Shropshire cull ends

The badger cull is finally at an end, but there is no word from the government of how “effective” or otherwise the cull was, how many badgers were killed in total, and how humane - or otherwise - it was. The cull strayed into Shropshire despite there not being a cull licence for the county; areas of Shropshire bordering on the Staffordshire zone were nevertheless affected.

In Wiltshire, news has emerged that as a result of the large numbers of badgers killed, fox numbers have soared, leading to a call by Natural England for large numbers of foxes to be shot. This is yet to be confirmed, but if true, where will it end? 

During the cull in Shropshire, Wounded Badger Patrol made its presence felt every night, no doubt saving many lives. This year was the first in which Shropshire was affected, but badger protectors mobilised and the experience gained will be invaluable in future years if the government’s policies of slaughter continue.

The Staffordshire/Shropshire cull took place on land stretching from Grindley Brook and Norton-in-Hales to Newport and Weston Park. The A41 created a “natural boundary”.

Tris Pearce, director and trustee at Shropshire Badger Group, said the area affected in Shropshire formed about 18-20% of the Staffordshire zone.

At the start of culling, Pearce said: ”We anticipate that around 600-800 badgers will be killed in Shropshire at a cost of around £1 million. Bear in mind this money is being spent when we have a desperate situation with the NHS, particularly here in Shropshire. For them to go and spend this money killing badgers is just wrong on every level. There is no one that can really stand up and say this is a just way to do things.”

He added: ”From the end of August, it has been possible to cage trap a badger, and this can continue until the end of November. It will be possible to shoot badgers until January 31. People really need to know this. A big chunk of the county is involved in this practice. And it seems to me that people do not know that this is going on."

Campaigners say the new licences, which added 11 areas to the national cull, could see over 40,000 badgers killed by the end of 2018, more than during the last five years of the badger cull combined.

A fall in TB cases in two areas was cited as a sign of progress in the fight to eradicate it.

The farming minister, George Eustice, claimed the cull was starting to show results in Gloucestershire and Somerset, with a fall in the incidence of TB. But he did not explain why there was a rise in Dorset.

But Eustice’s claim that the government’s strategy was working was refuted by a group of leading vets and animal welfare experts, who have shared data that, they say, shows the cull has made no difference. The group, which includes Iain McGill, the former government vet who helped to expose the BSE cover-up, Adam Grogan, head of wildlife at the RSPCA, and Dr Mark Jones, head of policy at the Born Free Foundation, disagree that the strategy is working.

In a letter published in the Observer on 21 October and on the Network For Animals website, they are among 15 signatories who claim that “when ministerial statements are used as justification for the slaughter of badgers on an industrial scale ... it is vital that they ... reflect the best available veterinary and scientific advice”.

Their letter states: “Examination of that data ... demonstrates no reduction in the prevalence of bTB (bovine TB) infected herds in Gloucestershire or Somerset as a result of culling.”

It continues: “The prevalence in cattle is no lower than it was before culling, despite the killing and removal of 1,879 badgers in Gloucestershire and 1,777 in Somerset. A total of 3,656 badgers have been killed with no perceivable disease-control benefits.”

In Gloucestershire the prevalence of the disease fell to 6.9% in the three years running up to the cull before plateauing at 7.1% after four years of culling. In Somerset it fell successively for the three years up to the cull to 6.1%, before rising to 7.2% after four years of culling.

“There are approximately the same proportion of bTB affected herds now as there were before culling started,” the signatories claim. “Badger culling has not resulted in a decrease in bTB in cattle in cull zones ... Any statement made to the contrary is untrue.”

The Zoological Society of London claims there is “no robust evidence that England’s policy of mass culling” is reducing TB in cattle. The signatories call on Eustice to withdraw his statement. “When proven harm is committed to animals on a very large scale, accompanied by documented animal abuse and ... unaccompanied by any disease control benefits, the only option for any responsible government is to abandon the policy immediately,” they write.