Opposition to latest badger cull proposals

By agency reporter
April 21, 2018

The Wild Animal Welfare Committee (WAWC), a charity providing independent advice and evidence about the welfare of free-living wild animals in the UK, has criticised government proposals for extending the English badger cull.

The comments come in WAWC responses to two DEFRA consultations on extending the badger cull into Low Risk Areas (LRA) in England and on revised guidance for licensing badger control areas. Both proposals are aimed at contributing to the delivery of the government’s strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free (OTF) status for England.

In principle, the WAWC is opposed to the government’s strategy of killing badgers for disease control purposes. The WAWC believes that the programme is ineffective and cannot be carried out humanely. The application of badger culling in England does not follow international ethical principles for wildlife control , nor general principles for the effective killing of animals for disease control purposes.

Dr Pete Goddard, WAWC Chairman, said, “As an animal welfare charity, we do not underestimate the risks to livestock from bovine tuberculosis, nor indeed the economic and emotional impact on farmers caused by cattle control measures. However, under the current policy, the epidemic of bovine tuberculosis has not begun to reduce and is quite possibly continuing to get worse whilst the welfare of badgers is being ignored.

“Killing protected native wildlife as a means of controlling disease in cattle is not sustainable. As badger populations have clearly increased, WAWC believes that government must make more effort to research the factors that influence these populations, including changes to land use and livestock husbandry, and climate change. Such research, combined with cattle control measures and badger vaccination, offers a more humane and ethical approach than extending the culling programme in the face of considerable opposition from scientists, animal protection groups and the public, who are concerned about the considerable suffering being caused to badgers.

“WAWC welcomes the announcement of a review of the bovine tuberculosis strategy by Professor Sir Charles Godfray, but is disappointed that the scope of the review does not include badger culling and indeed that these two consultations have taken place before that review.”

With regard to the LRA, the WAWC agrees with DEFRA that it is vital that any incursion of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in these areas is dealt with swiftly and decisively. Such interventions should be cattle focused and include testing, movement controls, herd slaughter when required and strict biosecurity measures. Where there is strong evidence that bTB has spread into local wildlife, the WAWC believes that humane and ethical badger control measures should be used, based upon vaccination, carefully considered, and must be government led.

The second consultation seeks views on removing the restriction on the maximum number of new badger control areas to be licensed each year – the so-called ‘ten area limit’. The WAWC is opposed to this proposal and has expressed its concern that the outcome could be a sharp, permanent reduction of the badger population involving considerable animal suffering. In addition, WAWC is concerned about the quantity and quality of monitoring by Natural England if the number of areas is increased and the welfare implications of this. Two of the initial cull areas have already been granted five-year extensions to their licences, and it is expected that more will be granted. The duration of these licences has not been linked to any target level of disease reduction in cattle, so that badger killing can continue for the life of the licence whether or not it is effective in achieving disease control.

The WAWC response states that, without evidence that bTB in cattle has demonstrably been reduced by badger killing, no further ‘badger control areas’ or extensions should be licensed.

* The Wild Animal Welfare Committee is an independent group providing an evidence base for evaluating, monitoring, assessing and improving decisions affecting the welfare of free-living wild animals in the UK.

* The full WAWC responses are available here

* Wild Animal Welfare Committee http://wawcommittee.org/

[Ekk/6]

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.