The trial badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire ended some weeks ago, and the controversy around them still rages. In the last few days policing costs have been revealed as being nearly £2.5 million, over half the cost of the actual culls themselves.
A colleague and I did see a badger monitoring group gathering in west Somerset, when we were undertaking some tree safety work in our Somerset woods. These woods may even be in the cull area (which has not been published), but all hunting rights are owned by the League Against Cruel Sports, and they would never give permission for a cull.
In a previous article I expressed guarded support for the culls and stand by that, despite reported problems. The cull numbers were lower than original targets, but this is likely to be because the original population estimates were very inaccurate, and the 70% of population target may well (probably) was reached. However, to achieve this trapping and shooting was used rather than just live shooting – less humane for the badgers.
Before Christmas I attended a meeting organised by the Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management, which had three key speakers to talk about badgers and TB: an academic, a vet and someone involved with an alternative vaccination trial. It was good to get a more informed level of debate! However, although there was more agreement than in the media, the best solutions remain unclear.
TB is a real problem for badgers, and continues to spread rapidly in cattle (see graph) so accepting the status quo is not really an option. So for what it is worth, here are my current thoughts:
• Funding needs to be provided to extend vaccination trials – they are currently on far too small a scale
• A combination of culling in areas of high disease, with vaccination of badgers in a surrounding ring may be most effective
• Targeted culling would be helpful; testing badger latrines for TB could help identify infected and disease free setts
• The recent culls can not be branded a failure. Their purpose was to control and reduce TB, and that is what they should be measured against, not how many badgers were killed.
• The trials should continue until meaningful data on disease control enable more informed choices to be made.
In the meantime, if a group of badgers fancies moving into Treragin Wood, I would be delighted to see them!
Top photo by Wildstock