Shocked wildlife groups say they are appalled at a government decision to extend badger culls to Warwickshire and ten other counties this autumn, despite pledges to move away from the practice.
The Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, the RSPCA and the Warwickshire Badger Group have all criticised the move, which will see up to 2223 badgers killed in the county during its first year and up to more than 63,000 nationwide.
The Warwickshire license runs until January 2024, with DEFRA setting the number of badgers allowed to be killed each year.
The government claims its intention is to phase out intensive badger culling, but points to the more than 30,000 cattle slaughtered each year due to TB infection.
The decision to extend the culls has horrified a number of the county’s wildlife groups, who have emphasised the suffering caused to badgers and the need to concentrate on vaccination and testing instead.
In recent weeks the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has been ramping up its efforts to stop the cull being extended to the county, writing to farmers to stress the ineffectiveness of such actions in cutting bovine TB.
A petition recently started by the organisation opposing the cull in Warwickshire has been signed by almost 15,000 people.
Warwickshire Wildlife Trust CEO, Dr Ed Green, said: “This is a staggering government U-turn and one which will result in thousands of healthy badgers being shot across England this autumn.
“In March, following a review by Professor Godfray, the government promised to move away from lethal control. However, after seven years of badger culling, the government has failed to act on its own advice and is expanding its culling programme into new regions including Oxfordshire, Leicestershire and Warwickshire into what will be the biggest cull yet.
“We are at a critical turning point for our natural world and this latest U-turn should set alarm bells ringing, culling is an outdated policy that seeks to eradicate protected wildlife rather than addressing the real problem which is the main cause of bovine tuberculosis (bTB): cattle-to-cattle infection.
“Recent news that investment in a cattle vaccine is underway is welcome, but it is not enough. Moving the culling into areas where badger vaccinations have been taking place will also undermine this vital and under-funded work.”
The Warwickshire Badger Group say the Government has still not released the results of a 2017 survey examining the incidence of TB within badgers killed on the county’s roads and are demanding its publication.
The group, which participated in the survey, believes the results will not support the move to extend the cull.
Dr Denise Taylor, chair of the Warwickshire Badger Group, said: “We took part in the survey in good faith. We were promised that the detailed findings would be published and made available to us. That has not happened. Why? We believe that the low level of disease incidence could not and does not support the Government’s decision to extend badger slaughter into our area. So the results have been hidden away. That’s shocking.
“The county’s badgers are healthy. They are not the cause of bovine TB spread locally. But the Government’s obsession with the alleged contribution of badgers to bovine TB spread, means that this year as many as 2223 badgers will be cruelly sacrificed to satisfy what increasingly looks like a vindictive, unscientific and politically driven campaign enthusiastically backed by the farming unions. By far the majority will be healthy and some will even be immune to the disease, having been vaccinated against it.
“The badger is a protected species. But its biggest persecutor is now the Government. We urge everyone to make their objections known to MPs, the Cabinet, and in the media. This bloodbath must be stopped.”
She added that improving biosecurity measures would be a much more effective way of cutting TB in cattle.
Adam Grogan, head of the RSPCA’s wildlife department said: “We are shocked that the Government is stepping up its inhumane and ineffective badger cull despite its recently announced commitment to “government-supported badger vaccination and surveillance.
“It is appalling news that the cull is to be extended to another 11 regions, given the Government’s April announcement that it would move away from culling towards badger vaccination, the development of cattle vaccination, more frequent and improved cattle testing, better management of cattle movements and incentives to improve biosecurity.”
Explaining why the government was extending the cull, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that the UK faces today, causing considerable trauma for farmers and costing taxpayers over £100 million every year.
“No one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely. That is why we are accelerating other elements of our strategy, including vaccination and improved testing so that we can eradicate this insidious disease and start to phase out badger culling in England.”
The government statement said that arrangements were in place to carry out culling in a safe, effective and humane way and work was underway to develop an approved cattle vaccine by 2025.