Cornwall’s Alternative To Culling Badgers
Grow Talk by Sofy Robertson
Over a six-year period, the government’s badger cull has killed nearly 68,000 animals in an attempt to reduce bovine TB (The Canary). In Cornwall, more than half of the country is subject to the cull, but one group of farmers has chosen to try something different.
On 11th February, Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) announced that it was working with farmers in mid-Cornwall to trial a vaccination programme. Nearly £18,000 was raised for CWT from a month-long appeal which allowed work to begin on nature reserves in the area. Twenty farmers are involved in the scheme which covers several thousand acres.
Head of Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Cheryl Marriott, said:
“We were so pleased to be approached by this group of farmers in mid-Cornwall who were interested in finding an alternative to badger culling. They realise the potential of vaccination and want to start this spring, so we are doing everything we can to support them.”
Marriott explained that further funds will need to be raised to cover the full cost of the four-year programme.
Researchers from the Zoological Society of London have agreed to provide blood tests in order to track any reduction in Bovine TB (bTB).
Cornwall Wildlife Trust first began working with farmers in late 2018. Marriott explained that she gave a talk to a group of thirty farmers and, by the end, half had signed up to undertake the vaccinations.
CWT have expressed their concern about accurate information on vaccinations reaching farmers. Marriott said that the CWT will address these worries “via press releases [and] media”. She also explained that this initial trial will itself be an important way of reaching a wider audience and hopes it will:
“raise the profile of vaccination among farmers as a method to control bTB in badgers, encourage the government to support vaccination in the high risk area, add to the research, and demonstrate the public support for this method.”
To cull or not to cull?
The topic of badger culling has long been a controversial one and has faced wide-spread opposition from vets, conservationists and wildlife campaigners who say that the spread of bTB can be attributed to other sources than badgers.
Badgers can carry bTB and transmit this to cattle, however research shows that cattle-to-cattle transmission remains the primary cause of outbreaks of bTB in cattle.
Furthermore, a report from the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB found that culling is likely to be ineffective in fighting bTB and moreover the evidence collected demonstrates that culling may in fact make the problem worse.
Thus far, the success of badger culling has been measured by the number of badgers killed. However, when examining bTB rates in cull areas, no measurable change has been found.
Those in favour of the cull assert that the cost of vaccinating outweighs that of culling. However the latest available figures from the government contradict this.
Between 2012 and 2014, the tax payer spent £16.8 million on the culling of 2,476 badgers. This equates to £6785 per badger. Of this figure, more than £4.9 million was spent on policing costs – equivalent to the annual salary costs of more than 120 police officers over a two-year period. By contrast, in the same time period, vaccination costs £293 per badger.
The Wildlife Trusts have called for an end to badger culling in favour of a long-term solution, saying:
“We believe the emphasis of all our efforts should be to find a long-term solution and we are calling for the Government to end its policy of culling badgers.” (Wildlife Trusts)
A long-term solution
If we look to historical cases involving the eradication of diseases, it was vaccination that stopped smallpox, rinderpest and eliminated rabies from western Europe. In line with this, badger vaccines have been shown to be highly effective in reducing the transmission from badger to badger.
Despite this, the government remains committed to its 25-year “TB strategy” with the continued culling of badgers.
Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s news that farmers have voluntarily chosen to vaccinate is therefore a major step forward for all of those opposed to the cull and those within the farming industry seeking a long-term solution.
CWT and the Wildlife Trusts are working to inform farmers and the general public about the effectiveness of vaccination as an alternative to the cull. For further studies and FAQs about the effectiveness of culling badgers in reducing bTB, click here.
To find out more about CWT’s vaccination programme and to donate to their appeal, click here.