On 1st June 2013, this report was produced on the impact of the badger cull in Ireland.
Both of these pieces were by BBC Journalist David Gregory-Kumar (DGK). Both these stories, and others beside support the controversial government view that badgers play a significant role in bovine TB control in cattle. Complaints to the BBC by ecologist Tom Langton eventually led to the following BBC ruling:
Given that both the statistics and scientific studies about the link between badger culling and bovine TB levels were inconclusive, the Committee examined whether the article had used clear and precise language to make this apparent to the audience. In doing so, it observed that the badger cull had become a highly divisive issue with those for and against the cull using the findings of different trials to bolster their respective causes and so it was essential that the BBC provided the greatest clarity possible on the subject.
In this context, the Committee believed that the language used in the article had not been sufficiently precise as it suggested that the badger cull might be a factor in helping control the disease when this was scientifically unproven. It considered that, while the data did show a decline in the number of cattle infected with TB in Ireland, there was no conclusive evidence to show that the badger cull had been categorically responsible for any of this decline and so it was inaccurate to say that, along with other measures, it can help control the disease.
Exactly the same error was repeated by the same journalist in a piece on BBC’s Farming Today on July 4th 2023, 10 years later, this time regarding the English culls. DGK plays a clip in which farmer James Griffiths says “badger culling has undoubtedly made a difference, no one can deny it” DGK follows this by saying “the latest data seems to support this.” The latest data does not support this. The latest data shows bTB falling generally because of cattle measures but the role of badger culling, if any, is not known. Why is DGK doing this we wonder?
DGK forgot to mention that there were more bTB breakdowns in Gloucetreshire pilot 1 area in 2022 than in 2013 when badger culling began.
Defra has failed to publish any analysis that shows that badger culling has produced any disease benefits since its much caveated publication in 2017, which was based on limited data over a limited period of time. DGK says that to show that badger culling is working you would need to “compare areas with a cull to those without and we can’t do that because the culls are now everywhere.” This is not the case. Defra holds all the data for all farms, culled and unculled, and it would be a relatively simple job to extract data from culled farms and compare them with unculled farms using a range of available techniques. They may have already done this. If not why not?
Overall, the bTB disease figures from Wales (where there is virtually no culling) and England (where 210,555+ badgers have been culled) have been very closely aligned. This is, perhaps, the best evidence that badger culling plays no role in bTB control.
Incidentally, Jeff Sim at Staffs Wildlife Trust who was interviewed said that he was vaccinating badgers to reduce bTB in cattle. But in fact such a relationship is not known and is purely speculative. Wales gave up on vaccinating badgers a long time ago.
Finally DGK’s idea that badger cull benefit lasts 4 years is not solid science. The confidence intervals on that old data indicate nothing scientifically significant. The late statistician David Cox who was involved with the RBCT is reported to have said at a conference later that he wished they had presented it as trends rather than as significant as the RBCT confidence intervals were also mostly very large.
The real story is that 6-monthly cattle testing in the High Risk and Edge Area are now starting to work.
Badgers have been speaking up for themselves in Oxford this week. They have been making their presence felt, raising awareness of the current government badger cull policy, and explaining what the future of badger culling could look like in Oxfordshire. Now that Minister Therese Coffey has thrown doubt over government previously stated intentions to stop culling in 2025, everyone needs to be alert to a possible U-turn on getting rid of badger culling for good.
The Oxforshire Badger Coalition (OBC) is a growing network of people and organisations from Oxfordshire and beyond who are concerned about the continuing, and potentially accelerating government badger cull policy. This is a policy that is based on the Randomised Badger Cull Trials (RBCT) and what Lord John Krebs described recently in the House of Lords as ‘unsettled science’.
Badger culling has been happening in Oxfordshire since 2020, firstly on the periphery as overspill from adjoining counties, then with a full cull area added each subsequent year. An estimated 50% or more of the county now has culling, with 5000 or more badgers shot so far, and plans for thousands more this year and next.
The situation for Oxfordshire’s badgers is moving to a point where there is a serious risk that culling is running out of control. The NFU has been setting up large ‘cluster area’ projects that may include future 100% culling, perhaps starting next year and even though bovine TB breakdowns have reduced greatly in recent years with better testing.
The risk is a change from the existing proactive policy, to a new reactive culling policy, a move that it is thought will be subject to consultation later this year. No culling, even in exceptional circumstances, is warranted. Reactive culling threatens to become the ‘new normal’, but it is not based on sound or impartial epidemiological evidence (1). The result could be 15 more years of 100% localized badger culling, and another 200,000 or more largely healthy badgers killed.
This is justified in part by Minster (Spencer) claiming in Parliament that badger culling is working, with a 45% benefit after three years and 50% after four years, but these numbers have no peer-reviewed or even published basis, and appear to be misinformation. Alternative peer-reviewed analyses (2) show that badger culling has produced no benefit in disease reduction. Despite a lot of claims and accusations by government, this work has not been effectively challenged.
The Oxfordshire Badger Coalition is determined to raise the profile of these issues in Oxfordshire over the coming months, so you may be seeing more badgers in Oxford in the very near future. Please say hello, and if you can, join in and spread the word. Most members of the public who stopped to say hello this week were supportive and said that they were not aware that the government is still killing badgers. This is because both badger culling and the results are being being kept secret from the public from reasons that remain unclear.
The annual bovine TB epidemiology reports (1) for England and Wales, both compiled at APHA Weybridge, have historically had authors in common. More recently however, the reports no longer publish the identity of the authors. Why might this be? What we see now is a definite disparity in approach, presentation and implication.
The emphasis on wildlife andRisk Pathways Analysis (RPA) in the England reports is noticeable, compared to the Welsh versions (Table 1) which barely mention them. So whilst bTB is clearly the same disease in both countries, the attribution to wildlife, cattle movements and residual infection differs very markedly as you cross Offa’s Dyke.
Table 1. Mentions of the risk pathways approach and badgers and wildlife as a source of bovine TB infection in APHA reports for Wales and England 2016-2021. Note near absence of mention for Wales, while England has a growing obsession over wildlife involvement. Will attempts be made to force Wales to follow England’s scientifically unreferenced pathway?
These differences have occurred due to the use in England of un-evidenced data to support a policy that culls badgers in England, whereas in Wales no such policy exists (2). RPA was introduced in 2015 by APHA on a trial basis by vets using the newly updated Disease Report Form (DRF), and with the stated aim of identifying the source of bTB breakdowns, defined as ‘hazards’. In this trial, the pathway by which disease entered the bTB infected herd was to be decided by the investigating vet. The DRF provided a list of epidemiological hazard options to select; the option of attributing disease to wildlife was the default where attribution to a cattle source was not immediately obvious. The trial was quickly hailed as a success and expanded in 2016 with a few changes. In 2017 it was adopted by APHA as a standard recognised procedure for identifying the source of an infection, training vets to routinely misdiagnose.
Risk Pathways; a process hijacked by pro-badger cull advocates
APHA have not been able to provide scientific citation to validate the use of RPA protocol. Despite claiming since 2019 that they have a supporting paper in preparation for peer review and publication in a scientific journal, over three years later this has not appeared. It could perhaps be argued that RPA has all the hallmarks of being constructed by APHA to facilitate and support widespread badger culling, because that in effect is what it has done.
Since 2017 RPA has become the primary tool to implicate badgers as the source of the majority of incidents in England (2,3). Wales, in contrast, cites cattle movements, residual cattle herd infection and poor cattle purchasing decisions as the primary sources of bTB herd infection.
A trawl through recent APHA English County bTB reports reveals a plethora of statements about badgers which are not supported by qualifying scientific evidence. Many of these are stated as if they are settled science (they are not), or with descriminatory language. Below are a few examples from the Executive Summary of the APHA England 2021 epidemiological report (4) :-
“Eradication of bovine TB requires control of infection in both cattle and the main wildlife reservoir (badgers).”
“In 2021, as in previous years, herds located in the HRA (where there is high infection pressure from cattle and badgers),…….”
“For England, the source of infection with the highest weighted contribution was badgers (49%), followed by ‘Other or Unknown’ sources (17%). The most frequently considered sources of infection in the HRA were badgers (52%) and ‘Other or Unknown’ sources (16%). In the Edge Area, badgers constituted 52% of the considered source, followed by cattle movements (17%).“
“The existence of local reservoirs of M. bovis shared by cattle, badgers and other species; wildlife reservoirs of M. bovis are more common in the HRA and the western and northern parts of the Edge Area.”
Compare this with the extracts from the Executive Summary Wales Bovine Tuberculosis Surveillance Report 2020 (5), where there is not a single ‘wildlife’ reference.
“The risk of a herd becoming infected with TB is associated with factors such as herd density, herd size, production type, TB history and location. These factors contribute to the spatial pattern of TB in cattle herds across Wales. Dairy herds had a significantly higher TB incidence rate compared to beef herds, with this effect remaining after adjusting for herd size and location. Similarly, herds with more than 300 animals have the highest incidence rates, with this effect remaining after adjusting for herd type and TB Area.”
“The increase in recurrent infection (a TB incident occurring within the last two years) in cattle suggests this remains an important driver of infection in Wales.”
“Use of antibody blood tests increased by 85% in 2020 compared to 2019, with 11-13% of tests disclosing reactors in the high TB areas, west and east, intermediate TB area mid Wales.”
From 2017 onwards, the England epidemiological report has a map illustrating the areas of England where badgers are considered by (what is described as) “informed veterinary opinion” to be the source of bTB infection. This is veterinary opinion that has been informed by APHA’s flawed briefing of vets.The map suggests that badger contribution far outweighs that of cattle. Combined with DRFs, from which the map data is derived, it offers no evidence to support this veterinary judgement. There is a clear bias towards blaming badgers. It even references “infected badgers” within the text, with an admission from APHA that no badgers have been clinically tested.
There have already been 10 years of intensive badger culling in England, and there appears to be some intention to continue with so-called ‘epidemiological culling’ into the future, despite a lack of evidence as to efficacy (6). APHA’s epidemiological assessments try to justify this new style epidemiological culling, by ‘finger pointing’ badgers as the source of breakdowns.
Unscientific perpetuation of wildlife involvement persists
The unscientific claims of wildlife involvement in bTB persist. They are being pedalled via epidemiology reports that lack scientific evidence and backed by vested industry and veterinary interests. The speculative blaming of badgers as a source of bTB infection in cattle, without scientific evidence or justification, seriously undermines the whole bovine TB eradication policy.
APHA pride themselves on being a world class science establishment, supported by such statements as :
“Science continues to be fundamental to everything APHA does and we are committed to high quality science-based evidence for decision making and policy development. We will deliver this strategy over the next five years.”
The new model for epi-culling is not quite the model of scientific rigour APHA aspire to. Is it more a clear case of confirmation bias, remoulding and manipulating information to support a government policy that has tried to normalise removing large numbers of healthy badgers from the English landscape, contrary to high quality science based evidence and to correct handling of uncertainty and precautionary principles.
It has to be asked, has this manipulation been intentional? Is incompetence or even negligence the right perspective? Will public opinion continue to be ignored? Who exactly is pushing biased procedures? What level of pressure is being exerted from vested interests, and who is routinely interfering with government science?
Monday, May 15 was World Badger Day, but in France protection depends on which side of a boundary the badgers are.
Badgers are not all in the same boat in the Alsace region of France. There are the lucky ones, in the department of Bas-Rhin, where hunting is not allowed. Sadly, their neighbours, in the Haut-Rhin, can be hunted legally as in the rest of France.
The Bas-Rhin is therefore a national exception to the rule, the only department where it has neither the status of pest nor of a huntable animal. “In fact, it is classified without legal status. This means that there is no authorization to hunt it and therefore that it cannot be hunted”, says Lætitia Duhil, badger referent at the League for the Protection of Birds.
The status of ‘pest’, hunted or not, is defined in each department by commissions bringing together hunters, farmers, foresters, environmental associations, and representatives of the State. In the Bas-Rhin, the associations advised at the end of 2004, a cessation of badger hunting.
Since then, it has not been deemed necessary to return to hunting, on the findings that a natural balance in their numbers now prevails and there is simply no need. In the Haut-Rhin, however, the wildlife commission has not yet invalidated badger hunting. Last year, only a hundred badgers were killed, an insignificant number compared with an estimated population of 10,000 – 15,000 badgers across Alsace. Leaving badgers alone seems to simply be the best way to manage them. This philosophy will hopefully now spread across France and elsewhere in Europe.
A new article in the May issue of British Wildlife magazine provides an overview of the current state of affairs with badger culling in England, and a welcome update on the science surrounding the issue.
It looks at new work that questions the role that badgers play in bovine TB in cattle, and what the most likely reasons behind the perpetuation of the disease are.
It also looks at the problems that badger culling is likely to be causing to the ecosystem in general, and whether or not this is being adequately monitored or mitigated.
There is a potted history of legal challenges to the badger cull, and a view on the insight and benefits that this difficult work has provided.
It looks at where the current government intends to take the badger culling policy next, and what ‘epidemiological culling’ could mean for our badgers in the future.
You can access a copy of the article here, for a charge of 99p.
Below is a summary table of the number of badger cull zones in each county of England since 2013 and those predicted according to government indications until 2025 (end of January 2026). A measure of culling intensity is the number of cull areas, although some counties such as Somerset are far larger than others. It’s a sickening reminder of how extensive the culls have been, with already over 210,00 mostly healthy badgers reported shot, and many thousands of adults and cubs injured by the cruel methods used.
The ‘zones’ are the HRA (High Risk Area) the Edge (Edge Area) and the LRA (Low RIsk Area). Cumbria* and Lincolnshire* have been subject to localised culling of 100% of badgers. Some of the cull areas overlap with other cull areas, so this is a generalised picture.
The amendment, moved by The Earl of Caithness, was described thus:
47: Clause 17, page 20, line 34, at end insert—“(3) In subsection (1)(b), developments in scientific understanding must be identified based upon regular reviews of the scientific evidence.(4) When undertaking a review of scientific evidence referred to in subsection (3), the relevant national authority must consider the methodological quality of the evidence, in terms of the extent to which all aspects of a study’s design, data collection protocols and statistical analysis can be shown to protect against systematic bias, non-systematic bias, and inferential error.(5) Where regulations under subsection (1) constitute environmental law, the review of scientific evidence must also consider whether the evidence takes a sufficiently wide view of the ecological impacts.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment is to ensure that future regulations will be based on a proper assessment of the best science available.
Member’s explanatory statement: This amendment is to ensure that future regulations will be based on a proper assessment of the best science available.
Lord Krebs was at last nights debate and said:
“I support in large part what he said about the importance of rigorous scientific evidence to underpin policy—he referred to the environment, but I would say more broadly. I will add a note of caution from my personal experience. As many noble Lords will know, I was responsible for instigating the randomised badger culling trials, the so-called “Krebs trials”, which were meant definitively to determine whether killing badgers was a good way of controlling bovine tuberculosis. The trial was probably the largest ecological experiment ever done in this country; it did produce results, but it did not settle the arguments or the policy. So science has an important role to play, and I support the noble Earl’s amendment, but we must recognise that political decisions come in as well.”
So Lord Krebs, who set up the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT), states that the results did not settle the argument as to whether killing badgers was a good way of controlling bTB in cattle.
Further, The Earl of Caithness, speaking in the same debate quoted Lord John Krebs from the recent debate on the Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Bill, where he said;
“scientists do not absolutely agree on everything”.
“when there is a centre of gravity of opinion, there are always outliers. Sometimes those outliers turn out to be right and there are transformations”.—[Official Report, 25/1/23; cols. 221-23.]
So in summary: the RBCT did not settle the arguments on the efficacy of badger culling, and the outliers in scientific opinion sometimes turn out to be right and there are transformations.
Will this to be the case with badger cull science; the outliers will turn out to be right, and there will be transformations?
Independent Report Exposes Unsafe Procedures in Bovine TB Control in English Cattle
A new report on the possible future use of so called ‘epidemiological badger culling’ is being released to MPs and Parliament on 11th May 2023. Compiled over the last year by a group of independent experts, it looks closely at one specific element of the government’s bovine TB control policy proposals for English cattle herds; that regarding the role of badgers in bTB disease hotspots as they develop.
Government Policy in 2020 had suggested a move away from intensive mass badger culling, that by 2022 killed over 210,000 mostly healthy badgers in England since 2013. This huge programme of wildlife intervention has produced no demonstrable benefit to disease control in cattle, with the government silent on results since 2017.
Authored by experienced and independent researchers, veterinarians, and epidemiologists, it addresses DEFRA’s handling of the disease crisis, and why the 2020 “Next Steps” policy is likely to fail because of incorrect decision making and exaggerated claims made on the back of equivocal research results.
The report claims that the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and DEFRA, are failing in their duty to provide proper scientific approaches to vital aspects of the heavily publicly funded, long running bovineTB control crisis in England.
Specifically, it exposes the poor rationale behind aspects of the proposal which aims to implement systematic localized elimination in an area of all (100%) of badgers, an approach termed by DEFRA as ‘epidemiological badger culling’. This back-door approach to systematic removal of badgers from farmland where cattle have bTB, is already being trialed in a small number of counties and appears to be planned in more. But it is founded on evidence and beliefs that are not fit for purpose.
The 55 page report with 2 page summary, provides a catalogue of evidence on issues that the authors say have been consistently misrepresented by APHA and the Chief Veterinary Officer. It calls for an immediate rethink, scientifically robust planning and an end to supporting an ill-conceived policy with uncertain science and procedures.
The report is prepared in advance of an anticipated government consultation over its future policy to phase out badger culling.
Report Citation: Griffiths, L., Griffiths, M., Jones, B., Jones, M., Langton, T.E.S., Rendle, M., Torgerson, P. 2023. A bovine tuberculosis policy conundrum in 2023. On the scientific evidence relating to the Animal and Plant Health Agency/DEFRA policy concept for ‘Epidemiological’ badger culling. An Independent report by researchers and veterinarians to DEFRA and the UK Parliament. APRIL 2023.
Last Friday, The Canary online published a story about how large scale badger culling continues to be extended, despite government claims in 2020 that it is being phased out.
It reports on Freedom Of Information disclosures that show Natural England approved 10 cull extensions in 2022 in addition to declaring new areas. This amounted to badger killing on an additional 327km2 of land. In 2021, it greenlit eight extension areas totalling 342km2 in all. Natural England effectively confirmed that extensions are again likely for 2023 by indicating that these are “in course of completion”.
It’s a deeply disappointing story of more and more healthy animals being mass killed by stealth, just in case they are involved in the cattle TB epidemic and despite latest published peer- reviewed science showing badger culling has no effect on herd breakdowns. You can read the full article here.
Since mid-March 2022, Defra has persisted with its claims regarding an independent scientific paper (1) that extensively analysed government data on herd bTB incidence and prevalence in the High Risk Area of England since 2010. The paper compares areas subject to badger culling with those that were not culled in each year of the controversial mass badger culls from 2013-2019.The paper concludes that badger culling has had no measurable benefit in bovine TB disease reduction, and Defra continue to claim that the paper is flawed.
Defra’s and Natural England’s position on this new analysis, including apparently that of the Defra chief scientist (CSA), Gideon Henderson and chief vet (CVO) Christine Middlemiss, seems to be based on their dislike of the statistical approach of the new paper, which differs from Defra’s traditional approach to badger cull evaluation.
Defra/APHA prefer to try to mimic the analytical methods of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). They take cull areas and compare them with different unculled areas, adjusting the data considerably to try to take account of the subtle or sometimes profound differences between compared areas. The new study took a different approach. This study looked at the same (or 97% of) herds over the years of study, so spatial differences were minimized. The analysis used data from herds when they were in unculled areas, and then again when they were in culled areas following their transition from one to the other. This simple approach, dictated by Defra secrecy over cull area locations, brings different strengths and requires less interference with the data. The approach enabled all the data available to be used, not just selected parts of it that might lead to skewed, inaccurate results and conclusions. Just look, for example, at the tangled caveats in the Downs paper from 2019 of just three culled areas and multiple unculled areas.
But Defra are very bold in their criticism : “the analysis was scientifically flawed. It manipulated data in a way that makes it impossible to see the actual effects of badger culling and therefore its conclusions are wrong.” Confident claims, but do they have merit?
Defra’s ‘inappropriate grouping’ claim
Defra’s main objection surrounds the issue of what they call ‘inappropriate grouping’ of data. This is the key point in the letter that they pressed the Veterinary Record journal to publish alongside the shortened printed version of the paper on 18th March. This was reported on in more detail here.
The problem in Defra’s claim goes beyond the calculation mistakes in their 18 March Vet Record graph, that they subsequently (in May) apologised for, retracted & replaced with results more similar to those in the new paper. Defra’s presented data shows the herd bTB incidence reducing dramatically in the first and second years from cull commencement. This is the same data as used in the new paper, so this is no surprise. But the point is, Defra say that you cannot group data from years one and two of culling with that from the third and later years because thelevel of decline in years one and two are too small, and this will remove all signs of effect. However, the Defra graphs do not show that the level of decline in years one and two in cull areas is small, and this is the contradiction that they refuse to talk about.
Similarly, the analysis presented by APHA staffer Colin Birch at the IVSEE16 conference in Nova Scotia, Canada earlier this month, (2) Figure 1, does not show that the level of decline in years one and two is small either. It showed sustained decline over 4 years, with a similar level of decline each year right from the start. Yet it provided no comparison of data from the 25% of the HRA that remains unculled. To the audience’s complaint, here, he quite wrongly tried to attribute these declines to badger culling.
So where did the ‘inappropriate grouping’ comment come from? Well, it is likely that Defra have fallen back on RBCT advice and the 2006 and 2007 (3,4) papers that presented the findings of 10 treatment-control area comparisons of small cull areas. These papers showed large variation in the estimated levels of decline in bTB herd incidence in culling areas, so much so that the confidence intervals (CI) on the presented graph figure 2A (Figure 2.) passed through 0 in most years.
Estimated average declines were 3.5% in year 1 and 12.8 % in year 2, with 39% in year 3. So, you can see that by using the RBCT as a prior reference source (this the point of reference used in Defra/APHA documents), there could be an expectation that there isn’t much disease reduction in years 1 and 2. However, while the drop may not have been projected to show significance until year 3, the decline trend should be present and visible by the end of year 2.
So looking again at Figure 1 (Birch 2022 abstract), government is now turning this on its head and claiming, in contradiction, that bTB incidence among cattle herds reduced by around 15% per year in each of the first two years of badger culling.
Defra’s unsupported point was also made by Cambridge vet James Wood on Radio 4 Farming Today on 19th March 2022, but it simply doesn’t stack up. Even if there was just a modest (say 8% average) annual benefit in years 1 and 2, it would still have shown up in the new paper analysis in comparison with unculled areas when using such a huge amount of data, as is possible using the 2016 onwards rolled-out HRA badger culls.
Ridiculously, Defra have previously claimed substantial benefit in years 1 and 2 from the post-2013 cull data, and used this as a basis for claiming badger culling was working. They did this spectacularly in 2017 with the APHA Brunton et al. paper (5) that suggested benefit 32% in Somerset, and 58% benefit in Gloucestershire in the first two years, and again in 2019 with the notorious and heavily caveated Downs et al. paper using data to-2017 (6), that was undone by the 2018 results (7), also published in the veterinary literature, with slightly more claimed benefit (Table 1 below).
Pilot cull Area 2013-2017
Brunton et al. 2017
Downs et al. 2019
Percent est. in Yrs 1 and 2
Table 1. Claimed benefit from badger culling in Brunton et al (5) and Downs et al (6).
The Defra Minister and MP’s were told that badger culling was working based on this claimed year 1 and 2 benefit. They told parliament and the public in no uncertain terms that badger culling was working, so they can’t really go back on it now without losing face. James Wood also told Countryfile views that he thought the data showed badger culling was working based on the first two-years of pilot data. So, who is talking in riddles now?
The problem that Defra have, and it is why they have clammed up to the scientists and media, is that if Defra/the CSA/CVO were to communicate beyond the bold claims made in March in Vet Record and on the Defra media blog, they would lose the argument. Defra have written to the first author saying they are not prepared to discuss the matter. Caught, it seems, between their scientific advisors’ comments, legal undertakings to monitor efficacy and policy-mania to keep on badger culling in the face of failure. Even Natural England have gone as far as saying that the situation is unclear “Because these different control measures are being implemented simultaneously, it is difficult to determine the relative contribution each of them is making to disease reduction.”
Insufficient data points?
One argument Government have used to dismiss the validity of the new paper is that it has insufficient data points. While the new study does has few data points, each data point summarises a huge amount of data representing hundreds or thousands of herds, helping to obviate the kind of problems caused by the smaller data sets of APHA studies. The approach is equally or more valid. It did, after all, pass rigorous peer-review (4 reviewers including at least two epidemiological statistical specialists) in a leading veterinary journal.
Basically, Defra lost both arguments, rebutting the paper in short measure, and it is astonishing that CSA Henderson CVO Middlemiss were given this position to hold, let alone to defend. No wonder Middlemiss got muddled on Farming Today over it on 25 May. This problem is now many months old and Defra and Natural England have carried their unsubstantiated criticisms along to justify the licensing of further supplementary culling licences in May and intensive culling licenses from August. This means the killing of tens of thousands more largely healthy badgers over the next four years to add to the roughly 200,000 that have been slaughtered to date. This flies in the face of peer-reviewed science, against which Defra have failed to produce anything credible or comprehensive that is peer-reviewed.
At the Birdfair State of the Earth panel debate on 15th July of this year, the retired badger cull architect Prof Ian Boyd: Chief Scientific Adviser at Defra (2012-2019) commented: “Well, if badger culling isn’t working it shouldn’t be done, that’s absolutely clear. I think there is still an ‘if’ there, but I suspect that the evidence is suggesting it doesn’t work.”
And Prof David Macdonald at Oxford, who chaired the Natural England Scientific Advisory Committee for many years, and who called the Pilot culls an ‘epic fail’ has commented in Chapter 16 of his new Oxford University Press book ‘The Badgers of Wytham Woods’: “ it is hard to see how Middlemiss and Henderson land a knock-out punch on Langton et al’s analysis..”
There is nothing very dramatic or complicated here in Defra’s last stand. Defra has lost the scientific argument. They must surely now face abandoning the failed badger culling policy altogether. They really should talk openly about it.
1. Langton TES, Jones MW, McGill I. Analysis of the impact of badger culling on bovine tuberculosis in cattle in the high-risk area of England, 2009–2020. Vet Rec 2022; doi:10.1002/vetr.1384.
2. Birch, C. Prosser, A. and Downs S. An analysis of the impact of badger control on bovine tuberculosis in England. Abstract oral presentation to ISVEE16, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. 2022.
3. Donnelly, C. A. et al. Positive and negative effects of widespread badger culling on tuberculosis in cattle. Nature 439, 843–846 (2006).
4. Donnelly CA, Wei G, Johnston WT, Cox DR, Woodroffe R, Bourne FJ, Cheeseman CL, Clifton-Hadley RS, Gettinby G, Gilks P, Jenkins HE, Le Fevre AM, McInerney JP, Morrison WI. Impacts of widespread badger culling on cattle tuberculosis: concluding analyses from a large-scale field trial. Int J Infect Dis. 2007 Jul;11(4):300-8. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2007.04.001. Epub 2007 Jun 12. PMID: 17566777.
5. Brunton LA, et al. Assessing the effects of the first 2 years of industry-led badger culling in England on the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle in 2013–2015. Ecol Evol. 2017;7:7213–7230. doi: 10.1002/ece3.3254. – DOI – PMC – PubMed.
6. Downs S H, Prosser A, Ashton A, Ashfield S, Brunton L A, Brouwer A, et al. Assessing effects from four years of industry-led badger culling in England on the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle, 2013–2017. 2019. Sci Rep. 2019; 9:14666. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-49957-6. Accessed 16 June 2021
With the use of the farming industry press, the farming sector is being hoodwinked into thinking that badger culling could somehow help them. Or is badger culling perhaps, as in England, being used as a delaying tactic and distraction from real epidemiological solutions that would prevent both disease and help end dependence on constant public subsidy?
In 2021, the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) announced proposals to copy English-style badger culling in Northern Ireland. As a result, a legal challenge to this will take place on Monday 21 November next week, with a one-day judicial hearing by the Department of Justice at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.
It will be the most important day for NI badgers for decades, although the outcome may take months to be announced. The hearing is open to the public to observe in person, and it is listed to start at 10.00 am.
It is barely possible to believe, after year-on-year failure in England and the Republic of Ireland, that DAERA wish to draw a veil over their inadequate cattle controls and cull around 10,000 badgers over the next 10 years across Northern Ireland. With an estimated 2,400-3,200 badger adults and cubs to be killed within the first four-year period, and then supplementary culling for perhaps a further 5 or more years, adopting the unsuccessful 70-96% kill technique attempted in England.
Also proposed is an element of experimental badger vaccination after the mass slaughter, a policy that government appointed experts in England say is an unproven approach to the control bTB in cattle. The ongoing badger culls in England and the Republic of Ireland (RoI) suggest that the DAERA estimates and timescales could prove to be over-optimistic. Twenty years on, the RoI is still culling badgers and still failing to eradicate bTB from its national herd. It hasn’t worked, and since the free movement of diseased cattle continues, it is not a surprise.
The NI legal challenge made earlier this year by Wild Justice and NI Badger Group, is that the consultation by DAERA on options to control the badger population to tackle bovine tuberculosis (bTB) did not meet the requirements for a lawful consultation. The DAERA consultation referenced a ‘business case’ for the cull but failed to make the document available for scrutiny, and for some mysterious reason it has been withheld. Perhaps that is because it doesn’t stack up and is little more than guesswork?
Therefore, the resulting decision to choose to greatly diminish the badger population by allowing farmer-led groups to shoot at free-roaming badgers at night is also, it is argued, unlawful. On 9th September, a presiding judge at Belfast’s High Court, The Honourable Mr Justice Scoffield, agreed that the challenges were arguable and hence the hearing date was set.
Wild Justice, with others, also argue that DAERA Minister Edwin Poots’ decision, announced in March 2022, to allow farmer-led companies to shoot an average of 1,000 badgers a year, is unlawful because he issued the Article 13 (power to destroy wildlife) order under the Diseases of Animals (Northern Ireland) 1981 Order. Controversial climate-change denier Poots, did this without making sure that there is no reasonably practicable alternative way of dealing with bovine TB across Northern Ireland. In September, Mr Justice Scoffield ‘stayed’ a decision on this challenge for consideration later, perhaps when the first two grounds are decided.
Competence of veterinary bodies and advisors
As in England, the competence of veterinary bodies and advisors within government is under close scrutiny, with advice from the ‘cattle vet’ contingent on maintaining intensive beef and dairy production being called into question. They disregard the fact that bTB is changing at similar rates in Wales and England, with Wales not culling badgers.
Now DAERA are busy promoting badger culling with ‘roadshows’ which make exaggerated claims, disseminate misinformation and use other propaganda tricks to force their proposed wishes on the public. See for example:
There is evidence that all the bully-boy tactics used in England will be used in NI. At a recent roadshow in Armagh, farmers were apparently told that DAERA would, if necessary, invoke the Diseases of Animals Order to cull badgers on lands where the owner refuses permission.
If the JR case is won, DAERA’s credibility would be seriously damaged and the policy would be required to go back out to consultation, perhaps even without an Assembly. An Assembly could reconvene before fresh elections are announced. But a fresh decision on the outcome would probably need Ministerial authorisation if significant changes were made to the proposals.
The assessment of ecological-impacts question also remains unaddressed
This case may also remind DAERA of another ‘ticking time bomb’ within its proposals only to carry out ‘preliminary ecological assessment’ to form a baseline to monitor badger culling impacts on designated sites and species. Proposals are completely insufficient and don’t even reach the almost non-existent care taken by Natural England in England. Legal challenges in England since 2017 imply that any NI action licensing the culls would be subject to JR, due to inadequate assessment and monitoring of culling impacts in the way described within the various English High Court legal proceedings. Failure to form an adequate baseline and credible monitoring methods could bring any badger cull decision to a grinding halt even if a go ahead was given.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
DAERA has created an almighty mess in trying to copy the failed English culls and is heading for a fall. We can only hope that justice is done and this cruel, unscientific and useless killing of protected wild mammals is confined to the history books marked ‘fail’, where it belongs.