The National Farmers’ Union has confirmed that the badger cull is now underway in England despite many protests. About 5,000 badgers are expected to be killed in controlled shootings over a six week period in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Dorset has been earmarked as a reserve area. The cull will involve marksmen with high-velocity rifles using a mixture of controlled shooting and free shooting, with some badgers being trapped in cages first. The RSPCA said it was “deeply saddened” to learn that the cull had begun.
According to DEFRA, “Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease of cattle and one of the biggest challenges facing the cattle farming industry today, particularly in the west and south west of England. It is caused by the bacteriumMycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), which can also infect and cause TB in badgers, deer, goats, pigs, camelids (llamas and alpacas), dogs and cats, as well as many other mammals“.
TB can be transmitted from cattle to cattle; from badgers to cattle and cattle to badgers; and from badger to badger. Badgers are thought to pass on the disease to cattle through their urine, faeces or through droplet infection, in the farmyard or in cattle pastures. However, it is not clear how big a role badgers play in the spread of bovine TB since the cows can also pass the disease on to other members of the herd. Transmission between other wildlife species has been documented in the US between white-tailed deer and cattle.
One has to sympathise with farmers who saw 28,000 cattle slaughtered last year in an attempt to control the disease, especially as they are not compensated in full. Whilst conservationists claim that only around 6% of badgers carry the disease, the farming lobby claims up to 1 in 3 badgers are infected. Most informed opinion believes that there is no scientific justification for the cull and badgers who are shot will not be tested to see if they were carriers.
The following video contains the views of leading conservationists
Further information is available from the Badger Trust