Review to examine bovine TB strategy behind badger culls
They are necessary to tackle disease in livestock but ‘no one wants to be culling badgers forever’, ministers say.
The Government has announced a review of the 25-year strategy to tackle tuberculosis in cattle which includes culling badgers to curb the disease.
Ministers said culling was a necessary part of the strategy to curb TB in livestock, but “no one wants to be culling badgers forever”, as they unveiled the independent review by Sir Charles Godfray, a Fellow of the Royal Society.
But the Environment Department (Defra) also published consultations on lifting the cap for the number of areas where culls can take place each year and on licensing some culling in parts of England at low risk of TB.
An expert on the issue, Rosie Woodroffe from the Zoological Society of London, said proposals to allow culling in low-risk areas, at a small scale around TB-affected farms, was “bizarre”.
“This proposal is surprising because there is very strong evidence that small-scale badger culling increases cattle TB, spreading infection to new farms rather containing it.”
She added that removing the limit on the number of new areas where culls could go ahead signalled plans to expand badger culling, despite a lack of robust evidence that the policy was helping to control TB in cattle and at odds with recent Government announcements it would reward wildlife-friendly farming after Brexit.
Now is a good time to review progress to date and identify steps we could take now to accelerate some of the elements of our 25-year strategy that might be deployed in later phases Farming Minister George Eustice
The 25-year strategy to end the disease in cattle was first published four years ago and covers a range of measures, including tighter livestock movement controls, removal of infected animals from herds, improved diagnostic tests and work to develop a viable vaccine for use in cattle.
It also included culling and vaccination of badgers, which can spread the disease to cattle.
The main elements deployed so far have been been cattle movement controls, the removal of infected cattle from herds and the badger cull which covered more than 20 different areas in 2017, Defra said.
Now ministers say they want to ensure other elements such as cattle vaccination are ready to be deployed in the next phase of the strategy to maintain progress to becoming officially TB free by 2038.
The assessment will look at the system of intervention to control the disease and advise on improvements, but will not revisit the rationale behind the current measures and is not a review of badger culling, its terms of reference said.
A review of what has worked and what hasn't could prove extremely useful in informing future policy, and in reducing the impacts of TB, and possibly even eradicating it Professor Tim Coulson
Farming Minister George Eustice said bovine TB presented many challenges.
“It is difficult to detect, can be harboured in the wildlife population and no vaccine is fully effective”, he said.
“There is no single measure that will provide an easy answer and that is why we are pursuing a wide range of interventions including cattle movement controls and a cull of badgers in areas where disease is rife.
“Now is a good time to review progress to date and identify steps we could take now to accelerate some of the elements of our 25-year strategy that might be deployed in later phases.
“While the badger culls are a necessary part of the strategy, no one wants to be culling badgers forever.”
Badger culling is not the way to control the spread of this devastating disease – it’s ineffective, expensive and inhumane Ellie Brodie, The Wildlife Trusts
Tim Coulson, Professor of Zoology, University of Oxford, said: “A review of what has worked and what hasn’t could prove extremely useful in informing future policy, and in reducing the impacts of TB, and possibly even eradicating it.”
The Government is also consulting on whether to remove the cap that allows only 10 new areas to be licensed for badger control measures each year, and on allowing culling in low-risk areas in the “rare event” TB is present in badgers and linked with infection in cattle herds.
Ellie Brodie, from The Wildlife Trusts, welcomed the review of the strategy, which she said resulted in more 34,000 badgers being killed without conclusive evidence it was having an impact.
But she said: “The Wildlife Trusts are gravely concerned that at the same time as launching this review, the Government appears to be planning on extending the cull zones potentially across England – a move which we firmly oppose.
“Badger culling is not the way to control the spread of this devastating disease – it’s ineffective, expensive and inhumane.”