The whole badger cull story is a complex one – so we’re aiming to simplify it here.
A full-scale cull of badgers has been given the go-ahead in an attempt to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle.
The first licence has been issued by Natural England for an undisclosed 300km2 location in Gloucestershire. A second licence for a trial area in Somerset is likely to be awarded later this week.
How it works
- Farmers and landowners who receive the licence will commit to killing at least 70% of the badgers on their land for six-week periods for four years in a row.
- They carry the cost of the cull, and must be able to prove that they have sufficient financial means to sustain it over four years.
- The badgers will not be trapped, but can only be shot when outside of the sett and after dark.
- Any people shooting badgers must complete a Government-approved training course as proof of competence.
- The licence area must have hard boundaries, such as rivers, to prevent the badgers fleeing the area and spreading bTB further.
- The deaths must have occurred before 1 February, the start of the close season for badger shooting. No shooting can take place after this time.
Why is the cull going ahead?
Evidence shows that some wild badgers can become infected with the bacteria that causes bovine TB, and pass the infection on to cattle. Professor Lord John Krebs conducted government research throughout the 1990s that found the link between badgers and the spread of bTB in cattle.
The research trialled badger culling over a period of 10 years.
This trial suggested that culling badgers in areas where bovine TB is prevalent could reduce the number of new cases of TB in herds by 16% over 9 years. Defra has decided to act on this.
Defra Minister David Heath said: “No one wants to kill badgers but the science is clear that we will not get on top of this disease without tackling it in both wildlife and cattle.” The National Farmers Union and large parts of the farming community have welcomed the decision to carry out the cull.
However, Lord Krebs concluded from the results that badger culling was “not an effective policy” in combating the disease in herds – the benefits were modest and the costs higher than the current policy of slaughtering infect cattle.
Opponents of the cull suggest that by taking out adult badgers, vacant territories will be created, encouraging other badgers to move in – and potentially spread bTB quicker. They call for stricter controls on cattle movements and stocking densities to help combat the disease while a vaccine – for badgers and/or cattle – is found.
The Welsh goverment has opted to vaccinate badgers, while Scotland has very low incidence of bTB.