In response to the recent pilot cull of badgers in parts of the UK to try to prevent the spread of bovine TB, members of the National Trust have proposed a resolution to the Board of Trustees. The members are requesting that the Trust support a countrywide vaccination programme of badgers against bovine TB on all its estates and furthermore that it refuses to allow the culling of badgers on land which it owns, manages or controls.
While the Trust’s members acknowledge that bovine TB presents a very real threat to farmers’ livelihoods, they do not accept that randomly killing badgers is an acceptable way to tackle the problem and view their proposal as a compromise which would benefit both farmers and badgers.
Why the cull won’t work
The aim of the government’s cull is to kill at least 70% of badgers in the pilot cull zones. This is to be achieved by free shooting them at night over a four year period using high velocity rifles and shotguns. Despite this slaughter, the government acknowledges that at best this action will only serve to reduce the number of new bovine TB cases by a paltry 16% over the next nine years.
Scientists maintain that the government is merely cherry-picking data to suit its case and that there is no scientific evidence to show that a cull is at all effective in preventing the spread of bovine TB. On the contrary, the Welsh government implemented a badger vaccination programme which has been proven to reduce the severity of the disease in the badger population and thus reduces the transmission of the disease from them to cattle.
The present cull is not working. It is proving so impractical and unworkable that in many areas the badgers are merely abandoning their setts and relocating further afield outside the cull zones. There is no way of telling which badgers are carrying TB and which are not; it’s highly likely therefore that a completely healthy sett could be wiped out whilst infected animals go free. The approach is simply too random.
Why vaccinating badgers would work?
The badgers would be trapped in cages, vaccinated then released with no harm done to them. The process would be necessary annually to ensure that as many cubs as possible are vaccinated every year. As badgers generally only live for between 3 and 5 years, vaccination of a proportion of the population would ensure future herd immunity. This strategy has already been adopted in Ireland and there bovine TB has effectively been eradicated.
The National Trust, which is the UK’s biggest land owner, launched a vaccination programme in 2011 on one of its sites in Devon but has not indicated that it is prepared to expand this nationwide as yet.
The Board of Trustees’ Response
Although the Trustees acknowledged that the random culling of badgers alone would not eradicate bovine TB, it felt that a two-pronged strategy would be most effective and that this would involve both vaccination and culling.
They also stated that they wished to wait until the results of the current pilot culls (which do not involve Trust land) are published. They also explained that the current trial vaccination of badgers on the Killerton estate was intended to test just how practical the more widespread vaccination of badgers would be. The Killerton trial was only two years into a four year programme and as yet there was insufficient evidence to justify rolling this out right across the Trust’s land.
Of course there is a cost element involved. The Killerton trial covers 20km2 at a cost of £330,000. The South West of England has the highest density of badgers in the whole of the UK and bovine TB is endemic here. The Trust owns approximately 500km2 in this area which would mean the cost of a vaccination programme here would be in the region of £8 million over four years.
For reasons of cost, practicality and lack of scientific evidence the National Trust has declined to support the members’ resolution at this time.
And so the indiscriminate slaughter of our wildlife goes on.