Note: This is a guest post from our friends at Humane Society International. Written by Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director, Humane Society International/UK.
If you have ever been lucky enough to watch badgers in the wild, you’ll know just how enchanting they are.
Living in close family groups in a large underground sett, compete with tunnels, chambers and several entrances, badgers emerge in the early evening to groom, play, forage for food and to interact with other family members. Known for their shy ways, the slightest noise can set them scrabbling towards their subterranean refuge. So, if you do get a good glimpse of them, it feels like a real privilege.
But badgers are under threat, and time is running out for them.
Government policy is to license farmers and landowners to shoot badgers over large areas of our countryside, in a misguided attempt to control TB in cattle.
It plans to allow two trial culls to take place later this year, one in Somerset, the other in Gloucestershire. These culls will involve shooting more than 70 per cent of badgers in each given area over a six-week period.
If the government deems the trails to be successful, it plans to roll-out the policy on other areas of England. It could allow up to ten new areas each year for four years, resulting in forty areas, each of which could be the size of the Isle of Wight, in which at least seven out of every ten badgers could be shot. Natural England estimates that as many as 130,000 badgers might be killed over the life of the policy.
Not only is the policy misguided, it could result in many thousands of badgers being injured and left to suffer a slow and painful death.
This is a terrible fate for an animal that is being used as no more than a scapegoat.
Sadly, since the first bovine tuberculosis (bTB)-infected badger was ‘identified’ in the early 1970s, badgers have been persecuted for their perceived role in the transmission of bTB to cattle.
No-one denies that bTB in cattle is a serious problem. But killing badgers isn’t going to solve it. Scientists involved in the UK’s largest study of the issue, a ten-year, £50 million government supported trail, concluded that: “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”
Those same scientists also said: “It is unfortunate that agricultural and veterinary leaders continue to believe, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, that the main approach to cattle TB control must involve some form of badger population control.”
So, this policy won’t help farmers, and it won’t help cattle. What it will do is decimate badger populations over large parts of England, and could result in the local disappearance of these endearing animals from many areas. It will shatter close-knit family groups, disrupt their long-established setts and cause much suffering to individual animals.
Eminent scientists have expressed their concerns that whole populations of badgers could be completely wiped out over large areas of our countryside if the cull goes ahead. Natural England estimates that it could result in a 30% reduction in the badger population across England, and perhaps as much as a 50% reduction in the South West. And the vast majority of the badgers who will be shot and killed will be healthy, uninfected animals, who are no threat to anything or anyone.
Two non-government organisations are challenging the legality of the government’s plans, both domestically and internationally.
The Badger Trust launched a Judicial Review process in June of this year, claiming that the policy contravenes the Protection of Badgers Act. Their case was rejected by the High Court but the Badger Trust has appealed against that judgment. The outcome of the appeal should be known in September 2012.
Humane Society International/UK (HSI/UK) is also challenging the badger slaughter and submitted an official complaint to the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (better known as the Bern Convention) in January 2012. The complaint focuses on three grounds:
- The government cannot demonstrate that its policy will not seriously disturb badger populations;
- The government has not given sufficient consideration to alternative methods of controlling TB in cattle, in particular the development and use of vaccines in both badgers and cattle, and the instigation and enforcement of policies to reduce disease transmission between cattle;
- The reduction in cattle TB cases that the government predicts might result from its policy is nowhere near enough to justify the suffering and killing of up to 130,000 badgers and its impact on badger populations.
The complaint will be heard during September, and may be deferred to the full Standing Committee meeting of the Convention in November.
In the meantime, HSI/UK is urging the public to make their voice heard for badgers by raising the issue with their Member of Parliament and the Prime Minister in order to prevent this unnecessary and devastating assault on an iconic British mammal.
Photo: Copyright Stuart Matthews