A badger cull will not solve the problem of bovine TB, notes Richard Mountford in The Observer today. It could even make it worse
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A badger cull is not scientifically justifiable (‘On the hills and farms of England, friend and foe await the badger’s fate’, News, last week). The government’s own independent scientific group found that killing badgerswould not significantly reduce bovine TB and could even make it more prevalent because it causes the badgers to disperse to new areas.
However, the government (not for the first time) has been overly influenced by the National Farmers’ Union, which is why it supports a cull. One reason that the NFU is so keen on a badger cull is that it does not wish to accept that today’s agricultural practices are largely responsible for TB in cattle.
Stressed animals, selectively bred to grow at an unnatural rate, and living unnatural, unhealthy lives in factory farms, are vulnerable to disease. Illness then spreads rapidly within overcrowded intensive farms. Long-distance travel and livestock markets spread disease around the country, and live export spreads it even further. Badgers are not the problem; poor farming is.
We are deeply disappointed for the species we exist to protect! Pat Hayden, vice-chair of the Badger Trust. http://twitter.com/badgertrust
High court ruling opens the way for pilot culls in autumn 2012 to help eradicate bovine TB. Reports from The Guardian – and
The Badger Trust lost its judicial review of the government’s controversial plan to allow the killing of thousands of badgers on Thursday. The result means culls, aimed at reducing tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, could begin as early as September in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Pat Hayden, vice-chair of the trust, expressed deep disappointment but said: “How we feel is much less important than the impact on the species we exist to protect. We owe it to our members to do our utmost to protect badgers.” The trust is now considering an appeal.
“We are pleased with the judgment,” said a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). “No one wants to cull badgers but in 2011 bovine TB led to the slaughter of over 26,000 cattle and to help eradicate the disease it needs to be tackled in badgers. We will continue to work with the farming industry so badger control in two pilot areas can start as soon as is practical.”
The judicial review considered only legal arguments, not scientific ones. In the course of the hearing, the government accepted that a landmark decade-long trial had shown that fleeing badgers carried TB to new areas. That trial found that, at best, TB incidence was reduced in the cull area by just 16% after nine years. The government also accepted the culls could cost farmers more than doing nothing.
David Williams, the chairman of the trust, said: “The Badger Trust emphatically did not ask the court to adjudicate on the science around culling. That remains exactly the same as it has been for a decade. Despite a constant stream of evidence that culling will make matters worse and growing consternation from many farmers, the coalition government intends to press ahead with its expensive and pointless policy.”
Martin Haworth, NFU director of policy, said: “Given the public interest in this issue, we always knew that there would be a legal challenge. We are pleased the judge has ruled that Defra’s approach is lawful. This policy is desperately needed to tackle what is a terrible and damaging disease that affects cattle and badgers and brings misery to the lives of many hard working farming families.”
In court, the Badger Trust’s legal team had argued that the cull would break the 1992 law protecting badgers, which only allows culling to “prevent the spread of disease”. The trust’s lawyers also argued that the cost-impact assessment of the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, was flawed as it was based on shooting free-running badgers, rather than the far more expensive method used in the decade-long trial of trapping the animals in cages first. But Kate Grange, of the government legal team, told the court: “[Mr Justice Ouseley] has rejected the application in clear and robust terms.”
The trust now has seven days to seek leave for an appeal, a shorter period than the usual 21 days. Grange said: “Given where we are with the pilots, that is not unreasonable.”
The Badger Trust said in a statement: “The judgment demonstrates that the legislation in this area has not kept pace with developments in the understanding of how TB works.”
The RSPCA‘s David Bowles said: “We are bitterly disappointed. We believe culling is not a long-term, sustainable solution. It is not as if there aren’t alternatives to a cull. Vaccination could be more effective and sustainable.”
A badger vaccination programme is replacing a planned cull in Wales, following legal challenges and the election of a new political administration. Vaccination is being tested by the National Trust in Devonand by the Wildlife Trust in Gloucestershire. The previous Labour government said an oral badger vaccine would be ready by 2015. The coalition cancelled five of the six trials of injectable vaccines and Spelman says a useable oral vaccine is “years away”.
The government is also facing a complaint at the Council of Europe from the Humane Society International (HSI), which argues the badger cull contravenes the Bern Convention that protects wildlife. Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of HSI said: “This may now be the badgers’ last hope and we are determined to do everything we can to prevent this bloody and pointless slaughter.”
The Badger Trust, RSPCA, the League against Cruel Sports and other groups will hold public meetings in the next week to discuss the cull at Taunton and Tewkesbury, both towns in the two pilot areas.
• The original version of this story wrongly stated a pilot cull was planned for Devon, not Somerset.
- Badger cull ruled legal (guardian.co.uk)
- Thousands of badgers face slaughter after bid to prevent cull fails (independent.co.uk)
- Badger cull ruling due in high court (guardian.co.uk)
- Badger Trust loses bid to stop culling (independent.co.uk)
- Time running out for badgers in the culling fields of England…? (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger cull ‘not legal or scientific’, high court will hear… (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger Trust loses cull challenge (express.co.uk)
- Badger cull to halt rise of TB in cattle ‘will in fact spread the disease’ (independent.co.uk)
- Badger cull ruled legal (oddonion.com)
The Independent on Sunday reports: Government expects legal challenges from wildlife activists as it consults on how to tackle TB in cattle
Farmers in England are to be issued with licences to cull badgers under plans to halt the spread of tuberculosis in cattle herds, which will spark a storm of protest from animal lovers.
MY VIEW: Surely this is a clear case of humans, not being able to get the bottom of an issue, using a wonderful but inconspicuous creature – it’s nocturnal and unfortunatly not loved by all – being made to be a scapegoat! Just as well badgers are not a national emblem or they have no real voice… Hang on, that’s most plants and animals!
FROM THE INDEPENDENT BLOGS
How contemptuous to label people concerned about wildlife as a “Wind in the Willows” generation. I suppose people who concern themselves about the fate of gorillas could be called “Gorilla in the Mist” generations. Concerned about Lions? Then you must be a “Born Free” generation.
I am a concerned about wildlife generation and in particular, the most persecuted wildlife in the world..The British Wildlife.
Badgers may “Allegedly” carry TB but they don’t cause it, so why the hell don’t the government tackle the cause of this disease rather than slaughter innocent wild animals.
Our wildlife should be protected, by law, and only culled in circumstances proved by overwhelming evidence. Thereby setting an example to the rest of the world in good wildlife management.
I am absolutely disgusted with the abuse of our wildlife, with Foxes guts being used to lay scents, as the most disgusting example of abuse I have ever heard of.
This new cull has no supporting evidence as to its effectiveness and is being countenanced as a sop to the wealthy landowning friends of this incompetent government.
Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, will risk legal action – and the wrath of generations of Wind in the Willow readers – to give the go-ahead for a cull in the areas worst affected by the disease.
The coalition will launch a public consultation later this month on the precise details of the scheme, which would allow landowners who can prove the measures are necessary to cull and vaccinate badgers over an area of at least 50 square miles.
As well as the distress to farmers caused by the slaughter of infected herds – 25,000 cattle were destroyed last year – the ongoing crisis which has gripped the countryside also costs the Treasury millions every year. Compensation payments totalled around £90m in 2009, with cases concentrated in the south-west of England.
The move will not be without controversy. Politics and wildlife rarely make happy bedfellows. Labour endured a storm of protest after bringing in a foxhunting ban which has proved almost impossible to police or enforce.
A senior source at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “This will not be popular with people who view badgers as something from Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter, but it is the right thing to do. We cannot go on not taking action to deal with this huge problem.”
While there is widespread evidence that badgers carry TB and can pass it to livestock, a decade-long study, costing £35m, by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, concluded that culling could not “meaningfully contribute” to control of the disease because it displaces the badgers, spreading the disease over a wider area. As a result, the Labour government rejected calls for a cull, and instead focused on vaccination. However, the issue remains contentious, with the former chief scientist Sir David King saying culling has a part to play.
A cull ordered by the Welsh Assembly has been dogged by controversy and legal challenge, costing the taxpayer £57,000. In July, the Badger Trust, which opposes any cull, won a court appeal to halt a planned cull of 1,500 badgers in north Pembrokeshire and parts of Ceredigion.
The coalition is braced for a challenge in England, where the cull is likely to be larger. Earlier this year, the Farming minister Jim Paice stressed the need for civil servants to “get absolutely everything sorted before we commence” because campaigners would challenge the plan through judicial review. “We must make sure that either they are convinced they can’t win, or we win if it does go to review,” he said.
Earlier this year, researchers from Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London suggested repeated culling of badgers reduces the incidence of TB in cattle, but the benefits disappeared four years after the programme ended.
To cull or not to cull?
Sir David King, the former chief scientist, believed the high cost of a cull would be offset by the reduction in TB.
Peter Kendall, the president of the National Farmers’ Union, said of a decision not to cull: “This is devastating for the farming families whose lives and businesses are being ruined by TB in cattle.”
A 2008 study by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB said culling could not “meaningfully contribute” to controlling the disease.
An Imperial College London and Zoological Society London study found the practice to be cost-ineffective.
Government trials have concluded that culling only works over more than 300sq km, otherwise badgers just move.
By Matt Chorley, Political correspondent
The Welsh Assembly Government plans to kill badgers in a vain attempt to eradicate cattle Tb. See http://wales.gov.uk/newsroom/?lang=en
Badger Trust http://www.badger.org.uk/Content/Home.asp
Save the Badger http://www.savethebadger.com/
Back off Badgers http://www.backoffbadgers.org.uk/