Badger cull to begin in Dorset

Following pilot studies in Gloucestershire and Somerset, the UK government has decided to continue the badger culls in Dorset in attempt to eradicate bovine TB. The government voted against badger culling in 2013 along with the largest public petition every submitted calling for an alternative.

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Owen Patterson, the UK Environment Secretary, claims the decision to cull badgers has “been shown to be the right one”. However there is no evidence this has had any positive effects and the trial was ended early in Gloucestershire having been a failure. A key researcher and head of Natural England’s scientific advisory board, Professor David Macdonald, has labelled the badger culls as an “epic failure”.

Government farmining minister George Eustice, said: “England has the highest incidence of TB in Europe and that is why we are taking strong action to deliver our 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries.” Whilst this is true , culling lacks evidence for the following reasons.

Firstly, it has not been proven that badgers pass on bovine TB, though they do possess it, so lets start there. Perhaps proving cause of the disease and working out a solution would be more beneficial than shooting badgers. Secondly, the only effects of culling so far amongst badgers have been negative. Removing badgers from one area simply results in making space for new badgers to move in. What this means is that if an area has badgers with no Tb and culls them, it allows infected badgers to move in . This means they can come into contact with non-infected badgers and pass of the disease. The evidence does show that culling is increasing Tb and not reducing it. Incidentally neither of the government ministers involved have science backgrounds which is why scientific advisory boards were set up. For the ministers to ignore their own scientific advisory board is a very strange situation. It is clear that they have to do something, as farmers are losing out, and they seem to have taken the approach that any action is better than no action.

Let us assume for arguments sake, that in future the evidence changes and badgers are shown categorically to pass on TB. Should we cull them? The evidence all still says no. It would be cheaper to vaccinate badgers and cattle and it would be cheaper to have better cattle control on farms such improved fencing and building work to prevent badger cattle contact. Culling itself is not economically beneficial to farmers as due to the expense involved in the cull that they only receive around 0.025% of the cost of culling back from the sale of cattle saved. Ideally we would simply vaccinate cattle against tuberculosis but at present the vaccine is only 50-70% effective and illegal under EU regulations. The legal issues are complicated however as culling of badgers is only allowed “if there is no satisfactory alternative” which is a very vague law and one that protesters will cling to, especially as many intend on taking the issue to court.

Notable opponents to the cull are nature presenters Chris Packham and Steve Backshal.
Chris Packham tweeted his anger about the subject several years ago saying that “That brutalist thugs, liars and frauds will destroy our wildlife and dishonour our nations reputation as conservationists and animal lovers”. Both the BBC and the Conservative government condemned Packham for his comments.

So in summary, it would be cheaper, and in line with all current evidence not to cull the badgers. Nor has the cull been effective or supported in areas, which did have the cull. Despite this, six weeks of badger culling is due to begin on January the 31st.

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Scott Thomson
Recent ecology and conservation graduate. My blog is here https://wildchatblog.wordpress.com/
Scott Thomson

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