Could this be the year the badger cull ends?
Badger Trust’s new report, ‘Tackling Bovine TB Together: Towards Sustainable, Scientific and Effective bTB Solutions’, is a significant attempt to get a collaborative way forward in dealing with
the damaging disease of bovine TB in the most effective way possible. The approach is rooted in looking at the evidence to get a policy framework and measures that reduce the impact of bovine TB
on cattle and other animals throughout Great Britain. It contains clear and evidence-based recommendations for the best way forward in tackling the disease and protecting our natural world.
The report brings together evidence around bTB spread and attempted control over the last fifty years and points to a more effective approach for Great Britain, especially England, focusing on cattle, cattle testing and vaccination and enhanced cattle biosecurity (including cattle movement). This approach would lean on the more effective methods used in Wales and Scotland, leading to a faster reduction in bTB rates throughout Great Britain and the suffering this causes. With cattle-to-cattle transmission the proven primary method of bTB spread, the report also calls for an immediate end to the distracting, destructive, and costly badger cull that does not address the spread of bTB in cattle.
Oxfordshire Badger Group's Response
Oxfordshire Badger Group (OBG) welcomes and fully endorses the Badger Trust’s report on how best to tackle controlling bovine tb (bTB). Oxfordshire is heavily impacted by the badger cull. We believe that around 60% of Oxfordshire is in the cull zones. Over 6,000 of the county’s badgers have been killed in the first four years of culling. Nationally, around a quarter million badgers have been culled to date
The area being culled is thought to stretch west of a line drawn down from Banbury to Thame and comes within 5-10 miles of Oxford City. In 2023 DEFRA expanded the existing cull zones* . Oxfordshire zone 69 on the Berkshire border grew from 211 km2 to 250km2 (+18.5%). The Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire cull zones which overlap into Oxfordshire also increased (by 2%, 46% and 100% respectively).
Our Group is very concerned that DEFRA are considering continuing and intensifying the cull rather than phasing it out. They are looking at introducing ‘epi-Culling zones' where farmers would be licenced to kill ALL (100%) of badgers across a wide area around new herd breakdowns. Although Boving TB rates have been falling in Oxfordshire, there are areas (centred around Deddington/Somerton, Thame/Chinnor and Henley on Thames) that might become epi-culling pilot zones.
Julia Hammett (Trustee) said “Oxfordshire Badger Group is vaccinating badgers as a service to the many farmers who do not want to cull. It is heartbreaking to know that some of these may well have strayed and been shot”.
The Randomised Badger Controlled Trial (RBCT) was designed and conducted by Oxford University scientists and their work is closely associated with Merton College. In 2007, they concluded that while badgers may pass BTB back to cows, badger culling would not help control bTB. The RBCT results are open to interpretation and DEFRA continues to use Oxford science to justify the governments badger cull policy.
Professor Rosie Woodroffe, speaking to the Tinbergen Society (Oct 2023) on how different policy makers have interpreted the RBCT described the massive scale of culling graphically “the badger corpses, laid end to end, would stretch from Merton College to Brighton pier and beyond”. On her model, the badgers that have been culled in Oxfordshire would stretch from Merton College to Wytham Woods and beyond.
Linda Ward (Trustee) said “We have been calling on Oxford scientists to comment on whether the scientific evidence justifies the large-scale culling of a native mammal. Their willingness to talk to us and consider new evidence has been encouraging. We think that Professor MacDonald’s comprehensive and balanced scientific commentary is a very positive contribution to the debate. We hope the Badger Trust’s report will help bring about an effective, joint approach to tackling bTB without killing any more badgers. The report shows how much Oxfordshire cattle farmers stand to gain by focusing on managing the disease in the herd”.
We were most gratified to read Professor David MacDonald’s supporting commentary on the Report. David is an eminent Oxford scientist and head of the WildCRU at Wytham Woods, the centre of research into badger behaviour, ecology, and evolution. We hope that his comprehensive, even handed and humane analysis will help facilitate a constructive dialogue around the Badger Trusts’ report.
We agree with David's closing remark: “in 2023, much as in 2007, it is hard to see that killing badgers will make a meaningful contribution”.
We hope that the Badger Trust’s initiative in calling for a joint approach to controlling bovine TB and ending the cull is successful. Their report shows just how much Oxfordshire farmers stand to gain by focusing on managing the disease in the herd.
* From a Badger Trust Freedom Of Information request, October 2023
** See the BTB Hub at https://tbhub.co.uk/tb-policy/england/oxfordshire-bovine-tb-cluster-pilot/