Government moves to extend cull could prove lethal for two celebrity badgers
Fears are growing for two hand-reared badgers who appeared on a popular BBC TV show on Saturday 17th March, following moves to extend the badger cull on to land near their release site.
Gnat and Bumblebee appeared on Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s BBC2 show Hugh’s Wild West . They were filmed last year while being cared for by staff and volunteers at the Secret World Wildlife Rescue centre in East Huntspill, which rescues, rehabilitates and releases British wildlife that has been abandoned and injured. Following the responsible protocol for the rehabilitation of badgers, the cubs were tested 3 times, a month apart, for Bovine TB and were negative.
As promised in Hugh’s programme they were safely released to the wild last October using Secret World’s very thorough “soft-release” procedure. The land was suitable for a badger release and the landowner prepared to support feed and protect these orphans. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall filmed the pair last summer for his television programme, in which he meets up with the West Country’s nature lovers. Now there are unconfirmed reports that the 2018 badger cull will take place on land neighbouring this release site. Natural England are unwilling to give exact details. Obviously as the badgers are free ranging animals, there is every possibility that Gnat and Bumblebee will now possibly be shot when looking for worms on neighbouring land.
The land owner has gone to great lengths to try and get Natural England to offer protection status. He has developed prototype monitoring equipment that can indicate to cull marksmen which members of a group of badgers have been tested and/or vaccinated. Natural England have refused to implement such a protection process for Gnat and Bumblebee.
Founder of Secret World and ex Dairy Farmer, Pauline Kidner said, “We are horrified that having followed our agreed protocol, animals that we have released in a safe environment are now endangered by further badger culls. With at least 10 more areas being rolled out, there is still no scientific evidence that they are making any difference at all to the incidence of Bovine TB in cattle. I find it incredible that 34,103 badgers have been killed in our countryside and no one seems to care. The huge expense of culls costing millions of pounds, could be better spent resolving the cattle to cattle spread which is the main reservoir.”
Chris Packham, Patron of Secret World Wildlife Rescue, said “This tragic individual case further highlights the wholesale disregard for the welfare of wildlife by the government and their authorities. These animals were lovingly nurtured and now they could be needlessly slaughtered. This sickening, expensive, cruel and divisive cull is a stain on the UK’s reputation as a leader in animal welfare and conservation”.
Contact: Pauline Kidner Mob: 07717651513 Home:01278 789646
Bovine TB (Mycobacterium bovis infection) in England accounts for only 1% of confirmed human TB cases (Public Health England, 2017) with most cases originating outside the UK where milk is not pasteurised.
Badger Culls started in Somerset and Gloucestershire in 2013. This was a project to see if it was possible to shoot free ranging badgers safely, effectively and humanely. It was overseen by the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) who looked at findings of badgers killed by marksmen and classed humaneness on the number of badgers that took more than 5 minutes to die. Secret World was the only charity to receive shot badgers during the cull in Somerset and the forensic post mortems of these animals were included in the IEP. The conclusion of the IEP was that the culls were inefficient and inhumane, with up 22.8% of badgers taking over 5 minutes to die. The British Veterinary Association (BVA) does not support shooting of free ranging badgers yet this method is still used.
Costs of culls are estimated at over £6,000 per badger. This means that over £180 million has so far been spent using mainly tax payers money. This could go in to the farming community to support those suffering from herd infections or more importantly, be used for more research for better testing and vaccination of cattle.
Secret World Wildlife Rescue has been working with badgers since 1993. Secret World, together with the Badger Trust and RSPCA produced a Protocol for the responsible rehabilitation and release of badgers in 2003. In 2017 Defra supported the updating of the Protocol, which is now available at:http://www.tbhub.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Badger-Rehabilitation-Protocol-Final-07032018.pdf. Under the Protocol, adult badgers are always released back exactly where they have been found. Cubs are tested three times for TB and any testing positive are put-to-sleep. Post mortems show only 2% of orphan badger cubs are found to have Bovine TB despite mainly coming from the South West.
Radio Frequency Identification is equipment that can identify microchipped animals passing through a loop which can be placed on a badger path or sett under licence. This records the number and time on computer and this is a system used by SWWR to carry out post release monitoring of animals that have been in their care. This allows them to assess the success of their release methods.
Cattle Skin Testing is looking for an immune reaction to Bovine TB – not the actual disease. Only being around 80% sensitive (accurate at picking up TB infected animals) it means that only 8 out of 10 cows will be correctly diagnosed, with 20% of infected cows possibly remaining in the herd to infect others. The average dairy herd size is 88-96 head (AHDB yearbook, 2017) so around 18 cows may be incorrectly diagnosed at each test. At least 20% (or a fifth) of all TB cattle are only found at slaughter despite being regularly tested.
Wales – Bovine TB has been greatly reduced by more stringent cattle movement and testing measures, combined with badger vaccination and no killing of badgers at all.
Licenced culls in England have now deviated so much from The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) that they now have no scientific basis to them at all. Duration of culling time, land area covered and population estimations differ significantly from the RBCT, meaning that the culls have no scientific credibility. Despite badger culling, tuberculosis in cattle in England continues to rise.
Legal action being taken to try and stop the culls –
There are two Judicial Review Applications which will be heard together on 9th to 11th July. A decision is anticipated six weeks afterwards although this is not guaranteed. A further challenge to the 2016 badger cull impact assessments is also underway. This is the direct result of the successful Freedom of Information Tribunal in December 2017 that the Badger Crowd won against Natural England.
One JR application relates to procedures surrounding the 2017 Supplementary Culling consultations for West Gloucestershire and West Somerset. The other relates to five of the 2017 Habitat Regulations Assessments of impacts on vulnerable wildlife within and surrounding cull areas and the related licences.
This action is being taken by Tom Langton on behalf of The Badger Crowd. Tom has a degree in Ecology and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology. He spends most of his time working as a volunteer for charities and small focus groups fighting to save protected wildlife.