Continuing confusion over badger populations in areas designated for killing them is the Achilles heel of the badger culling policy. It strikes at the heart of the scheme because proving the exact proportion of badgers culled is essential. Last October official estimates were almost twice those expected .
A year ago Parliament was given an estimate of between 1,000 and 1,500 for areas of 150 sq km as a total over four years . Now, Natural England, the body responsible for overseeing the proposed killing of badgers, has told the Badger Trust that DNA testing to verify populations costs £260,000, a significant increase against total forecast costs.
David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust said:
“This confusion raises the question of whether we can trust anything the Coalition says as it twists and turns to justify the slaughter of an iconic protected mammal on an unprecedented scale”.
The new figures indicated that the minimum number of badgers to be killed in six weeks would be 2,081 and 2,856 in the two areas, a grand total of 4,937. The marksmen would have to kill at least 50 or 68 respectively on every night throughout the six weeks despite stringent restrictions on their
The Trust says:
Natural England claims the change of estimates does not imply any error in the original methodology, but the Trust says this is wrong. If the killing had gone ahead last year on the lower population estimate it would have fallen far short of the required 70 per cent kill rate needed for any chance of a small benefit in the fight against bovine tuberculosis. Also, badger populations vary considerably through the year because of high cub mortality during the early months, suggesting a need for even more surveys this spring.
The revised populations imply a massively increased task which jeopardises the cost calculations for a free shooting policy, the hoped-for cheap option for the livestock industry.
The Trust understands the methodology could vary between the newly designated standby area in Dorset and those in Somerset and Gloucestershire, further undermining reliability of any population estimates. This would negate any claims that all areas had been treated the same way.
The Times  has reported that activists have removed hair from fences, disrupting the collection of DNA samples to be compared later with those from shot badgers to estimate the kill rate. This could upset the calculation of what population size the necessary 70% would relate to. This would also compromise any estimate of the proportion of badgers removed as well as increasing the likely enormous policing costs.
Continuing muddle about access to land and who is responsible for ensuring safety must be resolved, particularly if any of the killing areas lay in land controlled by the National Parks Authority.
The British Veterinary Zoological Society has added its voice to the massive weight of scientific and public opposition to the Coalition’s proposed badger cull, just weeks after Professor Peter Atkins, of Durham University’s Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience, concluded that a widespread badger cull will not solve the problem of tuberculosis in cattle .
“The Coalition still attempts to claim that the cull is based on science. But they are at odds with almost every strand of independent scientific advice,” said David Williams chairman of the Badger Trust.
“Public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed and outspoken opposition is certain to increase hugely once the abhorrence and the futility of the night-time slaughter becomes apparent.”
Commenting on the disclosure that the BVZS, in a formal statement of policy on its website  has said it “does not believe there is currently scientific evidence to suggest that a targeted cull of badgers can contribute positively to the overall control of bTB in cattle”
Mr Williams asked:
“How much longer can the Coalition pretend they have science on their side. Month by month that claim is shown up for what it is –deceptive make-believe. They cherry pick bits of the 2007 final report of the Independent Scientific Group and ignore its key conclusions that cattle management, not badger slaughter, is the way to beat bTB”.
That message was reinforced on October 14 of last year, he says, when more than 30 leading scientists with expertise in managing wildlife and wildlife diseases, announced publicly in a letter to the Observer –
“We believe the complexities of TB transmission mean that licensed culling risks increasing cattle TB rather than reducing it” and they concluded “…culling badgers as planned is very unlikely to contribute to TB eradication. We therefore
urge the government to reconsider its strategy”.
Said Mr Williams–
“Opposition has come from all quarters: Natural England, the Government’s own agency, initially expressed its reservations; the Conservative Party’s Bow Group, representing all aspects of Conservative opinion, issued a paper urging the Coalition Government to reconsider plans; and in the Commons in a debate resulting from an E-petition –which has so far attracted over 177,000 signatures- where MPs opposed the cull by 147 votes to 28. The E-petition reinforces the decisive public opposition so clearly expressed in the response to the Government’s initial consultation document and the continuing campaign by all the major wildlife and animal protection organisations, collectively representing millions of people.”
Mr Williams added:
“The Coalition constantly defends itself by saying it can’t stand by and do nothing. But it has contributed massively to the problem by delaying much-needed improvements in cattle management. It emphasises the need for biosecurity but doesn’t enforce it, largely ignores evidence that the skin test is allowing a significant level of disease in cattle to go undetected, and is now prepared to give the green light to the slaughter of thousands of mostly healthy, disease-free badgers not to reduce bTB but simply to try to justify an untried, unscientific slaughter method. ”It should call off the cull, give the new cattle measures a chance to take effect, and back a targeted programme of badger vaccination. But most importantly the Coalition government should provide the political will to give impetus to cattle vaccination, which has to be the only ultimate solution.”
(1) Durham University News http://www.dur.ac.uk/news/newsitem/?itemno=16831
(2) BVZS says it believes that there is a need to control the spread of tuberculosis (bTB, Mycobacterium bovis infection) in both cattle and wildlife and continues: “The weight of scientific evidence currently available suggests that this is best achieved through:
* Cattle management methods both on individual farms and through control of movements between farms
* Biosecurity to limit badger cattle interactions * Badger vaccination, and when made available cattle vaccination.
A team of scientists has announced a small but important step in the further development of a vaccine to prevent bovine tuberculosis in cattle . They have identified a ‘biomarker’ using sophisticated molecular technology bringing benefits in helping to predict vaccine efficacy.
David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust, which strongly supports vaccination of both cattle and badgers, said: “We welcome this refinement in laboratory technique, part of the progress towards the long-awaited goal of an effective cattle vaccine. This discovery represents constant and encouraging movement in molecular studies and techniques, and it follows steady progression elsewhere”.
Mr Williams recalled recent work showing an indirect protective effect in the unvaccinated cubs of vaccinated badgers  and how the presence of liver fluke in cattle interferes with the ability of the commonly-used SICCT ‘tuberculin test’ to ascertain the presence of bTB . Then, just as the Coalition revealed its gross underestimation of badger populations in the proposed ‘pilot’ culling areas of Somerset and Gloucestershire in 2012  two leading scientists spelt out likely consequences of uncertainties in accounting for the proportion of badger populations killed .
Mr Williams added: “This work further emphasises the extreme complexity of bTB in cattle which demands a more sophisticated approach to eradication than shooting badgers, particularly in view of the figures recently presented to Parliament in October 2012 .
“These showed that without any badgers being killed, but with increasingly effective cattle measures, the bTB toll on farm businesses has been declining steadily over the last five years. There has been a 39 per cent fall in new herd incidents since 2008 – from 5,007 to 3,018. Over the same period the number of individual cattle slaughtered was reduced by 44 per cent – from 39,015 to 21,512.
Well, it’s nearly that time of year when Father Christmas visits all the good boys and girls. 2012 is coming to a close and we will soon be looking to 2013 to see what it holds for us and for badgers.
Next year may still bring a badger cull, but it won’t happen without a fight. Badger Trust, Badger Protection League and all the local badger groups (notably those in the South West) will do everything in their power to prevent it. We don’t believe that a cull is the answer, for badgers or for farmers.
Early in the new year we also know that we will have increased levels of persecution due to females giving birth and being more protective of their young.
We’d like to ask you for a Christmas present for badgers, as small or as large as you would like to give.
There are many ways you can help this Christmas; from the 89 pence single ‘The Present of Life‘ by Rapanui (in aid of Badger Trust) downloadable here;
Most important of all, if you know of a sett in your local area, check it from time to time to make sure all is well. If you see people (usually with dogs and spades) acting suspiciously in the vicinity of a sett over the Christmas period contact the police and your local badger group. We will still be manning our emergency line.
We hope you have a fantastic Christmas and look forward to doing more for badgers will your help in 2013. Thank you so much for all your support this year!
The Ministerial statement in the Commons about the postponement of badger culling in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire and the subsequent discussion contained a series of oft-repeated half-truths about bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
In advance of the six-hour debate tomorrow (Thursday October 25) the Badger Trust now repairs some of the omissions:
1.“The disease is out of control”
Fewer cattle have been slaughtered through bTB each year from 2008 to 2011 (last full-year figures). 
2. No other country in the world has successfully overcome bTB without tackling the reservoir of the disease in wildlife.
The UK did. We brought the total of cattle slaughtered down from 47,476 in 1938 to 628 in 1979without killing wildlife. If there was a “wildlife reservoir” then it could have had little effect – and such a reservoir could not have suddenly appeared when infection began to soar after 1990 .
3. The most recent follow up work of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) has shown a significantly reduced level of TB infection inside the control area . . .
Not “significantly” reduced. Lord Krebs, who originated the trial, said recently  that the benefit would be 16 per cent fewer breakdowns and take nine years to achieve after massive cost. It would be so slight that the average farmer – who would be paying the massive cost – would probably not notice the difference. He also said: ““The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case”.
4. The only available vaccine for badgers involves trapping and injecting each animal – something that is hugely expensive and very impractical.
It is no more expensive or impractical than trapping badgers to shoot them, but vaccination provides immunity for life and does not stir up badger populations. The proposed cheap method of shooting sufficient free running badgers is still untested.
5. Vaccination has no effect on animals that have already become infected which includes a significant proportion of the badger population in “hot spot” areas.
Wrong. The vaccine slows the progress and severity of the disease, reducing the risk of the animal becoming infectious. The proportion of badgers infected is not as he claims “significant”. It was one in nine in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) – 1,100 out of 9,000 killed – wrong again. 
6. The number of new bTB cases has increased in recent months, with the latest Defra stats showing a 6.3% increase in the number of new TB incidents in January – March 2011 compared to the same period in 2010.
These figures are out of date and represent a flagrant piece of cherry picking. A “case” is not defined – it could be an affected herd or an individual infected animal, for which a farmer would be compensated.
The full story is this: the latest official provisional incidence rate (herds) for July THIS YEAR is 5.2%, compared to 6.0% in July 2011.
The number of new herd incidents during January to July 2012 was 3,018 compared to 3,021 for January to July 2011 – virtually the same.
The number of cattle compulsorily slaughtered was 21,512 in January to July 2012, compared to 20,514 in January to July 2011.
However, the number of tests on officially TB free herds went up by 19 per cent in the same period (45,443 in 2012, to 38,051 in 2011, an increase of 7,392). Perhaps as a consequence 21,512 cattle were slaughtered (and compensated for) in all herds in the same period in 2012 against 20,514 in 2011 – a rise of only 4.8%. 
7. The truth is that culls have been shown to work. The Irish Government has been conducting a badger control programme and it clearly indicates that over recent years the number of reactors has fallen by a third.
The official report on the £50 million Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) concluded: “The elimination of badgers from large tracts of the countryside [as in Ireland] would be politically unacceptable, and . . . badger welfare issues must be taken into account. After careful consideration of all the RBCT and other data presented in this report, including an economic assessment, we conclude that badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the future control of cattle TB in Britain .
The Coalition’s own consultation document  said of the RBCT: “. . . it is not possible to compare the effectiveness of most of these different policies or compare any of them with the impact of not culling badgers at all, because they were not scientific trials. The RBCT is the only one of these that was conducted as a rigorous scientific trial.
 Defra archive, TB statistics.
 W.D. Macrae. Zoological Society of London from Symp, Zool. Soc., Lond. No. 4, pp. 81-90 (April, 1961) and MAFF TB statistics.
 Radio 4, Farming Today, October 12th and Page One, The Observer October 14th.
Roughly 3,000 badgers will be shot in each area. 11,000 badgers and £50million have already been spent to determine whether badger culling works to reduce btb. This experiment found that at best, using exactly the same methods, over 9 years, culling could reduce the increase in the incidence (not the overall amount of btb) by 16%. This ‘pilot’ will not test the reduction in btb using the new methods (free shooting of badgers at night). We will never know if it works on those terms. It is a test to find out whether they can kill 70% of the badgers in the cull area, and kill them humanely. Not whether this method will reduce btb.
2. Nobody knows how many badgers there are.
But estimates suggest there are 300,000 in England. This means that if the cull is rolled out, we stand to lose 1/3 of our badgers. Plus, there is no way of knowing for sure how many badgers are killed or wounded.
3. There IS a vaccine for cattle and badgers.
Badgers are being vaccinated now by injection and an oral vaccine should be ready in two years. This vaccine has shown a 74% reduction in badgers testing positive for bovine tb and does not cause badgers to leave their territory and spread the disease further. There is a cattle vaccine which is being used in Ethiopia and has shown positive results (much better than the result that can be achieved with a cull). We currently can’t use it because of EU regulations. Why is our government not putting pressure on the EU to allow it’s use?
4. The tb test is an effective herd test, not an effective individual test.
In other countries of the EU if one cow is found to have tb, the whole herd is slaughtered. In the UK, only one cow is slaughtered, leaving other cattle who are not yet showing signs of infection to infect other cattle in the herd.
5. Badgers rarely die of bovine tb.
Very few badgers, even in hotspot areas of the South West are even infected with bovine tb. Of those, only a very small percentage will become ill and therefore infectious. The vast majority of infected badgers are more likely to die of other causes. If this were not the case, badger groups across the country would be dealing with tb on a daily basis. They aren’t.
6. You may have heard ‘No country in the world has beaten bovine tb without addressing the disease in wildlife’.
This refers mainly to possums in New Zealand. Possums do not live in settled territories like badgers, they roam over much greater distances and interact with many other possums and species. Possums are also a pest species in New Zealand, not a native species. They were killed by dropping poisoned bait from the air. Poison is indiscriminate and has killed many of New Zealand native and protected wildlife. You cannot compare apples with oranges, or possums with badgers due to their very different ecology and behaviour.
7. The ISG report recommended cattle and biosecurity measures alone.
The ISG’s final report in 2007 based on the Randomised Badger Culling Trial concluded that culling was not an effective option, even if conducted rigorously and systematically. The ISG analysed various strategies that could be pursued at lower cost – including licensing farmers to conduct a cull, rather than having it co-ordinated by government.
It concluded: “We consider it likely that licensing farmers (or their appointees) to cull badgers would not only fail to achieve a beneficial effect, but would entail a substantial risk of increasing the incidence of cattle TB and spreading the disease.”
This year we are holding our first Summer Raffle (to be drawn on National Badger Day – in October!). We have had fantastic support from local businesses and we have been donated some great prizes.
We’d like to thank our first prize donor (a weekend break in the Lake District!) Badgers Way Lodge.
Badger’s Way Lodge is situated at Limefitt, a 5 star countryside park near Lake Windermere, on the route to Kirkstone Pass and Ullswater. Not only does it offer a fantastic base to explore the beautiful Lake District from, but they have badger watching too!
Badger’s Way Lodge
Our second prize (£100 of restaurant vouchers) was kindly donated by the following;
And last but by no means least, a very big thank you to a local branch of Lush, Lush Preston, who provided one of their beautiful and animal friendly, Lush Pamper Kits. You can follow what Lush Preston are up to on their facebook page.
Once again thanks to all our amazing and generous sponsors! Raffle tickets can be purchased from one of our event stalls, so try to get along and see us!