Cull the Badger?

Bovine Tuberculosis is a serious disease in British cattle costing over £100 million annually and badgers are known to transmit the bacteria. So logically removing the badgers should help combat the disease. This is the idea behind the Randomised Badger Culling Trial carried out for 5 years starting in 1998. It is also behind the proposed introduction of culls in parts of Wales.

But the badger is a charismatic character. A sweet bumbling animal that the general public don’t want to see trapped and killed. Which may be part of the reason there has been so much opposition to the proposal.

Now a recent study suggests that there are other reasons to avoid the cull. For one thing, although the original trial may have showed a moderate reduction in the incidence of TB within the target areas, there was actually an increase in surrounding areas presumably due to the movement of badgers misplaced by the culling.

The study monitored the incidence of TB in the 10 trial areas and 10 matched, un-culled areas for the 4 years after culling was ceased. The study showed that there was a continued decrease in TB incidence following the culling, but this unsurprisingly decreased over time until there was no noticeably reduction after 4 years. It was concluded that to effectively implement a method to combat the spread of TB would require large scale, continued culling of badgers. This would be very costly. In fact the study showed that, whilst large scale culling can decrease the incidence of TB, it is not cost effective.

So is the proposed badger culls just a way to make helpless farmers feel like they are actually doing something? Or is the cost worth it?

Jenkins, HE; Woodroffe, R & Donnelly, CA. (2010) The duration of the effects of repeated widespread badger culling on Cattle Tuberculosis following the cessation of culling. PLOS One 5(2): e9090


About emmalouisewright

I am the bee girl. A PhD student at Rothamsted Agricultural Research Institute currently studying bees. Officially I'm looking at 'The effect of pathogens on honeybee learning and foraging behaviour', which in simple terms means that what I want to know is: 'are sick bees stupid'. You may have seen on the news or Dr Who recently that honeybees are having a bad time of it lately and we're not entirely sure why. One potential problem for them is diseases and parasites which don't just kill the bees but could also be effecting their behaviour. Which is what I'm interested. And yes before you ask I have been stung, but usually only when I'm really annoying the poor bees! Serves me right!
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15 Responses to Cull the Badger?

  1. It looks pretty clear to me – culling badgers is not the way to deal with bovine TB. The whole debate also shows worrying antagonisms between farmers and scientists/conservationsist, exactly who should be working together.

    • The problem is, I’m not sure what the alternative should be…

      There has been some talk of vaccination. But if the cattle are vaccinated then they can’t be exported (because we are currently unable to distinguish between infected and vaccinated individuals.

      Badger vaccinations would help but research is still ongoing to develop an oral vaccine that can be put into food and this probably won’t be made available for a few years yet. In addition the vaccination will only help uninfected badgers so culling would probably still be used alongside the vaccination process, even though current evidence suggests that it may not be very effective and is certainly not cost effective.

      But with losses of 25 000 cattle last year costing £63 million to UK tax payers, you can see why farmers would want to do something, anything to combat the disease.

  2. Mycobacterium bovis is a bacterium not a virus.

    Please at least get this right before you start pontificating.

  3. You are welcome my dear, but it is a complex subject. Please study it carefully.

    Best Reading.

    Mycobacterium bovis infection in Animals and Humans. . Blackwell Publishing.

    At the moment there really is no alternative to a cull, nor is there likely to be in the foreseeable future.

  4. Bovine TB in Alpacas and Lamas

    Bovine TB Blog to dicuss and increase awareness of growing epidemic of Bovine TB in Britain.

    There is a lot to learn that you are never told.


  5. But if the cull wouldn’t work, then there may be no better way of controlling TB but that doesn’t mean the cull’s worth it

    I take some responsibility for the mistake too – thanks for fixing it!

  6. Having now read your comment properly Emma, I can see you were certainly not pontificating, and I apologise unreservedly. Unfortunately one gets used to having to react when you promote the need for a cull as I do. I wish you well in all your studies, but unfortunately I know very little about bees so I am unable to help with that.

    I see you hail from Scotland. My Grandfather was a ship’s master from Shetland.

    Best wishes from Somerset down in the West Country..

  7. Rebecca, just doing nothing is not an option. We have to get M.bovis back under control. It is very slow growing and insidious bacterium and affects all mammals. It has been around for thousands of years and has many strains. . New XAR Strains have been threatening for over 20 years, but they have now started to arrive. .

    A cull will work. . It worked in the ’70s and it will work again, though badgers are so widespread now it will take a little longer this time.

  8. EmmaLouiseWright says:

    Sorry it’s taken so logn to reply…

    I am glad that I wasn’t pontificating! Sometimes it’s hard to tall if you’re gviign a balanced argumant, especially when the purpose of this post was just to lay out the information from that paper which was pretty against the cull.

    I’m afraid that even after digging through tonnes of information about this I still don’t knwo what the best course of action is. There doesn’t seem to be an easy or right answer. It is clear that something needs to be done, but it is also clear that money and time shouldn’t be wasted on something that is unlikely to work and will cause much opposition.

    All in all I’m glad it isn’t my call!

  9. EmmaLouiseWright says:

    And the subject is back on BBC news with this:

    Looking at why the general public are so pro-badger. I’m not sure it helps answer the question of what should be done, but it is interesting none the less.

  10. Becky says:

    Another interesting BBC article:

    “In a four-year project, UK scientists found vaccination reduced the incidence of TB infection in wild badgers by 74%… though culling as an approach to disease control can be costly, practically difficult and indiscriminate, and remains controversial”

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