be interested in knowing whether a TB-infected badger would generally be as active as a healthy badger. If a healthy badger was more active and wide-ranging in its foraging (which I imagine is quite likely) would this not mean that healthy badgers are more likely to be shot - thereby reducing the effectiveness of the cull even further?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 99.

    The link between Bovine TB & Badgers was made (but not conclusively proven) in 1997. However, as a country dweller with farmers as neighbours there is great concern that it's not just badgers that spread it. Foxes, weasels, stoats (& thanks to Animal Rights idiots releasing them) mink, are all capable of carrying the virus. Develop a cattle vaccine! Dozy DEFRA need to pull their fingers out.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 98.

    My understanding is that the TB is passed between other mammals and cattle via saliva, mainly at drinking troughs. Has anyone tried raising the troughs above the height a badger can reach? Seems a cheap simple solution and I haven't seen a single field with a badger proof water trough.

    If the badger cull is ineffective what is the next stage in the program?

  • Comment number 97.

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

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 96.

    @ Alan
    So why is NFU forcing the Govt this route & why does it elect County Chairman who think badgers are as worthy of protection as rats?
    I am ABSOLUTELY sure that there are many farmers against the cull & even more sure that if they were able to control some of the knee-jerk instincts of some colleagues, we would not be having this debate but sorting the problem for 100% and not 17% of cattle

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 95.

    @88

    If you vote for the cull, then you do in fact want to kill badgers.

    You cannot have the cull and not kill badgers. So - do you want to kill badgers?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 94.

    74.antiantianti - "BIO SECURITY. I have never heard such tosh... ........."


    Yeah, right, then you haven't been paying attention - countries that do practice bio security to a stronger, less market driven level, than England do have anything like the scale of bovine TB that we do - explain that when it includes the other countries of the UK...???

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 93.

    I have only ever seen a badger once.It was 5am when i actually witnessed it.No wonder i have only witnessed this once.It is a badger,leave them alone...

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 92.

    DAVE9 If there was no demand for meat and milk then they wouldnt be worth the record prices they are... the reason there are subsidies is because the monopoly of the suppermarkets, all the money goes to those up the chain, Tescos billions. Farmers were till recently selling milk for the same price as in the 1980's. Humans are omnivores, like badgers, and love roast lamb and milk on there breccy.

  • rate this
    -6

    Comment number 91.

    Lots of 'knowledgeable' comments coming from lots of city folk especially the use of the word 'murder' @82...keep up the excellent 'debating' guys!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 90.

    Sorry I can's support the cull. Badgers are a natural part of the countryside whereas herds of cows are not. How about the cows that infect badgers - are we going to do anything about them? The reason TB has spread is down to poor animal husbandry. We need vaccines not corpses.
    I have cancelled my Conservative Party membership over this issue.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 89.

    80 Andy - At present it is impossible to distinguish between a vaccinated animal and one that is infected, so farmers cannot vaccinate their cattle - it's against the law. Badgers could be vaccinated, but how would you know which ones had been and which were not? The Welsh and going to try and I for one hope it works, but until it does the cull seems the only solution.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 88.

    You think we Farmers WANT to kill Badgers...?

    We Don't! We would rather have vaccinations, there are justa few desk-jockeys who believe they speak for all farmers and propose a cull on Badgers.

    Most Farmers just want their livestock to stay alive. Is That So Wrong?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 87.

    RMAGS Toxoplasmosis and tb is like comparing aids with the common cold. I will have toxo, as will nearly all cat owners and i think the stat is like 70 percent of aussies because they eat alot of bbq food(meat needs a high temp to kill it) You get a temperature you wouldnt notice for a day or 2. best not get a temperature when trying to get pregnant as early embryos will abort as a precaution

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 86.

    @75.big al
    "Killing badgers is an excuse for poor husbandry and intensive farming."

    If you read the article above from the Wildlife Trust, you'll see that Biosecurity effectively means housing cattle =intensive farming.

    Cows should be outside in fields not locked in sheds (away from badgers) all their lives.

  • Comment number 85.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 84.

    This supposed 16% reduction following the Krebs trial (RBCT) in the DEFRA report is based on 'observations' made after the RBCT had stopped gathering data. There is no scientific peer-reviewed paper as evidence for it, and we don't know how the figures were obtained. But there is some convoluted math model which basically proves that black can be white if you ignore the shades of grey in between!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 83.

    I stopped eating meat and milk and I'm just as healthy as I was before (for instance, I ran a marathon recently). So the cattle industry is simply unnecessary.

    If there was real market demand for British beef and milk, farmers would not need artificial EU subsidies paid for by you. If you believe people want these products at their real price, lets abolish subsidies and let the market decide.

 

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