After spending £40m, the government’s new badger cull review appears to confirm what opponents have said all along

Badger
Glen Black

The government has just published an independent review of culls to control bovine TB (bTB). And it appears to confirm what opponents of the badger cull have been saying all along.

Critical review

A review of culling to control bTB commissioned by Michael Gove claims the threat from badgers is “modest but real”. Professor Charles Godfray, who led the review, told the Independent:

We realise that wildlife does have a role in this disease, but it’s wrong to put all the blame on wildlife and to use this as an excuse to not make hard decisions in industry, which is going to cost the industry money.

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The Bovine TB Strategy Review, published on 13 November, finds killing badgers reduces herd ‘breakdown‘ by about 15%. But it also increases perturbation – or spread to non-infected areas. Speaking to Farming Today, Godfray explained:

That isn’t all one needs to know, because whether the disease spreads… is a complex, non-linear process. And so 15% could make little difference, or it could make quite a bit of difference.

Instead, the review spotlights farming practices as key to ending bTB. It criticises farmers and ministers for poor use of basic measures, saying “current governance arrangements poorly serve bovine TB control”. These include secure fencing and separating cattle herds. Godfray also aired concerns about the moving and trading of cattle.

In addition to these practical improvements, the report makes a number of other recommendations. Development of vaccinations should be accelerated, for example. And it suggests an independent body for disease control could be set up to take on work currently done by Natural England, the Animal and Plant Health Agency, and others.

‘Valuable, impartial summary’

Bovine TB Strategy Review‘s findings aren’t based on the current badger cull. Godfray was “explicitly asked” not to review current data. The report is based on results of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) carried out between 1998 and 2006. Professor John Krebs, who commissioned the RBCT, said told the Guardian that:

The report is a valuable, impartial summary of the current evidence. Unless the government and the farming industry now tackle [biosecurity, trading of infected cattle and testing], TB will not be eradicated or controlled.

Farming minister George Eustice said the review is “welcome” and that ministers will consider the findings before publishing the current cull’s next steps.

The real cost of the cull

Past studies have mirrored Bovine TB Strategy Review‘s findings. A 2016 field study in Cornwall, for example, gained similar results. And opponents of the cull have been calling for vaccinations and better farm controls for years. More recently, the possibility of hunting hounds spreading bTB has become known.

An estimated £40m has been spent on killing badgers since the cull began in 2013. That equates to roughly £1,000 per badger. Meanwhile, policing costs have been astronomical. In Cheshire alone, the police operation cost nearly £1m in 2017. Alternatively, a recent vaccination trial in Derbyshire has cost just £82 per badger and is unlikely to face disruption from opponents.

Evidence and data have consistently shown the badger cull is not a sensible option. Not only from the point of view of caring about Britain’s wildlife and protected species, but also for its massive drain on the taxpayer. Godfray’s review once again reinforces the message that the badger cull must end.

Get Involved!

Read about the Badger Trust’s vaccination project.

– Check out groups taking direct action against the cull including Stop the Cull, Badger Action Network, and Underground Badger Syndicate.

Follow Rosie Woodroffe, who led the RBCT and provides excellent insight into the current cull.

Featured image via Ashley Buttle/Flickr

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