Shooting badgers is no 'magic bullet' for controlling Bovine TB 14/12/2011
A badger cull in England is unscientific, unlikely to lower the incidence of Bovine TB in cattle, and may even exterminate badgers from local areas, potentially placing the UK Government in breach of international wildlife law, says The Mammal Society.
That’s the reaction from the Mammal Society to the announcement from Defra on proposals to cull badgers in England.
The Mammal Society - which is the only organisation involved in the study and conservation of all British mammals - believes the Government should examine the emerging evidence from a badger study in Ireland showing that individual animals move greater distances than the Government has allowed for in its control zones. These movements have the potential to completely undermine the policy, with badgers needlessly paying the ultimate price.
“Everyone wants to help the livestock industry control this devastating disease, but we believe today’s announcement only offers farmers false hope.
“The Government has based its culling policy on flawed science, while proper research seems to have been disregarded in search of a policy fix. Perhaps this is not a surprise as the advice of an Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB has also been ignored", said Marina Pacheco, Chief Executive of The Mammal Society.
The Mammal Society recently invited scientists from across Europe to discuss the issue at a recent colloquium [note]. Emerging research from County Kilkenny, in Ireland, has revealed that badgers can move as far as 7.5km between setts, with average movements being 1.4km: far greater distances than the two km buffer zones recommended by the government. [note]
Other studies into the movements of badgers have revealed that animals are likely to wander more widely in areas where culling is taking place: the so-called perturbation effect. The Mammal Society believes that wandering animals have the potential to spread Bovine TB beyond control zones, effectively undermining the policy.
The Mammal Society believes the best hope for reducing bovine TB lies in badger and even cattle vaccination. Marina Pacheco added: “Shooting badgers is not a magic bullet for preventing TB transmission, and it will also be a divisive issue within rural communities. A vaccination programme, if proven effective, offers considerable potential and a much more publicly-acceptable way of tackling this issue.”
The badger is protected under Appendix III of The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (the Bern Convention). In respect of badgers, this Council of Europe legislation – to which the UK is a signatory – prohibits the killing of animals to a point capable of causing local disappearance of, or serious disturbance to, populations.
Marina Pacheco added: “Recent events have shown that David Cameron is willing to adopt an isolated stance. But an ill-considered badger cull risks disquiet from the electorate and censure from other nations.”
For further information, please contact: Marina Pacheco, CEO The Mammal Society: 07726206460
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1 Vaccination of wild badger populations against bovine tuberculosis (bTB), if proven effective, is a desirable option for the eradication of bTB in both cattle and wildlife. A large scale field trial of bTB vaccine BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) in badgers is ongoing in County Kilkenny, Ireland. As part of this trial, badgers have undergone a mark-release-recapture regime over a rural area of 755 square kilometres. This capture data was used to investigate badger movements. In the research a badger movement was defined as the capture of an individual badger at two different setts. From a sample of 191 badger movements, the mean distance between recaptures was 1.37km, with a maximum recorded movement of 7.5km. Mapping of these movement linkages between setts showed clusters of linked setts – which may have implications for bTB disease dynamics in badgers. Further studies on the movements and demographics of badgers within the Kilkenny vaccine area will be useful in developing vaccination programme mathematical models.
2 The Mammal Society is the only organisation involved in the study and conservation of all British mammals. We work to identify the threats our mammals face, and halt declines. We promote the study of mammals with the aim of offering the best scientific advice for their conservation. We inform, educate and involve people of all ages to raise awareness of mammal conservation issues, in order to help protect them for the future.
3 The Mammal Society’s original response to the DEFRA consultation in Position Statements