Background

 

Since the first known bTB infected badger was found on a farm in Gloucestershire in the early 1970s the farming industry has used the badger as a scapegoat, blaming it for the spread of bTB, despite any credible evidence.

 
From 1975 to 1982 MAFF (now Defra) killed thousands of badgers by way of carbon monoxide gas pumped directly into their setts in at attempt to curb bTB increases through widespread culling. The number of bTB outbreaks continued to climb.

 

In the 1980s the preferred method of culling in the UK became cage trapping and shooting of badgers on or near to their setts. In the years up to 1995, over 30,000 badgers were killed with no obvious benefit to cattle being seen.

 

In 1998, the Government embarked on a massive badger culling experiment to find out once and for all whether killing badgers could be useful in the control of bTB. The Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT), also know as the Krebs trial, was overseen by Lord John Krebs. The trial took place in 10 bTB hot-spot areas of the country. Each of these areas contained three smaller areas of 100 square kilometres, a proactive, reactive and control area, selected at random. The RBCT took almost 10 years to complete at an expense of £50 million to the taxpayer and cost around 11,000 badgers their lives. Had activists not been out each night in the culling areas searching for the traps and releasing the badgers, this figure is likely to have been much higher.

 

Part way through the Krebs trial the reactive aspect of the culling was halted suddenly when preliminary figures showed that it appeared to cause a 20% increase in bTB outbreaks! This was believed to be an effect of perturbation, whereby disruption to badger social groups through culling caused badgers to roam further and into new areas.

 

The final report, issued in June 2007 concluded that “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control; in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better. Second, weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle
themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection. Scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed, and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone.” (Final Report of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle TB page 5.)

 

Despite the ISG’s findings, in 2008 the Welsh Assembly decided to press ahead with a badger culling trial in an ‘Intensive Action Area’ of Pembrokeshire. The trial was additionally to include stricter conditions on cattle movements and increased bTB testing of herds. The Badger Trust began Judicial Review proceedings to get the cull stopped. Whilst this was going through the legal channels the cull plans were put on hold, but the other measures continued. During the next few months bTB in the area began to fall. By the time the cull was officially halted in 2001, after a change in government, bTB had decreased significantly, thus proving the answer to controlling bTB is in cattle management, not badger culling. A Pembrokeshire Against the Cull (PAC) press release at the time stated, “The latest figures published by Defra for January to March 2011, shows cattle slaughtered in West Wales which includes the Intensive Action Area, reduced by 10% over the equivalent period in 2010. This follows a 44 % reduction from 2008 to 2010.”

 

In addition to government-funded culling there has been an ongoing epidemic of illegal persecution of badgers by farmers. Evidence of tampering with badger setts ranging from blocking in entrances, pouring slurry into setts and the use of poisoned bait have all been evidenced. Other badgers are illegally shot and their bodies dumped along country lanes to make them look like road kill. And still the number of new bTB outbreaks is on the increase.