From the Guardian
What is happening?
Marksmen are shooting up to 5,000 badgers in two pilot zones several hundred square kilometres large, in Somerset and Gloucestershire. The cull started overnight on Monday, and is licensed to run for up to six weeks. Farmers are paying the cost for hiring marksmen.
To tackle the rising problem of bovine tuberculosis, which farmers and government say is being spread to cattle by badgers. In 2012, 37,000 cattle were slaughtered, with £100m in public money paid in compensation to farmers.
What does it hope to achieve?
To test whether badger culling can be undertaken in England in a manner that’s safe, human and effective, and whether culling could be undertaken more widely. The pilots will not actually test whether the culling reduces local bovine TB infections in cattle.
Who’s against it?
An alliance of animal welfare campaigners, from groups including Stop the Cull campaign, the Humane Society International, and the RSPCA to anti-hunting saboteurs, and public figures such as musician Brian May. They say the culls are inhumane, will not be effective, and could make the problem worse through perturbation – the increased movement of badgers trying to escape the shooting, and coming into contact with cattle. The Labour party has said the cull “flies in the face of the scientific evidence.”
What does the science say?
A group of leading scientists, including Lord Krebs, the architect of an earlier 10 year-long culling trial that ended in 2007, have called the culls “mindless.” They say the pilots risk increasing bovine TB in cattle, and that the “pilot culls are too small and too short term to measure the impacts of licensed culling on cattle TB before a wider roll-out of the approach.”
However, Ian Boyd, chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says the previous cull trials, and experience of culling in Australia, New Zealand and other countries, provide a sound scientific basis for the cull. Using the results of the earlier trial, Defra predicts culls over an area of 150sqkm – ie the size of the current pilots – would cut local bovine TB incidents by 16% on average.
What about vaccination?
An injectable vaccine is available for badgers, but the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, says that cannot be a solution alone, because there are already sick badgers carrying the disease. A vaccine exists for cattle, BCG (Mycobacterium bovis Bacille Calmette-Guérin), but is banned by the EU because it can interfere with the skin test used to detect bovine TB. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efracom) concluded vaccination was “not a magic bullet.” Oral vaccines are still in development.
Will the cull save money?
It’s not clear yet. Due to the significant opposition and policing costs, some experts, such as Prof Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London, calculate it will be more expensive than vaccination. Other analyses have concluded culling is “a bad deal for the taxpayers, in strict economic terms.”
How will the humaneness of the cull be tested?
The time it takes a badger to die after being shot will be a key factor. Defra says: “Humaneness will be monitored through field observations, postmortems and a report will be drawn up by the independent panel.”
What happens to the badger carcasses?
They will be collected and transported to undisclosed sites to be burned. They will not be tested for whether the badger was carrying bovine TB.
Where exactly are the culls taking place?
Natural England, the regulator which issued the licenses for the culls, will not say precisely and has not issued maps, due to “security reasons.” It says the Gloucestershire area (300sqkm) is “predominantly within the council districts of the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury, and parts lie within the districts of Wychavon, Malvern Hills and the southeast part of the county of Herefordshire.” The Somerset area (250sqkm) is mostly in “the council district of west Somerset and part lies within the district of Taunton Deane.”
What else can be done to tackle bovine TB in cattle?
Work on vaccinations is ongoing despite government cuts to the research programmes on them. Stronger controls over cattle movements and biosecurity on farms were introduced this year, but some experts say even stricter controls need to be enforced.
Is it true that Paterson used to keep pet badgers?
Yes. He called them Bessie and Baz. But it is no longer legal to keep badgers as pets.
- Badger cull: key questions answered (theguardian.com)
- News story: Badger cull – piloting controls on bovine TB (gov.uk)
- Bovine TB fears spark UK badger cull (skynews.com.au)
- A Case for Vaccination of Cattle over the Badger Cull (gingerblokeblog.wordpress.com)
- Bovine TB fears spark UK badger cull (bigpondnews.com)
- Britain begins massive badger cull amid bovine TB fears (dailystar.com.lb)
- Why the badger cull will spread bovine TB, not help eradicate it (metro.co.uk)
- Badger cull go-ahead flies in the face of scientific evidence, says Labour (theguardian.com)
- Badger cull: activists on night vigil yet to see dead animals (theguardian.com)
- Farmers could push for badger cull (bbc.co.uk)
- CULL : ‘It must okay’ … if environment secretary defends it! (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)