The Badger Cull

In 1996 Jack Cunningham, Minister at MAFF, commissioned Professor John Krebs to review the efficacy of the badger cull programmes that began in 1975. Rates of bTB in cattle were steadily increasing and had doubled after 1990 when the NFU had convinced the then Conservative Government to withdraw all cattle movement restrictions.

Professor Krebs report, “Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers” (a) was presented in 1997 and can best be summarised as, “we need more science”.

In response, the Government asked Professor Krebs to design a science-based trial that would clarify the role played by badger-to-cattle transmission in the overall levels of bTB in cattle, in the UK. Professor Krebs, and scientists from other specialities, designed what became known as the “Randomised Badger Cull Trial” (RBCT) (b).

The RBCT took 10 years in total, 7 of which were in the field, cost £50million and involved the trapping, killing and testing of 10,979 Badgers.

Chairman of the RBCT, Professor John Bourne, presented the findings of the trial to the Secretary of State for the Environment, David Miliband, in 2007. The overall conclusion of the ISG was, “…that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain”. Professor Krebs, who initially believed that culling badgers would have a part to play in the control of bTB in cattle, was convinced by the science and agreed with the conclusion.

Acting on the results of the trial and the recommendation of the scientists the Labour Government of the time suspended all badger killing.

However, things turned nasty for badgers after the 2010 general election when David Cameron became the leader of a coalition government. Under pressure from the “Farmers Union” and the “Country Land Owners Association” Cameron agreed to reinstate the badger culls which recommenced in 2013 and continue to this day.

The first of the new culls took place in Somerset and Gloucestershire and were deemed to be 4 year “pilot culls”. Despite several failings eg. inability to reach the required target of badger kills in the set time, the culls were extended to North Dorset after just 2 years and have since been extended year on year until there are now over 50 cull areas. The whole of Dorset, excepting Poole and Bournemouth, is a cull area.

Badgers are killed by either trapping and shooting or free-shooting, despite the latter being condemned as inhumane by animal groups, the British Veterinary Association and the Government appointed Independent Study Group (ISG) (c). In response to the latter the Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson, tried to supress the report of the ISG but having failed to do so changed the definition of inhumane. The Government now argues that badgers should be treated in the same way as deer, a decision that demonstrates a total ignorance and lack of understanding of the animals in question.

In 2020 Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the badger culls would come to an end and that there would be no new cull areas after 2022. What the Prime Minister failed to say was that two more years would lead to another 20 or so new cull areas (there were 10 in 2021), that there would be nowhere else left to cull and that the killing would go on until 2035 (4 years of initial culling and 9 years supplementary).

As predicted by Professor John Bourne and the Independent Scientific Group, years of badger culling have made “…no meaningful difference to the incidence of bTB in cattle , in the UK”.

The Dorset Mammal Group continues to oppose the badger culls.

For further reading please see:

References:

  1. Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers. Report by the Independent Scientific Review Group. Chairman Professor John R Krebs FRS.
  2. Bovine TB: The Scientific Evidence. Final Report by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB. Chairman Professor John Bourne CBE MRCVS. 18 June 2007.
  3. Pilot badger Culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Report by the independent Expert Panel. Chairman Professor Ranald Munro. 5 March 2014.