Study finds some Welsh farmers killing badgers

The research was carried out by researchers at three universities

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A survey of Welsh farmers suggests that an estimated one in 10 of those questioned could have killed a badger in the last year.

Researchers at universities in Bangor, Kingston and Kent spoke to 428 farmers at rural shows in Wales.

They used a technique which asked those questioned to use a dice roll to decide if they would answer honestly.

Concerns about badgers spreading bovine TB has led to a vaccination programme in Pembrokeshire.

It followed a decision by the Welsh government not to instigate a cull, which some in the farming industry had backed.

"The proportion of farmers estimated to have killed badgers should be considered by policymakers and in the wider debate," said Dr Paul Cross, from Bangor University's School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography.

Start Quote

We believe that this study makes an important contribution to that debate”

End Quote Dr Freya St John

"Studies investigating the effects of badger culling on TB outbreaks in cattle have not factored in the prevalence of illegal badger killing, and its potential to spread disease."

But the vaccination versus cull argument has raised questions as to whether some in the farming industry might take the law into their own hands - even though badgers are a legally protected animal.

Because of the sensitivity of the issue, researchers who carried out the study decided to adopt the 'randomised response technique method'.

It has been used successfully in the past in difficult subject areas, such as wildlife crime in South Africa, on issues of abortion in Catholic countries, and tax evasion in the Netherlands.

It involves the person being questioned rolling two dice and following rules as to whether they should answer truthfully or dishonestly, depending on the numbers rolled.

Survey 'caveats'

The researchers never know the result of the dice rolls, so they cannot tell if any specific individual may have committed an illegal act.

The researchers also stress that the figures they uncovered can only ever be an estimate - as they can never know for certain what percentage of those who took part actually stuck to the dice rules and answered truthfully.

It means there is also an estimated margin of error in the results of between +5% and -5%.

But the report authors say the survey sample represents about 2.8% of the farming industry in Wales, a higher ratio than those that may be questioned in a political opinion poll, for example.

The full report is being published at the peer-reviewed journal site, PLOS ONE.

Dr Freya St John, from the University of Kent's Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), added: "Attempting to resolve the issues regarding badgers as carriers of bovine TB requires cross-disciplinary scientific research, a departure from deep-rooted positions, and the political will to implement evidence-based management.

"We believe that this study makes an important contribution to that debate."

'Shocking'

John Evans from Save the Badger group in south Wales, said: "It's shocking to realise that 10% of the farmers in Wales have been killing badgers.

"That begs the question how many farmers are doing this and haven't been quite as frank.

"Badgers are protected by law. To kill or injure or disturb them is illegal.

"We hope members of the public will report any suspicious activity involving badgers and also I hope that farmers' leaders will speak out clearly to condemn this action."

Brian Walters, vice president of the Farmers Union of Wales, called on farmers to stop killing badgers.

He said: "Certainly I'm going to condemn it, but it shows really the pressure that farmers are under and the measures they're prepared to take in order to control the TB because at the moment government isn't doing anything, and successive governments haven't done anything about our problem with TB in the rural countryside."

He said he could not condone anybody breaking the law, but said he "can understand why it's happening".

Responding to the report, a Welsh government spokesperson said: "There is no quick fix to tackling this disease.

"It demands a sustainable and long term approach and the application of a comprehensive range of measures including strict biosecurity, cattle testing and movement controls.

"Last year we vaccinated over 1,400 badgers against TB and will resume vaccination later this year.

"Badgers are protected animals in the UK and the issue of illegally killing them is therefore a matter for the police."

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