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This cull is not the answer to TB in cattle - and now the question will be settled in the High Court. Photo: the badger march outside Parliament, 8th June 2013, by David Clare via Flickr (CC BY-SA).

This cull is not the answer to TB in cattle - and now the question will be settled in the High Court. Photo: the Badger March outside Parliament, 8th June 2013, by David Clare via Flickr (CC BY-SA).

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Brian May: I'll take Dorset badger cull to the High Court

The Ecologist

30th August 2015

The government's decision of extend the badger cull to Dorset, and persist with the Somerset and Gloucestershire culls, is 'completely irrational', say badger protection groups - and now they intend to prove it in a High Court legal action, forcing an end to the killing.

Defra's latest figures show TB incidents in and around the cull zones are actually increasing. This was predicted not just by the scientists but was also highlighted as a serious concern in the government's own risk assessments.

Rock Star Brian May is to challenge the government's decision to press ahead with a new badger cull in Dorset.

The action will be filed by the Save Me Trust, founded by May, following a warning sent last week by lawyers acting for the Trust to the Chief Executive and the Chief Legal Advisor of Natural England.

"If any licences to cull badgers are either activated in Gloucestershire and Somerset or any new licences granted for this purpose anywhere, then the lawfulness of the decisions to do so will be challenged by a Judicial Review in the High Court", states the Trust.

"To continue the culling of badgers is unlawful as it does not rationally serve the statutory purpose which permits the killing of badgers only to achieve the aim of preventing the spread of disease", said Anne Brummer, the Trust's CEO.

"Additionally there has been a fundamental failure in the consultation process, a logically flawed approach in calculating badger numbers and a failure in Gloucestershire in any event to meet its minimum targets in 2013 and 2014."

Brian May added: "We are all hugely disappointed that the government has decided to continue its cull policy, despite Natural England's scientific advisor branding the badger cull 'an epic failure'."

"The badger cull has been a disaster. Worse still, it's certain that most of the murdered badgers are perfectly healthy, and free of bovine TB. This awful policy must be put to bed now, in favour of a policy that really will address the TB problem in cattle."

Six weeks of culling to begin in December

English Nature has issued licences that allow six weeks of continuous culling in Dorset until 31st January, along with renewed licences to cull in Somerset and Gloiucestershire.

The target for the county is to kill at least 615 badgers, up to a maximum of 835. However, if it's not reached, the miimum number is likely to be lowered to fit - as has just taken place in Gloucestershire.

Last year riflemen were meant to kill a minimum of 615 badgers in the county, and a maximum of 1,091. In the event, they only managed to kill 274. So this year the minimum has been set at just 265, and the maximum 679.

Likewise in Somerset, a very low minimum number of badgers has been set - just 55, a maximum of 524; compared to last year's minimum of 316, and maximum of 785, after the cull narrowly exceeded the target with 341 culled.

The danger with killing small numbers of badgers is that it makes the cull ineffective at controlling TB, indeed scientists have shown it increases the spread of the disease by perturbing badger colonies, causing the migration of animals into new areas, transmitting disease and increasing the risk of infecting cattle.

The earlier minimum culling targets were set at 70% of the estimated population in order to prevent this effect. However the very low minimum numbers set for the next round of culling means that cattle infection risk is likely to rise even if they are achieved. This will form a key element of the forthcoming court action.

The Badger Trust has branded the government's decision to extend the cull to Dorset, and continue with the culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset as "irrational".

"The decision to extend the badger cull to Dorset in particular has no scientific justification as the County has seen one of the largest declines in bTB rates in England with a 37.25% drop between 2012 to 2014 without killing any badgers", said the Badger Trust's CEO, Dominic Dyer.

"To cap it all, Defra's latest figures show TB incidents in and around the cull zones are actually increasing. This was predicted not just by the scientists but was also highlighted as a serious concern in the government's own risk assessments. Taking all these factors into consideration, their decision to carry on culling badgers is completely irrational."

An irrational decision

He continued: "These culls were sold to the public as an experiment to see if free-shooting badgers was humane and effective, and on both counts they have comprehensively failed.

"However, the real scandal is that the vast majority of culled badgers will not have had Bovine Tuberculosis. The government has insisted that none of them are tested for the disease either before or after they are killed. This means the culling method is not only 'blind' but also that there is no way of ever knowing if it has worked."

"Defra's own data suggest that while 15% of badgers may test positive for bTB, just 1.6% of them are capable of passing on the disease. This means 98.4% pose no risk whatsoever to cattle and 85% are likely to be completely bTB free. Trying to control bTB in cattle by culling badgers that don't have bTB doesn't make any sense."

Peter Martin, Badger Trust Chairman, added: "The government and the farming lobby are continuing to play the badger blame game in order to mask their failure to properly control this disease.

"The Welsh Government's approach has been far more successful by focusing on improved testing and movement controls in cattle. New incidents of  bTB in Wales are down 28% with a 45% cut in the number of cattle being slaughtered. This leaves 94% of the Welsh herd now free of bTB, without culling any badgers."

Dorset Wildlife Trust also condems the move and is considering its options. "We are extremely disappointed because science has shown that culling is unlikely to work and will probably make matters worse", said its chief executive, Simon Cripps.

"Scientific tests have shown that diseased and non-diseased badgers will move into areas that badgers have been removed from. So what you get is a stirring of the population and a potential increase in the disease."

The government's Independent Expert Panel (IEP) and now the British Veterinary Association (BVA) have both condemned free shooting as 'inhumane'.

 

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