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.