Dr Chris Young
Summer badger cull
In the next few weeks trials will be taking place with trained contractors attempting to cull badgers (largely by shooting) to wipe out TB in parts of Somerset and Gloucestershire. TB is endemic in some local populations of badgers and is also present in some cattle and it is thought (though the link is as yet wholly unproven) that TB is transmitted from wild badgers to individual cattle resulting in the need to destroy entire herds. Cattle farmers are trying to make a living and TB has undoubtedly a big impact on individual farms and where it is present it can devastate individual farmer’s livelihoods.
If we bear this in mind, and despite widespread publicity by the Government, it is difficult to see what the medium to long-term benefits could be, as an attempted total cull would be extremely difficult to implement. The best estimates put the success rate at ~ 70% - achieved by getting rid of entire setts. This assumes, therefore, that the 30% remaining won’t be infected with TB. Badgers have large territories and males in particular can be wide-ranging and therefore missing one infected animal would seem to render the effort somewhat redundant.
All the evidence for successful species (and that is certainly that is what badgers are) suggests that by getting rid of a population in an area merely opens up opportunities for new individuals to colonize an area. The cull therefore would seem to be counter-intuitive in that it is providing new territories for badgers to exploit and potentially bringing in TB from outside the cull area in any case. Badgers occupying a territory keep others out, removing them encourages greater movement of other badgers around the countryside.
Throughout the UK we are implementing conservation efforts to protect, preserve and actively encourage our native flora and fauna, yet in this instance one of our most widely-loved and charismatic species is being unfairly targeted when other options are available.
For example in Wales the Government is implementing vaccinations in TB areas to encourage a longer-term benefit.
It would seem to be that the current badger culling proposals are at best a stop-gap measure for a long-term issue and at worst are an ill-thought through exercise in ecological vandalism…I fear it is the latter.
For the differing perspectives see:
The Badger Trust: http://www.badger.org.uk/Content/Home.asp
Dr Chris Young is a senior lecturer within the Department of Biology and the Environment within the School of Applied Sciences and is also the award leader for BSc Animal Behaviour and Wildlife Conservation.