The UK Government is committed to eradicating bovine TB and takes the view that badger culling in areas with high incidence of TB in cattle in England 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. In 2016 the cull was extended to seven new areas, and is consulting on a proposal to license a supplementary form of badger control “after a cull has been successfully completed over at least four years”.Jump to full report >>
Badger culling, as a bovine TB policy measure, is a devolved matter.
In Scotland, cattle herds are officially TB-free and no badger culling takes place. In Northern Ireland a 5 year research project is being conducted to test the effects of culling infected badgers and vaccinating non-infected badgers. In Wales, the Welsh Government has rejected the culling of badgers.
The approach adopted by some of the devolved administrations contrasts with the approach taken by the UK Government in England, where badger culling has been conducted in a growing number of areas since 2013. This briefing focuses on the situation in England.
Strategy for achieving Officially Bovine TB free status for England
The previous UK Government’s long-term Strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free status for England was published in April 2014. This set out the rationale for taking action to address the problem of bovine TB, and the range of measures intended to eradicate it by 2038. The UK Government believed badger culling should play a role in the strategy. This rationale was disputed by some experts, and the effectiveness of badger culling as a means of controlling TB in cattle remains contentious.
Two pilot badger culling areas were identified in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset. Farmers in each area were licensed to control badgers by shooting. The Government would bear the costs of licensing and monitoring the culls, which run for four years.
The culls commenced on 27 August 2013, initially for 6 weeks. There was a target to cull 70% of the population, however this target was not reached even though the culls were extended in both areas. An estimated 65% of the badger population was culled in Somerset and under 40% in Gloucestershire. The cost of the badger cull to the public purse 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 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 West 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 announced that it intended to enable badger control to take place over a wider number of areas in 2016. Changes were made to the license conditions which may have enabled a greater number of license applications to be successful.
The Government confirmed on 30 August 2016 that seven new culling areas would be permitted in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, in addition to the existing areas in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset. Badger control operations, lasting at least six weeks, took place in each area, between 29 August and 18 October 2016.
All 10 cull areas achieved their target minimum number and did not exceed their maximum number, and the Government and Chief Veterinary Officer concluded that the cull was both humane and effective.
2016 was the fourth and final year of Natural England-licensed culling operations for West Gloucestershire and West Somerset. In December 2016, Defra published a consultation on a proposal to license a supplementary form of badger control “after a cull has been successfully completed over at least four years”.
This proposal would allow culling operations to continue, under five-year licenses, in areas where prior culls are judged to have been effective. The consultation closes on 10 February 2017.
Commons Briefing papers SN06837
Author: David Hirst