Badgers – trial shoots to go ahead

Today, the government announced it plans to go ahead with two trials of shooting badgers.  This would be part of measures to reduce the spread of disease – bovine TB – between different herds of cattle.  Badgers can carry the disease and as a result many farmers are keen to reduce their numbers as they think it’s essential for controlling the disease. Caroline Spelman, the Environment Secretary, says she is “strongly minded” to back the shooting of badgers.

Killing badgers as a way of reducing infections in cattle herds has been tested before – but only on badgers that have been trapped first.  Evidence from these earlier trials showed that they could potentially reduce new cattle infections by up to 16%, though the government’s own scientists warn that if a cull is carried out badly it could make things worse.

Lord Krebs, formerly the government’s own expert on badgers, says these figures mean culling is a mistake as “you leave 85 per cent of the problem still there, and having gone to a huge amount of trouble to kill a huge number of badgers, it just doesn’t seem to me to be an effective way of dealing with the disease”.

But the government says that this potential reduction in cattle disease is enough to justify the shooting of thousands of badgers, and that the new trials will only test whether shooting badgers without trapping them kills enough badgers to be “effective” and whether the killing is “humane”.

But the government acknowledges that there is a risk that the trials could make things worse, as badgers who are disturbed roam more freely around the countryside, potentially spreading disease.  Professor Bob Watson, a Chief Scientific Advisor, says he thinks shooting badgers in the field won’t make this problem of “badger perturbation” worse, but acknowledges the new trials won’t collect any evidence to test it.

“We don’t know the answer, but there’s no reason to believe it would be worse… [but] that’s not evidence, it’s expert judgement.

On our Facebook page, 38 Degrees members have been sharing our views:

Paula Carrier  Culling is not the way. It is proven to not to work, causes incredible suffering to the animals and is a knee-jerk reaction from the government. Inoculation is the way, not senseless slaughter.

Robert G Long Er… why don’t we leave this to the farmers? I don’t tell my mechanic how to fix my car or my plumber how to plumb! I blame kids’ tv & the personification of animals!

Vanessa Garrett Why do so many people care about badgers being culled but don’t care a jot about the number of cows being culled.

Jo Unwin If the effectiveness of culling is projected to be between 12 and 15% there seems little point especially as the previous culling trials showed that the wandering of survivors increased the incidence of tuberculosis. If scientific research does not support culling of badgers to reduce TB, why do it?

What do you think?

  • Is it worth the government going ahead with trials of shooting badgers in the field?
  • Is it simply wrong to kill badgers in any circumstances or can it sometimes be justified?
  • Have you seen any good links to more information, useful articles, or analysis you can post below?


Update:
Here’s a video from Channel 4 news – At 3.03mins, Oxford academic and zoologist Lord John Krebs comments on the plans – “I can’t understand how anybody who’s looked at the science would say this is a good idea.”

Update 2:
Lord Krebbs was on Today on Radio 4 talking about the badger cull. Listen to the cliphere: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9544000/9544096.stm