Question & Answer : The badger cull


From BBC News 

Farmers in two areas of England will be permitted to shoot badgers from 1 June, in an attempt to control TB in cattle.

Under the proposals, about 5,000 badgers will be culled in two pilot zones in the south west.

The government says the action is needed to help tackle bovine TB, a disease of cattle that has been steadily rising since the 1980s.

Campaigners against the cull say it will have no impact on bovine TB, and could lead to local populations of badgers being wiped out.

Q: What is taking place?

A: The trials are taking place in areas where there are a high number of TB infections in cattle to assess whether badgers can be culled humanely, safely and effectively.

The precise areas where badgers will be shot by trained marksmen have not been revealed.

The pilot areas

  • West Gloucestershire pilot area description:mainly in the county of Gloucestershire, predominantly within the council districts of the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury; and parts lie within the districts of Wychavon, Malvern Hills and the south east part of the county of Herefordshire. The area does not include the public forest estate in the Forest of Dean.
  • West Somerset pilot area description: located in the county of Somerset. The application area predominantly lies within the council district of West Somerset and part lies within the district of Taunton Deane.
  • Source: Natural England

One area is in West Somerset and the other is in and around West Gloucestershire.

A third area – Dorset – is being considered for a cull, but a licence is not yet in place.

The cull will aim to kill at least 70% of badgers across areas about the size of the Isle of Wight in each zone.

Q: When will the cull start?

A: Shooting badgers is not permitted between 1 February and 31 May, to protect the badger’s young. So the cull could take place anytime from 1 June onwards, depending on weather conditions, coverage of vegetation on the ground, and police advice.

Details of precisely when shooting will begin is not being revealed. The timetable is being set by the contractors behind the cull in each area, in collaboration with the police.

The cull is designed to run for six weeks, in order to kill at least 70% of badgers in each area.

Q: How will the success of the pilot culls be measured?

A: The pilots will not look at scientific data. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will review:

  • How humane the cull is. A government agency will carry out sample post mortems to see if the badgers have been shot humanely. The carcasses will not be tested for signs of TB infection.
  • How effective (in terms of badger removal) the two badger pilots are. In West Gloucestershire, a target has been set for killing between 2,856 and 2,932 badgers over the six-week period – around 70 badgers a day. The target in West Somerset is between 2,081 and 2,162 badgers – around 50 badgers a day.
  • How safe the two badger culling pilots are.

On the basis of this evidence, ministers will make a decision about whether or not to extend the pilots to other areas in England.

Q: What is the scientific evidence for and against a cull?

Randomised badger culling trial

  • A £50m study in England on whether culling badgers reduces bovine TB
  • Carried out between 1998 and 2007, with culling for 5 years, and follow-up studies for 4 years
  • 30 areas of the country selected, each 100 square km in size
  • 10 culled proactively, 10 reactively (in response to outbreaks), 10 not culled
  • Badgers culled through being caught in cages and then shot
  • Incidence of bovine TB measured on farms inside and outside study areas
  • Reactive culling suspended early after significant rise in infection
  • More than 11,000 badgers killed

A: Scientific evidence suggests sustained culls of badgers under controlled conditions could reduce TB in local cattle by 12-16% after four years of annual culls, and five years of follow-up, although it could be lower and it could be higher.

The randomised badger culling trial in England found that killing badgers disrupted their social groups, with surviving animals moving out to establish new groups, taking TB with them. This perturbation effect led to an increase in cases of bovine TB outside of the cull zone, although the impact diminished over time.

The pilot culls are attempting to use borders such as rivers and motorways to reduce the risk of badgers spreading TB to neighbouring areas, but this approach has not been fully tested.

The trial trapped badgers in cages for the cull, while the main method planned for Gloucestershire and Somerset is free shooting. Any deviation from methods used in the original trial will decrease or increase the expected impact on bovine TB, according to scientists.

Q: What is cattle TB?

A: Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease of cattle. It presents a serious problem for the cattle industry, causing financial and personal hardship for farmers.

The disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), which can also infect and cause TB in badgers, deer and other mammals.

Cattle are regularly tested for TB and destroyed if they test positive.

Q: Why are badgers implicated in spreading TB?

A: Scientific evidence has shown that bovine TB can be transmitted from cattle to cattle; from badgers to cattle and cattle to badgers; and from badger to badger.

Badgers are thought to pass on the disease to cattle through their urine, faeces or through droplet infection, in the farmyard or in cattle pastures.

However, it is not clear how big a role badgers play in the spread of bovine TB since the cows can also pass the disease on to other members of the herd.

Data from the randomised badger culling trials found that 16% of badgers were infected.

According to one estimate, in areas where TB cattle infections are high, about 50% of infections in cattle are from badgers, although this figure is disputed.

Q: What are the costs of TB?

A: TB has cost the taxpayer in England £500m to control the disease in the last 10 years.

According to Defra, each pilot cull will cost about £100,000 a year, with these costs met by farmers who want badgers killed on their land.

This figure does not include policing costs, which have been estimated at £0.5m per area per year, according to a written answer to parliament.

The cost of a new survey of badger numbers in England and Walesis £871,000.

Q: What is happening in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

A: Scotland is classified as free of TB. The Welsh Assembly Government has chosen to vaccinate badgers, with trials underway in North Pembrokeshire.

Northern Ireland is conducting research into an eradication programme involving vaccination and selected culling of badgers with signs of TB infection.

The Republic of Ireland has been culling badgers since the 1980s.

Q: Can badgers or cows be vaccinated?

A: There is a vaccine for badgers – the BCG jab, which has been used by a number of wildlife and conservation bodies in England, including the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the National Trust.

Badger vaccination is also underway in Wales, and there are plans to introduce it in Northern Ireland.

Cattle can also be vaccinated with the BCG vaccine. Vaccination of cattle against TB is currently prohibited by EU legislation, mainly because BCG vaccination of cattle can interfere with the tuberculin skin test, the main diagnostic test for TB.

Vaccination is not effective in badgers or cattle that are infected with TB.


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