The Government is committed to eradicating bovine TB and takes the view that badger culling in areas with high incidence of TB in cattle is an effective part of this strategy. Controlled shooting of badgers was trialed in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, a badger cull continued in these two areas and was extended to a third area in Dorset. The Government intends to enable badger control to take place over a wider number of areas in 2016. However, badger culling as a means of controlling TB in cattle remains a contentious policy.Jump to full report >>
The previous Government’s long-term Strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free status for England was published in April 2014. This sets out the rationale for taking action to address the problem of bovine TB, and the range of measures intended to eradicate it. The document thus provides the context for badger culling policy. The Government is committed to eradicating bovine TB and takes the view that badger culling is an effective part of this strategy, although this is disputed by some experts.
In 2011, as part of the Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England, the Coalition Government proposed to pilot controlled shooting as a method of badger control in areas with high incidence of TB in cattle. The badger culling pilots were intended to test assumptions about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of this method of badger control. They were not designed to test the effectiveness of culling badgers as a means of controlling TB in cattle.
In January 2012, two pilot badger culling areas were announced: West Gloucestershire and West Somerset. Under Government proposals, farmers in each area would be licensed to control badgers by shooting and would bear the costs of any culls. The Government would bear the costs of licensing and monitoring the culls.
The culls commenced on 27 August 2013, initially for 6 weeks. After failing to meet the culling target of 70% of the badger population, the culls were extended in both areas. Despite the extended cull period, the culling target was missed in both areas. An estimated 65% of the badger population was culled in Somerset and less than 40% was culled in Gloucestershire. The cost of badger control in the first year of the culls was £6.3 million, with an additional £3.5 million spent on policing.
An Independent Expert Panel (IEP) was appointed to monitor the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting during the 2013 pilots. The IEP’s report in April 2014 raised concerns about the humaneness of shooting as a culling method, and concluded that standards of effectiveness and humaneness needed to be improved if culling was to continue in the pilot areas. The Government announced that the culls would continue, with amendments to improve effectiveness in the proportion of badgers killed and time taken for shot badgers to die.
The second year of the cull took place in autumn 2014. The minimum target for the number of badgers to be culled to meet licence conditions was met in Somerset, but not in West Gloucestershire. Following the 2014 culls, the Government concluded that a controlled shooting cull could be humane and effective. The cost for the second year of the badger culls was £3.1 million, with an additional £1.4 million spent on policing.
The third year of the four year cull took place in autumn 2015 in the existing two areas, and in a new area in Dorset. The target minimum number of badgers for 2015 was achieved in all three areas.
The Conservative Government is committed to continuing badger control in areas of high incidence of TB in cattle, and has announced that it intends to enable badger control to take place over a wider number of areas in 2016. However, badger culling as a means of controlling TB in cattle remains a contentious policy.
Commons Briefing papers SN06837
Authors: Elena Ares; Hannah Cromarty