Flawed badger cull expands in Cheshire

badger c. Andrew Parkinson/2020VISION

Natural England has today published licences for areas that will undertake badger culls in 11 new areas across England including Avon, Cheshire, Cornwall, Staffordshire, Devon, Dorset, Herefordshire and Wiltshire.

This includes the reauthorisation of licences for 29 existing areas which will see over 60,000 badgers killed in 40 areas of England from Cornwall to Cumbria by end of November 2019.

The Wildlife Trusts believe that the government’s strategy is flawed because bTB is primarily a cattle problem, not a wildlife one [1] and makes no sense at a time when a review of the government strategy which drives the culls – the bovine TB eradication strategy – is still underway [2]. Only 1 in 20 cases of bTB herd infections are transmitted directly from badgers [1], thus, culling badgers is not the answer and it is also counterproductive. Culling disrupts badgers’ social structure, causing them to move around more frequently and over longer distances – which can result in increased bTB transmission.

The Wildlife Trusts have opposed badger culling for well over a decade, writing to previous Secretary of State, Michael Gove, to highlight the flaws of the badger cull and request that the cull be ended in favour of strategic and widespread badger vaccination schemes, and to invest in developing a cattle vaccine. Yet again, this has not happened.

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager at The Wildlife Trusts, says:   
“Evidence shows that badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of TB in cattle and that the primary route of infection is from cow-to-cow contact – so a vaccine for cattle should be a government priority. While we wait for this to happen, Wildlife Trusts have been, and will continue to, vaccinate badgers.

Since 2011, Wildlife Trusts have vaccinated over 1,000 badgers on our nature reserves and in the wider countryside in partnership with vets, farmers and landowners. Many farmers recognise that badger vaccination is a positive alternative to culling, and working alongside them is the right way forward.”

Cheshire Wildlife Trust fully support the Cheshire Badger Vaccination Programme, which offer badger vaccination to farmers and landowners in Cheshire, free of charge.

“We’re hugely disappointed with the announcement that new cull licences have been granted in Cheshire” says Elaine Alexander of Cheshire Badger Vaccination Programme.

“This year with the help of 150 volunteers we have started vaccinating badgers across Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester as an alternative to culling. It makes today’s announcement even harder to hear.

“We are however hopeful with the news from earlier in the week that cull licences have been rejected in Derbyshire, thanks to a successful badger vaccination programme and campaign.”

Research has found that bTB bacteria can survive for months either on fields or in slurry [3]. Strict biosecurity procedures are key to tackle this key route of the spread of bTB. Defra should provide as much support as possible to farmers to make sure these procedures and rigorous tests are in place. This approach would contribute considerably to reducing the spread of bTB between cattle and badgers.

bTB can have a devastating impact on the lives of farmers. The Wildlife Trusts continue to work with farmers to find solutions that work for everyone. Badger vaccination is cost-effective, and it works. It reduces the incidence, severity and long-term vulnerability of badger groups to the disease [4]. If government strategy must focus on badgers, this approach offers a far more effective, cheaper and low-risk way to reduce bTB in badger populations.

The government has promised to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. Continuing and expanding the badger cull runs counter to this promise and risks pushing one of our protected native species to the verge of local extinction.

The Wildlife Trusts call on the government to:

•    Halt the badger cull now.
•    Invest in and promote a strategy for badger vaccination. This should be led and funded by the government, across England.
•    Invest more time and resource in further research into farm biosecurity and movement controls. We need to know what works.
•    Accelerate development of more effective tests for bTB in cattle and put serious investment into a bTB cattle vaccine. This is a cattle problem, not a wildlife problem.

The Wildlife Trusts are urging people to write to their MPs asking them to help stop the cull.

You can find out more information on our website here https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-and-wild-places/saving-species/….