Have you ever seen that video called ‘Badgers’, solely featuring the words ‘Badger’, ‘Mushroom’ and ‘Snake’? I find it quite a catchy tune, perfect for a random laugh with friends over a beer. However, there isn’t anything at all funny about a recent incentive in the UK promoting the culling of wild badgers.
Firstly, if you do a search for ‘culling’ one may find it being defined as the process of removing (killing essentially) breeding animals of any species. This is done for a number of reasons, but is generally done in order to protect livestock and wildlife from a number of factors such as invasive species, diseases or other animals that can be pests. Good examples include the culling of thousands of chickens to prevent the spread of avian flu, and the ‘kill at will’ policy adopted by governments for invasive species – Florida recently enacted such a law to remove unwanted Burmese pythons from the Everglades National Park, even allowing ‘hunting contests’.
A recent addition to the culling repertoire of government has been enacted by the UK, who last March approved the culling of wild badgers. The need for the cull, the government and many farmers argue, is due to the fact that badgers carry tuberculosis which is being transmitted to cattle. Many people have opposed this cull however, as it is deemed an expensive project and will have a devastating impact on badger numbers.
Badgers spreading tuberculosis can cause huge losses for farmers, since if one of their cattle is found to have contracted the disease, the entire herd is generally slaughtered in order to contain the potential outbreak (yet another cull!). The idea of legalising such a cull has been tabled several years ago, but it is a very controversial issue that has split public opinions.
Members of Team Badger (members of the public who are against the cull, RSPCA, and the Badger Trust members) have been campaigning equally as hard for the cull not to go ahead. They are using the slogan ‘cure not cull’ and want the government to organise a huge scale vaccination process, so that instead or eradicating the badgers, they are eradicating the disease.
However, late February saw the first pilot badger culls being conducted, despite the large scale and passionate arguments put forward by Team Badger. These culls will take place in Gloucestershire and West Somerset, the Environment Secretary confirmed at the National Farmers Union (NFU) annual conference. This decision will be met with relief and approval by the farmers, but with disappointment and anger by those who were against the cull – especially the RSPCA who had even offered to help fund the vaccinations against tuberculosis.
The main reason why this contentious cull was approved was due to studies that have shown that bovine tuberculosis claimed 35,000 cattle in 2012 and cost £500m in the past 10 years, and is believed to rise to £1bn if action is not immediately taken. Despite 150,000 signatures petitioning against the cull, the government has repeatedly stressed to the public that the culling will be done in a humane way and will only happen every four years, since research has shown that such a plan will jeep the spread of bovine tuberculosis under control.
This culling policy is not unheard of, as it has been deployed in Ireland since 2004, following years of trials and smaller scale culling operations. A spokesman for the Irish Department of Agriculture indicated that:
“While we accept it is difficult to attribute trends to a single factor, we believe much of the improvement in the TB situation is due the badger removal programme which was significantly enhanced in 2004.”
The future looks quite grim for badgers in the UK, but one can never tell what the future holds. These preliminary culling operations have yet to provide significant data, and I personally would not underestimate the influence of pressure groups such as Team Badger.