Badgergate Bovine TB: Fact, Fantasy & Politics Fri, 30 Oct 2015 03:15:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Badgers, Bovine TB and the UK General Election Sat, 25 Apr 2015 04:52:54 +0000 Badgergate is delighted to publish a letter about the badger cull policy from Dr Chris Cheeseman, badger ecologist and former government advisor.

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Dear Sir or Madam:

The science underlying the topic of badgers and bovine TB is highly complex.  This has led to information being deviously manipulated by those who want to cull badgers, whereupon they seize on scraps of data to misrepresent in support of culling while ignoring the overwhelming evidence against it.  As such it has descended into a propaganda exercise by the National Farmers Union to win support for culling and distract attention from the real problem.

The truth is that the persistence of TB in cattle is largely due to the continuing spread of the disease among the cattle themselves.  Scientists at Imperial College London estimate that less than 6% of cattle TB outbreaks are due directly to badgers.

Wales has reduced cattle TB incidence by almost a half in just five years by more rigorous testing of cattle.  While England lags behind, the Westminster Government continues with its badger culling policy, despite two successive years of failure on both efficacy and welfare grounds.  And the cost?  The two pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have cost the tax payer a staggering £15million in just two years.

This Government has consistently shown a wilful disregard for the science in its pursuit of badger culling.  The Government estimates that badger culling will, at best, lead to a 12 to 16% drop in cattle TB over 9 years, while many experts predict that due to significant changes in protocol it may actually make TB in cattle and badgers worse.  As a result, we have to ask why our politicians are pursuing such an ill-conceived strategy. Political analysts conclude that it is to appease farmers and influential landowners in order to win their votes and financial support.  If re-elected, the Tories will roll out more badger culls across the South West of England that will result in the needless slaughter of thousands more badgers.

Fortunately there are people who are not prepared to tolerate this contemptuous attitude towards our native wildlife for political ends.  I recently joined a number of other scientists and veterinarians in writing to David Cameron to express our deep concerns about the Government’s TB policy

The reply was disappointing and gave no indication of the changes that are so desperately needed.

MPs are there to engage with their constituents on nationally important issues – badger culling ranks as the fifth most common subject of complaint to MP’s in 2014.  I wrote to our Stroud MP, Mr Neil Carmichael, many weeks ago asking for his views on our correspondence with David Cameron.  Apart from the usual acknowledgement, he has yet to reply.  Indeed, he has failed to respond to all my written challenges and offers to discuss this subject since being elected.  Instead of pursuing an objective position based on the facts in his stance on bovine TB, Mr Carmichael simply follows the Conservative whip in Government debates and votes in favour of badger culling.

Dr Chris Cheeseman
Badger Ecologist and former government adviser


You can read the abridged version of Dr Cheeseman’s letter published by Stroud News and Journal here:,3CIRQ,97TLTF,BZ42D,1

You can also read his guest article for Badgergate on why a badger cull won’t work here:


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The death of Badger 41 Tue, 20 Jan 2015 15:54:36 +0000 The independent experts' report on the 2013 badger culls confirms that free shooting as practiced in the culls was not a humane method of killing badgers. The story of Badger 41 illustrates why.

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The night of 14th to 15th September 2014 was warm and damp, ideal foraging conditions for a female badger living in the heart of the Somerset cull zone. She was healthy, with no signs of any disease, including TB.

Somehow she had managed to survive the mayhem during the first year of badger culling although other members of her community may have been less lucky. After their deaths, previously unknown badgers travelling from far away may have arrived to fill the vacant spaces, causing stress and upheaval amongst the previously tightly knit group.

Before leaving her sett in a tiny patch of woodland, she is likely to have waited until it was dark and quiet. After spending some minutes, perhaps carefully checking the air for danger, she would have headed off to forage keeping close to the hedgerows.  Once she was out and about, she would have searched for tasty morsels such as earthworms, fruit and nuts that would have helped put her in top condition. She may even have been ready to give birth the following spring. (1)


The Sleeping Earth © Catherine Hyde

The Sleeping Earth © Catherine Hyde

As she meandered around different feeding spots, she would have remained alert for worrying sounds or smells.  Had she detected something wrong, she would have bolted immediately towards the safety of her sett. Maybe she was distracted by something, a tasty earthworm or some bait such as maize or peanuts; and what should have been a normal night of contented foraging for this badger took a sudden and tragic turn.

What we know is that at some point, she was shot in her abdomen. The bullet fragmented on impact and severely damaged her spleen, liver, small intestine, large intestine and abdominal muscle. She may have tried to flee back to her sett. But if she did, she didn’t make it.  Instead, she collapsed a few hundred meters away and lay bleeding to death on a quiet, country lane. A campaigner against the badger cull discovered her there and took her to Secret World Wildlife Rescue, where she was found to be dead on arrival.

The facts from Badger 41’s post mortem are clear. (2)  The bullet’s entry point had missed the heart-lung target area recommended by Government guidelines to avoid prolonged suffering and ensure rapid death. There had clearly been no follow-up shot, nor had the shooter or shooting team managed to find the badger. Badger 41’s carcass was also subjected to stringent tests for TB and, just before Christmas, we learned that she tested negative. The same was true for two other shot badgers rescued from the Somerset cull zone by campaigners in 2013. (3) The fact that these badgers tested negative for TB is not that surprising given that most badgers, even in high-risk TB areas, are free of TB. (4)

So why did the bullet miss?  Was the shooter a particularly bad shot?  Was the shot taken too far away? Taken too quickly?  Or was she already running when the shooter took the shot, despite Government guidelines that shots should only be taken when the badger is stationary? Perhaps she only moved a few centimetres, just enough for the shot to go wide of its mark.  We shall never know.

After consultation, the Government has agreed that if a badger takes 5 minutes or less to die after being free shot, it is considered a humane death. (5) Unlike wild animals, the humane death of a domestic animal in a slaughterhouse, is measured in seconds not minutes. Badger 41 illustrates how difficult it can be to hit the required heart-lung target area to kill a badger cleanly. Many experts, including marksmen, believe that the Government should never even have considered that shooting badgers in this way could possibly be humane. We don’t know how many more badgers suffered in similar or even more horrendous ways during the pilot culls. Nearly 300 badgers (9-11% of badgers shot at across both years) were never recovered after being shot at.

Around 234 badger carcasses retrieved during shoots observed by Natural England monitors in 2014 also underwent a post mortem; of these, 17% had ‘no major thoracic damage’ as would be expected if the target area had been hit. Even more worryingly, the majority of reported post mortems on badgers from shoots that were not observed by monitors did not have ‘major firearm injury identified in the thorax’.

Does the death of Badger 41 death represent the tip of a dirty iceberg? (6)

We may never know the details of Badger 41’s death, but the last word belongs to a shooter with over 50 years of experience in shooting, including with high velocity centre-fire rifles:

‘’I ask how is it possible to miss by such a margin?  The so-called marksmen are supposed to be able to hit a four-inch circle at 70 yards. A marksman should only take a shot when he can be certain of a clean kill. The high rate of missed shots documented in the badger cull is a disgrace to the shooting community. The individual responsible for the death of Badger 41 should be identified and banned from all future culling activity if found to have been licenced as part of the cull.’’

Badger 41’s death is subject to an on-going police investigation so more detail is still to come.  But it is clear that a badly placed shot results in considerable suffering. Badger ecologists point out that wounded badgers will retreat to their setts where they cannot be recovered and their final fate, including the extent of their suffering, will remain completely unknown.

Badger 41 was a young healthy badger, and posed no risk to cattle or farmers. Yet misguided government policy condemned her to an agonising death. How many more healthy badgers will die in this way before the coalition government finally implements a truly evidence-based policy on bovine TB control?

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Badger culls 2014: here we go again… Mon, 29 Sep 2014 14:02:46 +0000 The latest round of badger culls is now well under way in England although there is little credible science or public support to justify the Government's continuation of its industry-led cull.

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The latest round of badger culls is now well under way in both Gloucestershire and Somerset.

Six-week culls in both areas were licenced by Natural England on 26 August 2014. On 9 September, amid much prevarication and secrecy, the new Secretary of State for Environment, Elizabeth Truss announced that the culls in both zones had begun on 8 September.

© Secret World Wildlife Rescue

© Secret World Wildlife Rescue

The written Ministerial Statement also assured the public that the shooters had received additional training this year. But barely a few days into the cull, a badger now known as Badger 41, was recovered from the Somerset cull zone with horrific injuries. These showed she had been shot in the abdomen well short of the target area (page 7) identified in the government’s Best Practice Guidelines for controlled shooting of badgers, which were reissued in August 2014.

Badger 41 had probably tried to flee back to her sett after being wounded. The fact that the shooters had not recovered her body suggests she have travelled a considerable distance despite extensive injuries.  Veterinary examinations showed she was actually disembowelled whilst still alive – either by a bullet or by bullet fragments from a shot that missed and ricocheted.

The National Farmers Union denies that the badger was killed as part of the cull. However, they have yet to provide any proof to support this statement. Meanwhile, George Eustice, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment, has claimed that contractors would be better prepared this year and therefore better able to achieve this year’s badger cull targets. However, reports in the Guardian based on a leaked document suggest that the cull company in Gloucestershire has struggled to meet its target numbers in the first two weeks of the cull, blaming both the moonlit nights (which finished within the first three or four nights) and the protestors.

As soon as the Government released the target numbers of badgers to be killed this year along with their calculations, independent scientists raised serious questions about the validity of the both the government’s methodology and the lack of an Independent Expert Panel to assess the results of the 2014 culls – something the Conservative Party had pledged to do before rolling out the badger cull nationwide to other bTB hotspot areas.

In an interview on 10 September on BBC Radio 4, the new Secretary of State (SoS) for the Environment appeared to be as keen on moving the goalposts as the earlier SoS, justifying the continuation of the cull on the grounds that if 70% of the badgers within the cull zones could be culled within the four year cull period, then this would still be beneficial for TB reduction in cattle. However, the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, estimated that at least 70% of the badger population should be removed in the first year of culling and the population kept low in subsequent years in order to achieve a mere 12–16% reduction in the new cases of TB in cattle, that too after nine years.

The target of  removing at least 70% of the badger population was missed in both Gloucestershire and Somerset by a very large margin in the first round of badger culls in 2013, leading to Natural England’s Chief Scientific Advisor Professor David Macdonald’s description of the badger culls as an ‘epic failure’.

Given the spectacular failure of the badger culls in 2013, and the abandonment of independent monitoring and evaluation in 2014, the Government has lost any remaining shred of scientific credibility in its industry-led badger cull. We wonder when they might start to show real political leadership, and embrace and learn from the Welsh experienceof an evidence-led approach to TB control that does not involve any badger culls.

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Why we should care about independent monitoring of the badger cull Sun, 14 Sep 2014 18:25:27 +0000 Independent monitoring allows us to assess how well governments are delivering on policies and use of public funds and thus to hold them to account. Given the many failures of last year’s government-designed, farmer-led badger culls, independent monitoring of this year's culls is essential.

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As we face a second year of badger culls in the United Kingdom, I am reminded of a popular definition of insanity: to repeat the same mistakes while expecting different results.

Does the government really expect this year’s badger culls to be a success when the first year’s culls were a failure?

Unfortunately, as there is no independent monitoring of the badger culls in 2014, we are unlikely to ever know whether they are a success or not.

Apart from being essential to the scientific process, independent and transparent scrutiny is a cornerstone of democratic societies. It allows us to assess whether governments are delivering on their stated policy objectives and using public funds wisely. Independent monitoring thus allows us to hold governments to account. History shows, however, that governments cannot be relied upon to monitor their own activities objectively, as the vested interests of those in power almost inevitably lead to biases as to how data are gathered and results reported. An objective and transparent monitoring strategy with independent oversight is especially critical for a government-designed, farmer-led badger cull, particularly given the many failures of last year’s cull, not least the very high costs involved, borne largely by the taxpayer.

The original stated aims of the pilot badger culls were to test assumptions about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of ‘controlled’ shooting as a method of culling free-ranging badgers at night. Specifically, the government wanted to test:

  • Whether badger cull targets could be met within six weeks and at least 70% of the population removed in each cull area;
  • Whether shooting free-running badgers at night is a humane way of killing badgers; and
  • Whether shooting at night is safe for the general public, pets and livestock.

In order to ensure scientific objective assessment of these criteria, the government appointed an independent panel of experts to design the data collection methods and oversee analysis and results.  This independent expert panel (IEP) was drawn from senior scientists covering a range of appropriate skills, including knowledge and experience of the challenges involved in monitoring secretive nocturnal mammals and assessing the likely level of suffering based on post mortem examination. We could debate whether it was even worth testing a method that 31 wildlife disease experts had already stated risked “becoming a costly distraction from nationwide TB control.” But at least there were stated targets and a process in place for independent assessment.

After the first year of the pilot badger culls, the IEP analysed and assessed the data, and concluded that the cull did not meet the government’s targets for humaneness and effectiveness. The IEP’s criticisms are not minor academic points. The badger cull licences were specifically granted for the “purpose of preventing the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB)”.

The effectiveness target of a minimum reduction of 70% of the badger population at each site was put in place because results from the Randomised Badger Cull Trial suggested that a reduction of less than this risks increasing TB in cattle. This is because of a raised risk of disease transmission due to increased movement of badgers caused by social disruption (known as perturbation) can outweigh any lowering of disease transmission due to a reduction in badger density.

If too few badgers are killed, and TB incidence rises as a result, the government could be responsible for spreading TB in cattle, as well as for the widespread slaughter of a nationally and internationally protected native species for no benefit. The former runs counter to its stated TB eradication policy, and the latter risks breaching the Bern Convention (the legally binding European convention governing biodiversity conservation).

The coalition government responded to the IEP’s conclusions by sacking the panel. It is probably not entirely surprising that the government wishes to avoid any further independent examination of what may prove to be a disastrous and financially costly policy. But in a well-functioning democracy, the conclusions of the IEP should have resulted in an immediate halt of the badger cull, and a careful reassessment of the strategy. At the very least, given the major problems identified by the IEP, we would expect strict adoption of the IEP’s recommendations in any future culling operations, should these be continued. After all, why persist with an intervention that could actually result in an increase in the very disease that the government is trying to eradicate?

So where are we now?

The government claimed that the second year of badger culls “will start with the IEP’s recommended improvements in place”.  A more detailed analysis of their response suggests otherwise. In particular, the IEP explicitly recommended that the same type and quantity of data collected in the first year of the cull needed to be collected in future years, with continued independent oversight.

However, in this second year of culling, the government has put in place only limited oversight of whether the badger culls are humane, and is no longer measuring a key index of likely suffering – time to death. Moreover there will be absolutely no independent oversight of whether the culls are effective.  Shockingly, monitoring of the effectiveness of the second year’s culls will rely on contractor-collected data, although these fail to meet any criteria on objectivity. Furthermore, the IEP found that contractor data from the first year’s culls were completely unreliable.

Indeed, the IEP was quite scathing about the data provided by contractors, and found the quality and reliability so poor that they did not use it to draw any conclusions. For example, some contractors were recording themselves as conducting shifts less than one minute in length, while another contractor was out for 32 days uninterrupted. Moreover, questions in the House of Lords show that, according to contractor data, more badgers were culled than shots fired.

Rather than badgers being lined up to be shot, as was suggested by Baroness Northover, this raises the serious suspicion that badgers killed elsewhere were being included as part of the cull – a suspicion supported by a recently launched criminal investigation into an alleged incident of a contractor shooting badgers on a golf course outside the cull zone. The same investigation is looking into 10 contractors who allegedly used night sights to stalk the animals illegally, an activity known to pose a significant risk to public safety.

What is clear is that, even when contractors were aware that they were being monitored, they could not be relied upon to accurately record even basic information such as their own shift lengths or the number of shots fired.  Given this, any other information provided by contractors, such as specific information relating to badger shooting events, has little credibility. In other words, the government’s proposed monitoring strategy for the second year of the badger culls is neither independent, as it depends on subjective contractor collected data, nor scientific, since these data have been shown to have little value.

Continuing the badger cull without either independent oversight or reliable monitoring data begs the question whether the government is interested in knowing:

  1. Whether the badger culls are actually effective at controlling TB in cattle? and
  2. Whether they are a good use of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money?

Indeed, the following quote reported by Professor John Bourne, Chair of the Independent Scientific Group, Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), seems to be increasingly pertinent:

“I think the most interesting observation was made to me by a senior politician who said ‘fine, John, we accept your science, but we have to offer the farmers a carrot, and the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers”.

Not only are the government’s badger culls “an insult to evidence-based policymaking,” they have also become, as predicted, a “costly distraction” to the real task of combatting TB.

It’s time to stop using badgers for barter in an increasingly costly and senseless cull and to get serious about implementing a truly evidence-based policy to control bovine TB in cattle. Perhaps the British government should consider applying the same rigour to its delivery of evidence-based approaches to bovine TB control as it does to delivering evidence-based medicine?

2web What's next rev4

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A Tale of Blue Bigots and Green Blobs Fri, 25 Jul 2014 14:25:13 +0000 It’s a while since we’ve read anything in the news quite as entertaining as Owen Paterson’s recent tirade against the ‘Green Blob’ (the one wot done him in).

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badger on blob copyIt’s a while since we’ve read anything in the news quite as entertaining as Owen Paterson’s recent tirade against the ‘Green Blob’ (the one wot done him in).

Judging from the reactions on Twitter and in the media, it seems we weren’t alone. Many of the responses were as or more entertaining than Mr Paterson’s original piece, especially the one from Greenpeace, falsely accused by Paterson of burning him in effigy.

(Greenpeace has politely suggested the accusation was a genuine error on the part of the former Minister but is still waiting for an apology…)

In the meantime, Damian Carrington, Head of Environment at the Guardian newspaper, has written a delightfully cutting analysis of Paterson’s recent outburst. Amongst other things, Carrington suggests that Paterson’s vitriolic outburst is in fact a ‘descent into paranoia’ and that his climate change denial is the ‘ground zero’ of his ‘meltdown’. But according to Carrington, it’s when he starts talking about the ‘highly paid globe-trotters of the Green Blob who besieged him’ that he begins to sound ‘really unhinged’. Carrington also makes reference to the ‘cognitive dissonance’ between Paterson and the greens, a concept that is probably far beyond the grasp of the UK’s former climate-denying, biodiversity-exterminating Secretary of State for Environment.

Another piece by Carrington’s colleague, George Monbiot, is equally scathing. It begins with ‘Beware the self-pity of the governing classes’ and concludes by noting that Paterson is ‘choked with resentment and self-pity, apparently convinced that despite a life of wealth and power he represents the whipped and wounded.’

If only we ‘Green Blobbers’ had even a fraction of the influence and funds that Paterson bitterly credits us with. How different our world would be. For a start we would not be in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction – a global wave of species extinction caused almost entirely by humans.

Nor would we be teetering on the brink of all manner of potential catastrophes due to the impacts of climate change on our agriculture, our freshwater resources, our coastal cities and towns and much more, thereby putting at risk not only our livelihoods, health and wellbeing but also those of future generations for a long time to come. Again, like the on-going mass extinctions, all caused primarily by our actions.

We’d even wager that if the Green Blob really did rule, we’d have less poverty and inequality and fewer wars #JustGuessing.


The scary thing is that to a not insignificant minority, especially among the land- owning classes, Paterson is a hero – a much maligned and sorely wronged figure – a ‘true blue countryman’.

It’s seriously worrying if Paterson’s supporters believe every word of his recent article in the Telegraph. But as Carrington notes, right wing environmentalism has a long history and it’s unlikely that Paterson speaks for all of the conservative right. Given his alleged keenness to ‘out-Ukip Ukip’, it may be that his real political home lies outside of the conservative party, perhaps within the British equivalent of an American-style Tea Party as suggested by Monbiot.

Paterson’s departure was certainly met with a sense of relief by the diverse members of the Green Blob, a great deal of merriment and perhaps even a little gloating or at least a feeling of vindication. Unfortunately, a change of Environment Minister does not necessarily translate into any real change in policy. Indeed, the draft Infrastructure Bill, which is currently being debated in Parliament, confirms what we knew all along – badgers are but the tip of the iceberg.

If the draft Infrastructure bill goes through in its current form, it will have major implications for what remains of Britain’s wildlife, forests and other natural systems as well as threatening on-going and future re-introductions of native species that have gone extinct in Britain.

The badger cull symbolizes all that’s wrong with the way we treat our natural environment and native species in Britain. It shows what little regard this government has for science or evidence-based policies, given that the expert scientific consensus is that badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to reducing TB in cattle, and this based on a mountain of data gathered at great cost over many years.

What’s even more worrying is that if Britain, a supposedly developed country and a nation of nature lovers is like this, then what hope is there for nature anywhere – or indeed for us?

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Free shooting badgers: a decidedly risky business Mon, 14 Jul 2014 14:55:06 +0000 Any day now, badger culling could begin again in England. Dr Chris Cheeseman, an experienced marksman and ecologist, considers the legal and public safety aspects of free shooting badgers.

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© Pat Williams

© Pat Williams

An important aspect of the Government’s approach to culling badgers is the use of licenced operatives to ‘free shoot’ badgers without first trapping them.  The conditions of the Licences that relate to free shooting are very specific, including the type of equipment that may be used, where a badger may be shot and from what distance. Any deviation from these may mean that the operatives are not acting lawfully.

For instance, Section 10 of the Licence WML-CLO5 (11/13) states that only  night vision scopes of Generation 2 and above can be used with an infra-red illuminating device.  Section 29 of the Best Practice Guidance on free shooting (aka ‘controlled shooting’) states that night vision scopes can only be used to shoot badgers at bait points1.  But what happens if a badger isn’t killed outright?  In theory, a second shot is allowed. However, it’s well documented that badgers, even if they’re fatally wounded, run away.  This means that the second shot would very likely have to be taken away from the bait point and if a night vision scope2 is used for this, this may well be unlawful.

The Independent Expert Panel’s report on last year’s badger cull states that 5.1% of the 158 badgers subjected to postmortem examination had been hit by more than one shot (Page 30, Section 5.3.1). Not only is this potentially illegal but what about public safety?

We asked Dr Chris Cheeseman, an expert marksman with 55 years of experience in all types of shooting, for his opinion:

“Night vision scopes may be used on either rifles or shotguns at a bait point, but the law states clearly that these cannot be used away from the bait point. The reason for this is clear and crucially important – it would be extremely dangerous to do so.

Night vision technology has provided enormous benefits to the military and police, for example, and indeed in many circumstances where the ability to see in the dark is an advantage. I have used such equipment in my own studies of badgers and it is quite literally a wonderfully illuminating experience. Their one disadvantage is a relatively narrow field of vision and the fact that peering through a night vision scope can temporarily seriously reduce the user’s own night vision.

Safety is quite rightly of paramount importance when shooting at night. The Independent Expert Panel that oversaw the initial pilot culls found that an unacceptably high proportion of badgers was wounded by shooters and took longer than five minutes to die. Second shots are therefore required when wounded badgers have to be pursued. A wounded badger is not going to stay in the vicinity of the bait point, therefore the shooter may break the law if he moves away from the bait point and then uses the firearm for a second shot. That’s the law.

When we remember that there are likely to be many peaceful protestors present in the cull areas during the shooting, the dangers are almost too horrific to imagine.  In the initial culls last year, many protestors were equipped with their own night vision aids and reported the frequent occurrence of looking at shooters who were looking back at them through the night vision scopes on their rifles! These shooters were either not aware of the code of practice, or flagrantly ignored the rules that say under no circumstances must a shooter use a rifle scope to look at anything other than their quarry. The reasons are obvious – rifles often have very delicately set triggers.

The fact that there were no reported shooting accidents last year is more down to chance than anything else. If this activity continues it is only a matter of time before someone gets killed or seriously injured.

The police and those responsible for the culling operations must get a grip on this issue. Frankly, this is something of a show stopper for shooting badgers at bait points because we already know that badgers are going to be wounded, and what happens then?”


1. Bait points: where peanuts or other badger ‘treats’ have been placed for several nights running in order to encourage badgers to go to a specific spot.

2. Night vision scopes allow images to be produced in levels of light approaching total darkness or images lit by infra-red light that are otherwise invisible to the naked eye.


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Revelations from the Somerset badger cull zone Mon, 12 May 2014 13:14:44 +0000 The 2013 pilot badger culls were an abject failure on many counts - effectiveness, humaneness and cost. Yet the Government still intends to pursue this risky and expensive policy.

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Why we went into the zone

We suspected that the pilot culls that began in Somerset on 26 August 2013 would fail to kill the required ‘at least 70%’ of the badgers in the zone given the likely challenges of shooting wild badgers at night. We were concerned that free-shooting badgers by gunmen with insufficient training would be inhumane. And we wondered how on earth the police would ensure public safety.

Knowing that the proposed monitoring by government services would be woefully inadequate, we decided to walk the Somerset footpaths at night to see what happened for ourselves. We quickly found that many people from all walks of life had gathered in the cull zone to do much the same thing.

It seemed people simply couldn’t stay at home as the biggest, Government-sanctioned cull of a protected species began in earnest.  But at that point, little did we know that we would be unwilling witnesses to the abject failure of the pilot culls or how much we would learn and discover about the cull operation itself.

As a wildlife filmmaker with years of experience working at night in difficult conditions, I’m used to collecting observations from an apparently random set of events. At times, a friend who is a senior ecological scientist was able to join me. We were shocked at the constraints placed on peaceful monitoring. Rumours circulated that photography could be seen as harassment and a few people were arrested and put under curfew for attempting to record events. Taking notes or going out with maps could be seen as ‘going equipped’ or ‘conspiracy’ and subject to the same penalties. Our movements and behaviour were constantly monitored by large numbers of police, ostensibly deployed to ensure public safety.


‘Young Mr Brock’ – Painting by Jane Tomlinson ( reproduced with permission © Jane Tomlinson 2014

What we heard and saw 

On the second night, we saw unleashed dogs without muzzles being used by shooters as they walked along hedgerows. Other people heard the barking and growling of dogs in-between shots.  Was this an outbreak of unbridled lamping for foxes and rabbits or was it associated with the badger cull?  We asked Defra on Twitter. They quickly posted a reply to say no dogs were associated with cull operatives.  We no longer saw or heard dogs at night.

As the first week unfolded, we noticed that shooting activity with both moderated and un-moderated weapons implied that the operation was being carried out in a haphazard, non-contiguous way departing significantly from the culling methodology carried out by the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). We learned subsequently that monitors from Natural England found that some cull operatives had so many sites allocated to them that they were unable to reach them regularly. Such a substantial departure from the methodology used by the RBCT makes it far less likely to achieve even the limited benefits expected from culling badgers – and increases the risk of actually making TB in cattle worse, due to the ‘perturbation effect’. It also begs the question whether the farming industry and cull companies are in fact the right people to carry out badger culling – in any form.

More observations from the cull zone add to this belief. Prior to the start of the culls, we had familiarised ourselves with the Best Practice Guidance produced by Defra. Amongst other things, it states that the use of a white light spotlight or infra-red rifle scope required the presence of a second person to “scan the wider area for unexpected non-targets, e.g. livestock and members of the public”. So why did we increasingly see that cull operatives became deployed as lone shooters only equipped with infra-red rifle scopes? Did this constitute a breach of protocol that could have had serious consequences on safety? A recent article in The Ecologist poses similar questions.

The shooting team also had to undertake risk assessments prior to any culling operation in order to ensure that safe sites were selected and “to avoid shooting if there is any risk of accidental injury to humans e.g. near rights of way, near boundaries with third parties, on the edge of villages and near to rural dwellings…”. So why did we frequently hear shots close to footpaths and lanes and, at times, have shots whistle over our heads?  The Natural England compliance reports mention that at times an unsuspecting dog walker was only two meters from a shooter hiding in the dark. The ammunition used was high-velocity and the IEP notes that some cull operative shifts lasted days. So was it purely luck that there wasn’t a fatal accident?

At the time of writing, no-one in the Government or the police can tell us who will be liable if there’s a fatal or serious accident.  Would it be the landowner?  The cull company? The cull operative? Or the police.  Or would the Health & Safety Executive be sued due to not enforcing proper risk assessments?

After the first 10 days or so, we heard fewer and fewer shots at night. Although moderators were often used, the sound of a moderated shot can travel a fair distance at night when the air is still. Soon, a leak from within the cull companies and widely circulated in the press corroborated our suspicions that the cull operatives were finding it hard to shoot enough badgers to fill the daily quota required to ensure at least 70% of badgers were killed in the zone by free-shooting. On that date, it seemed everyone who possessed a gun in Somerset went out to fire wildly into the night. The evidence was mounting that some of the cull operatives were far from the professional team of marksmen that the Government so often referred to.

The cull fails 

Despite the limited application of free-shooting and the lack of accessibility to the cull operation, a few of our patrol members believe they heard wounded badgers squealing in pain and fear as the first shot failed to kill them; and two dead badgers were found that had collapsed and died after running from shooters. Despite heavy police pressure that included road-blocks to search cars, the carcasses of two shot badgers were successfully rescued and examined post-mortem by an independent expert forensic pathologist. One had been shot in the spine and suffered significant stress and pain before dying. Scientific tests revealed that both were free from TB.

Subsequently, we have learned that out of nine badgers shot in front of Natural England monitors, three were shot in the wrong area – a wounding rate amounting to 30%. One of these was shot in the shoulder, ran away, was chased by the operator and then shot again 5-10 minutes later. Bearing in mind the very limited monitoring by Natural England, it is reasonable to suggest that these badgers represent the tip of the iceberg.  Data from the Government’s own Independent Expert Panel gathered by members of the Animal Health & Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) states “It is extremely likely that between 7.4 per cent and 22.8 per cent of badgers that were shot at were still alive after five minutes, and therefore at risk of experiencing marked pain. We are concerned at the potential for suffering that these figures imply.”

After the long weeks of the cull finally drew to a close, we can also testify to the socially divisive nature of such a controversial policy that has torn communities apart and set neighbour against neighbour. Police records show that as the tensions rose, aggressive encounters between supporters and opponents of the cull increased.

Why further badger culling is a dumb idea 

Data from the Government’s Independent Expert Panel’s report on the pilot culls indicate that far less than 50% badgers have been killed in both zones by a concerted combination of cage-trapping and free-shooting. In reply, the Government has stated that the low percentage or numbers don’t matter; a startling reversal from their repeated statements prior to the cull that at least 70% of badgers must be killed. These latest claims are highly questionable. Peer- reviewed scientific data (1) show if cull rates are as low as 30%, then bTB could rise by 20% in both zones (2) We are also now aware of the estimated cost of culling. Presently it stands at over £4,000 per badger and when the accurate costs come in, it could be more.

Since neither science nor economics justify badger culling, it would appear that this policy is primarily  motivated by politics. The pilots and extensions have failed to meet the Government’s stated objectives with regard to efficacy and humaneness. They appear to have been implemented in an unprofessional, uncoordinated and ultimately meaningless fashion, for the cost of badger culling far outweighs the Government’s own optimistic but meagre projected benefit in terms of reduction in the rate of cattle TB increase. The science also strongly suggests that the failure to implement the culls properly means there is a high risk of making the cattle TB situation even worse locally.

With the improvements to cattle testing implemented in Wales and Ireland already showing significant benefits without culling any badgers, it is time to stop deploying this particular ‘tool’ in the Government’s ‘toolbox’ to address bTB in cattle. The Independent Expert Panel has called for significant changes to be made in this summer’s cull but the Government’s intention on how this is to be achieved is less than clear. But if culling continues, with even less official monitoring than before, the increasing numbers of opponents, including ourselves, will be out somewhere in the culling zones once again.


Notes & References

A version of this article first appeared in ECOS 35(1) 2014 and is reprinted here thanks to the British Association of Nature Conservation.  Copies can be ordered via

  1. Effects of culling on badger abundance: implications for tuberculosis control by Woodroffe et al Journal of Zoology 274 (2008) 28–37
  2. Final Report of the ISG on Cattle TB, June 2007
  3.  Much more on the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the pilot culls can be found in The Ecologist 7 May 2014

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Gassing badgers: Science vs. Royals Sun, 06 Apr 2014 16:31:02 +0000 Science vs. Royals: gassing badgers is the way forward says Princess Anne in the wake of the failed pilot badger culls, which relied on controlled shooting. Scientists however disagree vehemently.

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In the wake of the official release of the Independent Expert Panel’s report  (IEP) on the failed pilot badger culls in England, Princess Anne has stated that gassing badgers is the way forward. Gassing, according to the Princess Royal, is a more humane way of killing badgers than shooting because ‘they just go to sleep’. Her remarks were made to the BBC’s Countryfile programme, which will be broadcast on Sunday, 7th April.

Badgers - a bundle of babies

© Andrew Cooper/

Badger setts were gassed with hydrogen cyanide (HCN) at Porton Down as part of an early TB control programme from 1975 to 1982. It was believed at the time that HCN was humane in action and that animals exposed to it would either become unconscious and die or if the dose wasn’t strong enough to kill, merely fall unconscious and recover with no ill effects.

But this is what Dr Chris Cheeseman has to say about gassing badgers at Porton Down based on first-hand experience:

“Watching badgers exposed to HCN, retching and vomiting while uttering distress calls, is an experience I shall never forget.  Gassing was immediately halted as a control method and live trapping followed by shooting was adopted in its place.

Apart from the need to establish whether any new gasses such, as carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, are humane in action, it would be necessary to overcome the practical difficulties of gassing setts in inaccessible places, such as steep, thickly wooded banks, tin mine shafts or cliff edges.  There is also the problem of achieving lethal concentrations of gas in the blind ended tunnels of a sett – badgers often reopened setts gassed with HCN from the inside.  Then there is the problem of killing non-target species such as polecats, otters and the many protected small mammals that frequently occupy setts. 

 Finally, it would be necessary to devise a strategy which would avoid the possibility of causing local extinction of badger populations, since this would contravene the Bern Convention and have unknown ecological impacts, and establish whether gassing caused any negative perturbation influences that might exacerbate the spread of TB in both badgers and cattle.

It would be far more sensible to concentrate on improving the cattle TB testing regime than invent new ways of killing badgers.”

Controlled shooting during the pilot badger culls failed miserably to achieve the required target of removing at least 70% of the badger population. In both Somerset and Gloucestershire, less than 50% of the estimated badger population was removed in the end.  Shooting also failed on humane grounds with an unacceptably high proportion of badgers living longer than five minutes after being shot. (See  and for brief summaries of the IEP report.)

Given the failure of Government’s recent pilot badger culls (a failure that was long-predicted by experts), calls for gassing are likely to increase amongst those who remain convinced that TB in cattle cannot be controlled without addressing it in badgers, despite much evidence indicating otherwise.

According to the vast majority of independent scientists, this constant focus on badger culling, indeed some might say near obsession, is a just a costly distraction from addressing the key underlying causes of cattle TB in England. This includes in particular the failure of the cattle TB testing regime to identify and remove infected cattle and prevent the onward spread of bovine TB.  Approximately one in five infected cattle are missed during routing skin testing using the SICCT test and the movement of cattle from apparently TB-free herds is a source of further cattle-to-cattle transmission.

The latest statistics from Wales have demonstrated how improvements to cattle testing and related measures have reduced cattle TB incidence by 48% in just five years – without any badger culling whether by shooting, gassing or other means.

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What price a badger? Mon, 31 Mar 2014 06:59:53 +0000 So what’s a badger worth? Hard to say since badgers aren’t generally bought and sold in the market place – at least not legally. The ‘price’ set for every dead badger shot during last year’s pilot badger culls was just £30. This apparently was enough to cover the costs of […]

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Bertie Gregory What price a badger

© Bertie Gregory/NPL –

So what’s a badger worth? Hard to say since badgers aren’t generally bought and sold in the market place – at least not legally.

The ‘price’ set for every dead badger shot during last year’s pilot badger culls was just £30. This apparently was enough to cover the costs of shooting a badger and disposing of its carcase.

Of course, delivering the pilot badger culls from start to end involved many more expenses, such as the costs of repeated badger population surveys including expensive DNA analyses of badger hairs, monitoring, legal and policing work.

In 2011, long before the pilot culls began, a cost-benefit analysis by Defra of different options to control bovine TB in badgers had shown that the financial costs of allowing the farming industry to cull badgers under licence would still exceed its monetary benefits, especially to farmers.

Meanwhile, scientists, conservationists, the general public and many others continued to express their deep concerns about the scientific basis, humaneness and public safety aspects of the proposed badger culls. But the Coalition Government and the National Farmers Union were determined to press ahead. So began the pilot badger culls in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset in the autumn of 2013.

Things started not going to plan fairly early on. Much to Environment Secretary of State Owen Paterson’s annoyance, the badgers just wouldn’t play by the rules.


Instead of flocking to the peanuts scattered around their setts by cull operatives and standing still long enough in the right position for shooters to take them out quickly and cleanly, these dastardly badgers just kept moving the goalposts.

Paterson & badgers moving goalposts

Then there was the added problem of suddenly finding there were roughly 1,000 fewer badgers in each cull zone than previously estimated and having to revise cull targets downwards. This, one would have thought, should have made it much easier to meet the required target of removing at least 70% of badgers in the stipulated time (i.e. six weeks) and manner (i.e. by ‘controlled shooting’ or ‘free-shooting’ – shooting free-ranging wild badgers at night). But not so. Perhaps they were harder to find being fewer in number. Or perhaps no one actually had a clue what they were doing. i.e. the people, not the badgers, since no one seemed to be sure how many badgers there were to begin with…

Defra guidance on lethal target area

Defra 2013. Controlled shooting of badgers in the field under licence to prevent the spread of bovine TB in cattle. Best Practice Guidance. p.12

By the end of six weeks, 865 badgers had been killed in Gloucestershire, or 30% of the total estimated population, and 708 in Somerset or 59% of the total estimated population – quite a bit less than the required removal of ‘at least 70% of the badger population’ to achieve the hoped-for reductions in cattle TB, particularly in Gloucestershire. The higher proportion of badgers removed in Somerset was largely due to the greater use of cage-trapping, which accounted for 60% of the badgers killed in these first six weeks. A bit of an #epicfail as they like to say on Twitter since a key objective of the pilots was to test the effectiveness of ‘controlled shooting’ – a significantly cheaper method than cage-trapping badgers first before shooting them.

In an attempt to improve on these figures, both the culls were extended, but with diminishing returns: a further 216 badgers were killed in West Gloucestershire during a 5 ½ week extension; while 90 badgers were killed in Somerset during a 3-week extension. From 17-20 badgers killed per night during the first six weeks of culling, the numbers dropped to 4-5/night during the extension. [1]

A mind-blowing amount of financial resources have been used to implement the two pilot culls. These are estimated to have cost nearly £7.3 million so far or roughly £4000 per badger killed and 80% of this cost is being borne by the taxpayer. The full costs of the cull are still to be accounted for. In both zones, the police are still dealing with cull-related complaints and legal matters though Gloucestershire is the only one to go public with the information.

© Tim Hounsome

© Tim Hounsome

It’s ironic to look back on how the Welsh Government’s badger vaccination programme was derided for being far too expensive given a vaccination cost of £622/badger. That’s nearly £3,400 cheaper than killing a badger in last year’s pilot culls. According to the National Farmers Union, vaccination would need to be repeated annually for 5 years to achieve social group immunity, which would mean a total cost of £3310/badger. Hmmm, still cheaper over 5 years  (and far less disruptive) than culling badgers for just one year! We also know that badger vaccination costs can be greatly reduced further through the use of volunteers.

It’s clear that the Government and the NFU were hugely over-optimistic about the ease and likelihood of removing at least 70% of the badger population in six weeks by shooting free-ranging wild badgers at night, a method that had never been formally tested before. Its main attraction was that ‘controlled shooting’ was estimated to cost only 300/km2 compared to around £2500/km2 for the well-tested method of cage-trapping badgers first before shooting them. Indeed, the only way the Government could even begin to justify a badger cull (and presumably make it attractive to the farming industry) was by proposing an approach that relied mainly on free-shooting with limited cage-trapping at an estimated average cost of £1000/km2. [2] This we now know was a gross underestimate, given that the cull is estimated to have cost an astounding £12,857/km2 so far! (See Table above)

The Government’s eagerness to press ahead with a badger cull remains puzzling given the findings of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT).

Channel 4 Quote on RBCT

In 2007, after nine years and £49 million pounds worth of research, the RBCT concluded that badger culling was not the solution to cattle TB in Britain – and that it could even make things worse as a result of the ‘perturbation effect’: the changes to badger behaviour caused by culling, which can lead to a higher rate of TB transmission by badgers.


Cost was a key consideration, but much of the expected cost was largely due to other factors, in particular the behavioural and ecological responses of badgers to culling, which is why culling badgers is such a poor strategy for tackling TB in cattle.


Instead, the RBCT recommended focusing on cattle-based measures alone. The history of TB control in Britain and the results of cattle-based measures to control TB in Wales strongly suggest that Professor Bourne and colleagues were spot on. But we’ll come to that later.

© Patrick Harrison

© Patrick Harrison

Let’s return to our original question for a moment: so what is a badger worth?

In an age when wildlife the world over is becoming increasingly scarce, why hasn’t there been greater emphasis on the value of a living wild badger? The badger is one of Britain’s few native wild mammals, the largest carnivore we have left on land and the emblem of our Wildlife Trusts. Long before the badger became implicated in cattle TB, this species had already endured centuries of some of the cruellest forms of persecution – something that continues to this day in the form of badger baiting, sett-filling and poisoning. Hence the formal protection of the species since the 1970s.

So why hasn’t there been more discussion of the costs experienced by people as a result of badgers being killed, particularly in an inhumane manner? And why hasn’t this ‘wanna-be greenest-ever’ Government explicitly factored such costs and benefits into its decision-making, given strong indications that the majority of the British public are opposed to badger culling?

In 2004, a study commissioned by Defra found that 73% of those interviewed objected to badgers being killed intentionally, while 87% said it was only acceptable to control badger populations if it could be done without actually killing badgers. In June 2011, a BBC opinion poll undertaken by GfK NOP (a leading market research agency) found that nearly two-thirds of the British public was opposed to culling badgers to control bovine TB. The poll also showed that a majority was against culling irrespective of gender, age or whether living in a rural or an urban area.

Defra’s cost-benefit analysis acknowledges that strong public aversion to culling badgers is an important factor in decision-making, yet still excludes this crucial factor from the analysis. True, it’s not easy to measure the value that people place on not culling badgers in financial terms. But given the strength of public feeling against badger culling, and the Government’s professed commitment to ensuring that the value of nature is properly reflected in decision-making, one would have thought Defra would have invested much more effort on this.


Defra’s cost-benefit analysis is also strangely silent on the conservation costs of badger culling. It’s unclear whether Defra ever conducted a site-specific ecological impact assessment (EcIA) of each pilot cull area, although one would have thought this would be essential. What, for example, are the ecological implications of removing large numbers of a top predator in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire? Some (including former Ministers who should know better) have suggested that this would be beneficial to hedgehogs and ground nesting birds. The science indicates a more complex relationship between badger numbers and implications for other species. Has Natural England or anyone else looked at the impacts of culling on other protected species and sites, including European protected species and Natura 2000 sites? One would have thought the greenest-ever Government would feel compelled to do so.

What about the impacts of large-scale culling on the badgers themselves and the implications for people who value having badgers in the countryside around them?


In July 2011, Natural England advised Defra that the “local disappearance of the badger in some areas cannot be ruled out if culling is carried out on a large scale.”

Defra has repeatedly denied that the culls could wipe out local badger populations. Yet despite several surveys, we still don’t have accurate estimates of the badger population in the two cull zones. Counting badgers as the experts keep reminding us is not easy.


We also don’t know the impacts of culling on the badgers or how culling may interact with other factors that affect badger populations. The latest unconfirmed figures suggest an increase of over 650 badgers in the West Somerset cull zone population since the start of the cull, which may be due to perturbation, earlier miscounting or some other factor.

© Patrick Harrison

© Patrick Harrison

To those who value having badgers around them, the local disappearance of badgers is a terrible loss. There are badger setts – essentially ‘families’ – that people have known and enjoyed for years, sometimes even for decades. Reducing local populations also makes it more difficult for people to see badgers. For many, regardless of whether they ever see any badgers, any suffering caused to badgers by not being killed outright on the first shot and by the general disruption to their family groups is simply unacceptable.

These are important costs associated with culling that should not be ignored. Yet they are not discussed in any detail in Defra’s cost-benefit analysis, let alone valued.

Given the RBCT’s findings and recommendations, it’s curious to find a cost-benefit analysis of only measures to address bovine TB in badgers rather than a more objective assessment of the costs and benefits of all possible strategies to control cattle TB, including those that rely solely on additional or strengthened cattle-based measures. We have not found a comparable Defra cost-benefit analysis of different options for controlling TB in cattle.

As we wait for Owen Paterson and Defra to finish mulling over the report of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) on the pilot badger culls and announce their final policy on TB control in England, it’s worth reminding ourselves of some of the key reasons given by the Government and the NFU to justify badger culling:

  1. It is not possible to control TB in cattle without controlling TB in badgers; no country has controlled TB in cattle without also tackling it in wildlife.
  2. Culling badgers will have a significant impact on reducing cattle TB incidence and the costs to farmers and taxpayers.
  3. Controlled shooting of badgers through farming-industry led culls is likely to be cheaper and more effective approach to TB control than cage-trapping alone or vaccination and also likely to be humane and safe.

Let’s take each of these in turn.

  1. The history of TB control in Britain and the recent achievements of Wales show that it is entirely possible to achieve major reductions in cattle TB without culling badgers. The number of cattle slaughtered for TB in Wales has decreased by nearly 50% between 2009 and 2013 since a range of new cattle measures were introduced in recent years, including annual TB testing, stricter movement controls and tighter biosecurity. In 2013 alone, the number of cattle slaughtered was reduced by 34% and the number of new herd incidents of TB was down by 22% from the 2012.

New cattle measures introduced in England by Defra over the last two years also seem to be having an impact with 14% fewer cattle slaughtered for TB in 2013 than in 2012.

2. Badger culling over 4 consecutive years could result in a 12-16% reduction on average after 9 years (from the start of culling) in the incidence of cattle TB in culled areas relative to un-culled areas. The extent of reduction will depend on site-specific conditions and ensuring that culling follows certain minimum criteria, some of which are difficult to meet. The actual reduction in cattle TB incidence is expected to vary quite a lot. There is also a high risk of making cattle TB worse if culling is not carried out properly. Finally, as culling as not been designed in a scientific manner, there will be no way of being sure how much of any future reduction in cattle TB incidence is due to reducing badger populations and how much due to other measures. [3]

3. It’s difficult not to say, ‘We told you so’, but controlled shooting was the first of the many #epicfails of the pilot badger culls.


Extension of the culls and greater use of cage-traps than originally budgeted greatly increased total costs. The latest leaks from the IEP report suggest that only 41% of badgers were killed in Somerset in the first six weeks of the cull and not 59%, while 37% were killed in Gloucestershire and not 30%. Earlier leaks from the IEP report to the BBC also suggest that the culls have failed to meet the Government’s own standard for humaneness.

Enough said. We dread to think what is the true cost-benefit ratio for the two pilot culls.

More than two years ago, Defra’s cost-benefit analysis warned in its concluding remarks that the success of the Government’s preferred policy option for bovine TB control depends on:

 “…a commitment and willingness from the [farming] industry to accept the costs of operating the policy for the marginal financial benefits that badger control offers and the non-financial benefits of freedom from TB in cattle. The consideration for Government is whether the net reduction in bTB, in areas where the disease is serious and growing, is sufficient to justify the cost to members of the public who may value badger populations and badger welfare.” 

Is culling badgers really worth it given the marginal benefits to farmers and the high costs involved, including the cost to those who value badger populations and badger welfare? Is the farming industry really prepared to foot the bill for culling badgers?  Do they really want this PR disaster on their hands?

More importantly, is culling even necessary, given the achievements of the Welsh Assembly Government in cattle TB control over the last five years? How is it ethical to continue to pursue a policy that could potentially decimate an iconic native wild species across large areas of England when there is compelling evidence that more effective and viable alternatives exist?


© Rohan Chakravarty

At a time when nature is under threat as never before, persisting with a badger cull policy also sets a terrible precedent for conservation both at home and abroad. When we have so little concern for our own native wildlife, what right do we have to ask others to protect their lions and tigers and rhinos?

No one disputes the need to address the recent rise and spread of cattle TB in Britain and the related costs to taxpayers and farmers. But ludicrous amounts of time, money and effort have been spent on trying to implement a badger cull policy of dubious value to cattle TB control that is opposed by the majority of independent scientists, leading wildlife and animal welfare charities and the general public.

Surely all this time, effort and money by both sides would be far better invested in strategies that could generate much greater reductions in bovine TB and more quickly than badger culling? If Wales could do it, why can’t England?

By September 2013, over 304,000 people had signed an H.M. Government e-petition against the cull. At the time, this was the largest number of signatures received since e-petitions were started a few years ago.

Long before the culls started, scores of people were out surveying setts and organizing themselves to protect badgers during the culls through night patrols and other means. Countless people have donated time and money to identify and advocate for better solutions to the cattle TB problem – solutions that don’t involve a pointless, cruel and costly cull of a native wild species.

It’s high time the Coalition Government steps up to the plate to value nature properly, ensure its TB control policies are consistent with its environmental policies, and teach Defra what the ‘e’ in its name actually stands for.


In Biodiversity 2020, England’s national strategy for its wildlife and ecosystem services, the Government stated:


Given the Coalition Government’s performance on a range of environmental issues, Badgergate proposes Biodiversity 2020 be amended as follows:


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The grim reality of free-shooting badgers Thu, 06 Mar 2014 16:48:27 +0000 It's clear Badger 200 died painfully. While we don't know how many more badgers suffered similar or worse fates, Badger 200 was not an exception.

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The dry facts of how Badger 200 died make for uncomfortable reading. But to fully capture the reality of those long, dark, increasingly cold and wet nights for many hundreds of badgers in the cull zones, we need to delve deeper. Based on the experiences of some of the public who were out and about during the cull, a little bit more of the story can be revealed.

By the time the first shot rang out in West Somerset on the night of Bank Holiday Monday in August 2013, many groups of people from all over the country had already assembled.  They came to observe, monitor and protest against the cull. Many drove hundreds of miles at their own expense to walk along unknown footpaths in remote areas, not knowing where shooters armed with high velocity rifles would be lurking.

These were ordinary people driven to do an extraordinary thing, united by their deep concern that hundreds of healthy badgers would be shot for no good reason. For some these would include badgers they had watched and enjoyed in the wild over the years.

Badger 200 may well have been one of these much-loved badgers. His sett of four or five family members was not far from a small village on the edge of the West Somerset cull zone. He might even have been a regular visitor to the churchyard there.  He would certainly have ambled through the gardens where people have put out peanuts for decades in the hope of seeing these otherwise elusive creatures.

Badger 200 survived being shot or trapped for the duration of the original pilot cull period. But on the first night of the extension, people standing on a small lane on the outskirts of the village suddenly heard a shot ring out in the adjacent field. This was followed by the sounds of a vehicle speeding away. Some time later, the body of a big male badger, in the prime of his life, was found close to a hedgerow.

Now, thanks to the autopsy carried out at Secret World, we know Badger 200 was shot in the spine, an injury that the pathologist described as ‘severely debilitating’. His heart, lungs and brain weren’t affected, which suggests that the badger was conscious – and presumably in severe pain – for an unknown length of time. He might even have been able to run away and cover a short distance before collapsing as his hind legs became rapidly paralysed. A violent and painful end for a badger that otherwise had been perfectly healthy – completely TB-free.

© Secret World Wildlife Rescue

© Secret World Wildlife Rescue

Badger 200 isn’t alone.  Natural England recently released copies of reports compiled by their monitors who observed shooters in action during the culls in both West Somerset and West Gloucestershire.   On 29 October 2013, during the cull extension in West Gloucestershire, a badger was shot ‘too high and too far back’.  The badger dropped onto its rump, got back up and ran quickly to the hedge where it slowed down and ‘loitered for a minute watching the contractor all the time’ before turning and walking slowly into the hedgerow and out of sight.  The contractor pursued the badger on foot and eventually, 5-10 minutes later, shot it in the head. Yet Defra’s guidance on best practice for shooting free-ranging badgers explicitly states that “a head  shot presents an unacceptable risk of wounding and must not be attempted.”

We’re still waiting for the Government to release the full report from the its Independent Expert Panel (IEP). However, information leaked from the IEP report to the BBC suggests that between 6-18% of badgers took longer than 5 minutes to die – far above the 5% maximum figure laid down by the Government as its standard for judging the humaneness of free-shooting.

Prior to the culls, the Government and others had assured us that all badgers would be shot cleanly in the specified heart-lung area by highly-trained marksmen to minimize the risks of causing undue suffering. Typically, we heard things like the following (this particular quote taken from a BBC radio interview):

“You’re talking about a heart/lung shot, which is a reasonably big target on a badger and there’s been a lot of chat about how difficult they are to shoot, they’re not difficult to shoot, when you hit them they die.”

From our own observations during the culls, we believe the reality was very different. The evidence is mounting that our observations were not unusual, but more likely the norm.

Cull figures released by Natural England under a Freedom of Information request show that just over 1,000 badgers were recorded as free-shot in both zones. But how many more badgers escaped the first shot only to die painfully elsewhere, perhaps even outside the official cull zone? How many of those counted but not observed by independent monitors also suffered the fates of the badgers described above or worse?  And how many people lost badgers they had known and cherished over the years?

Maybe when the full IEP report is finally released officially, these questions will be answered or maybe not… Meanwhile, we have learnt a bitter lesson and must ask ourselves whether this Government and its supporters within the veterinary profession and the farming industry can be trusted with any form of wildlife management, let alone badger culling.

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