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Badger culling to be allowed in Lincolnshire and Leicestershire to stop spread of TB in cattle

Licences have been granted for badger culling in 11 new areas of England today (Monday, September 7) including Lincolnshire and Leicestershire, as part of efforts to control tuberculosis in cattle, the Government has announced.

Government agency Natural England has issued licences for 11 additional areas, alongside re-authorising licences for 33 areas of the country where culling has already taken place in previous years.

The RSPCA has responded to the move saying it was "shocked by the move" which will see up to 70,000 badgers shot this year.

European badger (Meles meles), cubs foraging in daylight, England, UK. Photo: Elliott Neep (41158783)
European badger (Meles meles), cubs foraging in daylight, England, UK. Photo: Elliott Neep (41158783)

The latest expansion of the cull comes despite the Government signalling its intention to gradually phase out badger culling to tackle TB in livestock. Bovine TB remains the greatest animal health threat that England faces today, with more than 30,000 cattle slaughtered each year due to infection.

Earlier this year, it was announced that the next phase of the Government’s strategy to tackle bovine tuberculosis in cattle will involve field trials of a cattle vaccine, with work accelerated to deploy it within the next five years.

Adam Grogan, head of the RSPCA’s wildlife department said: “We are shocked that the Government is stepping up its inhumane and ineffective badger cull despite its recently announced commitment to “government-supported badger vaccination and surveillance”..

“It is appalling news that the cull is to be extended to another 11 regions, given the Government’s April announcement that it would move away from culling towards badger vaccination, the development of cattle vaccination, more frequent and improved cattle testing, better management of cattle movements and incentives to improve biosecurity.”

The news means badger culling will be permitted in zones the following areas: Avon, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Lincolnshire.

Mr Grogan added: “Initial target numbers suggest that up to 70,000 badgers could be shot this year. To add to the horror and cruelty of culls, recent analysis by badger expert Rosie Woodroffe1 suggests that over the past few years large numbers of badgers may have been shot at and missed, or worse, wounded and left to die.During last year alone, it is estimated that more than 3,000 (3,174) badgers were ‘shot but not retrieved’.

“Earlier this year, the Government in England gave a clear commitment to support and develop badger vaccination programmes as a way of controlling bovine TB in cattle.The proposed licensing of cull areas in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire go against this commitment. For example, Derbyshire has had volunteer vaccination programmes running for some years and this could have been an area that the Government could have encouraged and developed vaccination programmes, in partnership with badger groups and farmers.However, we understand that farmers are now withdrawing from these vaccination programmes, putting their continuation at risk.And with Lincolnshire being in a low risk area, we wonder what theevidence is to show that there is TB in the badger population and also how it got there.”

Wildlife expert Chris Packham at Rutland Water Birdfair
Wildlife expert Chris Packham at Rutland Water Birdfair

Wildlife enthusiast and RSPCA vice president, Chris Packham, added: “The badger cull is not the answer to stopping the spread of bovine TB amongst cattle. The RSPCA and myself have campaigned for many years against this cruel and ineffective method, which very sadly can result in badgers suffering unnecessarily.

“Not only that, but we owe it to cattle to get this sorted, as the longer it takes for the cattle vaccination to be developed, more cows will be removed from herds around the country due to bovine TB. The welfare of cattle is just as mucha concern as badger welfare in this sorry state of affairs.”

Last year, the RSPCA produced a report Bovine TB: Not Everything is Black and White which included a number of recommendations on how the management of bovine TB could be improved. The RSPCA then carried out a consultation of farmers and vets on their opinions of the recommendations in the report.

Many respondents did not think that vaccination was an effective measure due to the lack of evidence of its ability to decrease bTB in cattle, emphasising the need for Government to support vaccination programmes in order to build that evidence base.

Respondents also supported providing better tools to vets and farmers to deal with the disease, such as specific training for vets on bovine TB and better incentives to develop herd health management plans.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said today: “Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that the UK faces today, causing considerable trauma for farmers and costing taxpayers over £100 million every year.

“No-one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely. That is why we are accelerating other elements of our strategy, including vaccination and improved testing so that we can eradicate this insidious disease and start to phase out badger culling in England.”

The Government said all applications received were carefully assessed to ensure that each cull company has suitable arrangements and plans in place to carry out an operation that is safe, effective and humane.

The government recently awarded £500,000 grant funding for projects that develop new tools to diagnose tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle. The programme, run by Defra on behalf of England, Scotland and Wales, will fund innovative research projects using cutting-edge technologies such as machine learning aimed at detecting infection in cattle herds faster.

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