On 28th August, the government released letters from Natural England, authorising badger culls to continue for a third year in the two 'pilot areas' in Gloucestershire and Somerset, and to begin in a new area in Dorset.
While not unexpected, nevertheless the announcement comes as a bitter disappointment to those concerned with wildlife protection, given the tide of evidence and expert opinion against such a move. The government is also consulting on measures that would make future licenses for badger culls easier to apply for.
A third year of culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset has been authorised in spite of the failure of contractors to fulfil their license requirements in the first two years of culling, and the conclusions of the government's own Independent Expert Panel that the first year of culls proved to be ineffective and inhumane. 'Controlled shooting' (shooting free-roaming badgers attracted to bait points at night) is to continue in spite of the withdrawal of the British Veterinary Association's support for the method on the grounds that it hasn't proved to be humane.
The issuing of a new license for an area in Dorset is perhaps even harder to swallow, given the ongoing success in that county, and across many other areas, of cattle measures in reducing bovine TB rates in cattle. Government statistics show a reduction of some 37 percent in the number of cattle slaughtered because of bovine TB in Dorset between 2012 and 2014, reflecting the successful measures adopted across Wales where the number of cattle slaughtered has been roughly halved since 2009 without a single badger being killed.
The badger culls carried out in Gloucestershire and Somerset over the past two years have at best been haphazard and poorly executed. At worst, the reductions in cattle TB that have been achieved through stricter controls on cattle testing, movement, and on-farm biosecurity, could be seriously undermined by disturbing badger populations thereby increasing the risk of disease spread among currently healthy badgers, and by extension the risk they pose to cattle.
The costs of badger culling, both to farmers and to the taxpayer, are also considerable - the pilot culls are estimated to have cost close to £7,000 for each of the 2,500 badgers killed to date, most of which has been shouldered by the taxpayer.
The weight of scientific evidence and expert opinion suggests that badger culling should play no part in bovine TB control policy. Killing badgers is nothing more than an ineffective, inhumane and expensive distraction, and is proving to be a public relations disaster for government and for the farming industry. Unfortunately, it seems that scientific evidence, expert and public opinion counts for little.