Badger culling has failed but the government won’t stop

On 26th August, Natural England issued eleven new intensive badger cull licences for new culling areas, with multiple authorisations for pre-existing culling to continue.  Some substantial extensions of existing areas were made, with a maximum of 67,000 badgers to be killed, in several cases over an extended 8 week period.  Badger culling is in its 10th year in England. By now, the total kill figure is likely to exceed 200,000 shot badgers. That’s 200,000 mostly completely healthy badgers, killed on the premise of a theoretical (RBCT-based) average 16% annual reduction in TB infections in cattle. This theoretical reduction has simply failed to materialise, but studies do show increased cattle testing bringing modest improvements since 2010 in the High Risk Area.

Badger culls are also excused using the quite ludicrous view of the Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA) using its guess-based ‘Risk Pathways’ approach to how disease arrived – to conclude that badgers are the primary cause of breakdowns in many areas. The government seems to be reverting to the dogma of the 1980’s when the livestock industry’s view was that there was a need to remove all badgers from farmland where cattle are kept. Government is showing us that it has closed its eyes to learning from evidence and just wants to carry on culling badgers for as long as possible.

Further, Defra have  repeated their attack on a study in the journal Veterinary Record (18 March 2022) by Tom Langton and veterinarians Mark Jones and Iain McGill. This paper brought the long-awaited analysis on bovine TB and badger culling. Done in the most logical and clear-cut way using all the data, it shows what happens as unculled areas become culled, from 2013 onwards. It avoids the traps of multiple adjustments to attempt comparisons between completely different areas. A blog on this new research is available to read on our 18 March blog here. You can read an open access copy of the full paper here.

In another plot-twist, and in addition to mudslinging by the Defra press office, it has become clear that Defra’s bovine TB official Eleanor Brown failed in her outrageous attempt to block the publication of the new analysis (here). This was uncovered by Freedom of Information requests. Defra’s most senior scientists made claims based on their own flawed data (here), and have subsequently refused to substantiate those claims, or to provide the data they worked with. Read back through our blogs to find out more.

It is now recognised more widely that Defra know they were mistaken in their bungled letter to Veterinary Record but have nowhere to go. Much as they were not prepared to recognize the increase in bTB in 2018 when publishing data only to 2017, in order to claim a badger culling effect from a small amount of data over a short period.

It’s all gone wrong for Defra and APHA, yet public interest in these matters is still not being served. Defra’s dogma has been repeated by government ministers and NFU, perpetuating government misinformation to stakeholders and to the public, and without acknowledgement of the massive uncertainty and doubt that should accompany it. As for Natural England, are they still just only obeying orders?  They are slow to provide the public with the material on which decisions have been made and do not seem keen to share their reasoning behind their continued  licensing of mass slaughter of our most enigmatic of protected species. Something not quite right there for a nature conservation agency.

As Professor David Macdonald has pointed out in his recently published Oxford University Press book: The Badgers of Wytham Woods. “..one can only wonder if an effect that is so hard to demonstrate has been worth the cost of bringing it about.”

The badger culls have failed and need to stop.