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Badgers – who is trusted to ensure we comply with international animal welfare and conservation agreements? The answer is astonishing.

Shocking news as Natural England issues supplementary badger cull licences against scientific advice

Since 2013, the UK government has killed over 210,000 English badgers through the badger cull, contrary to scientific evidence that badger culling should not play a leading role in reducing bTB in cattle.  As part of this programme, the government must carefully record the badger population in cull areas to avoid local extinction events and comply with international animal welfare and conservation agreements.

However, through a series of Freedom of Information requests that Badger Trust has made to Defra, APHA and Natural England, we can reveal that, astonishingly, the cull companies that kill badgers are the same organisations responsible for ensuring badgers don’t face local extinction.   

It is unclear what scientific and survey skills the cull companies bring to this task, but they are tasked with providing the data that decides how many badgers can be killed in a cull area (up to 90% of the badger population within each cull zone).  

Natural England revealed that cull companies are being trusted to keep track of badger populations and ensure they are sustainable despite having a clear conflict of interest in killing badgers for profit.   Additionally, the exact checks Natural England has in place on the cull companies and the detailed population data are not publicly available. Therefore, with an urgent need to understand the actual population health of Britain’s largest remaining carnivore, Badger Trust is now starting its own ‘State of the Badger’ survey.

Peter Hambly, Executive Director of Badger Trust, commented,

“The fact that the companies who are paid to kill badgers are meant to be providing the figures that decide how many badgers can be killed and still maintain a local population is shocking.  Surely there is a conflict of interest when cull companies are being paid per badger killed and want to kill as many as possible?  Natural England and Defra should really get a grip as the assault on nature continues.  

The badger cull is the biggest single attack on a native species in our history.  Government policy has sanctioned the deaths of over 210,000 badgers in just a decade, with over 50,000 more marked for death this year – that’s more than half the estimated total badger population in Britain.  The figures are appalling, particularly as badgers are a protected species, and  no one tests them for bTB before killing.”

Alongside this revelation, and in a clear warning to Defra, the Bern Convention on Animal Welfare announced this month that it will continue to monitor the UK government’s approach to badger culling in England.   The complaint against the UK government, brought by Born Free, Badger Trust and Eurogroup for Animals, alleges the government is in breach of international wildlife treaty obligations after failing to consider the cull’s impact on the badger population.  The complaint remains on file through to 2026,  an unprecedented decision.  The convention also drew attention to the facts that:

  • The population monitoring of badgers in badger cull areas was unclear and needed to be clarified to ensure badgers were not under threat of local extinction.
  • The link between badgers and the spread of bTB was unclear and not justification for the scale of culling of a native species.

The convention welcomed government plans to stop intensive culling by 2025 and step up badger and cattle vaccination programmes. Still, they remained concerned that epidemiological culling of badgers remained an option beyond then.

Peter Hambly, Badger Trust, said:

“The Convention is right to keep the case against Defra open.  Local extinction of badgers remains a real threat, and the lack of proper badger population monitoring is astonishing.    There seems to be no responsibility in government to protect nature, so their obsession with culling badgers continues.  

Cattle spread bTB to other cattle in 94% of cases – this doesn’t involve badgers or any other species.  And when you consider a recent government study found cattle are 800 times more likely to give bTB to badgers than badgers are to infect cattle, where is the justification for such widespread slaughter of a protected, native wild animal? The Westminster government must end this cull in England before it is too late for the badger population across vast areas of the country.”

Veterinarian Dr Mark Jones, Head of Policy at Born Free, commented: 

“We have argued all along that badger culling cannot be justified, given the, at best, equivocal evidence for the role of badgers in the spread of bovine TB to cattle. The lack of scrutiny of the cull companies and their activities and the lack of independent monitoring of the impact on badger populations and their ability to recover only serves to demonstrate how little concern there seems to be within the government for the welfare of badgers or for their future existence across vast swathes of their range in England. 

At a time of crisis for nature and wildlife, it cannot be right for the government to continue to licence this wanton destruction of a species that is supposedly protected by both national legislation and international agreement.”