Badger culling back on the table in Wales

Badger by Jon Hawkins Surrey Hills Photography

Badger by Jon Hawkins Surrey Hills Photography

Towards the end of 2016, Welsh Government issued a consultation on a refreshed approach to tackling bovine TB in Wales. The consultation built on the work achieved in Wales in recent years, through cattle controls, biosecurity and badger vaccination. This work, with no badgers culled in Wales, has led us to a current situation where nationally, we have a fall in open incidents since 2012. It has been widely quoted that the numbers of cattle slaughtered have increased, and this is the case, but it largely reflects increased testing and the use of a more sensitive testing method, meaning that more TB positive cattle are being found and removed from the national herd- an important part of disease eradication, rather than a sign of disease spread.

This most recent consultation sought opinion on new measures, which included regionalisation of TB management and status, and a number of new measures on cattle testing, which the Welsh Wildlife Trusts have broadly welcomed; you can read our response here. It examined the potential benefits of risk-based trading of cattle, and applying different approaches to cattle management in areas where there is a lot of TB, such as Pembrokeshire, and areas where there is not, such as north Wales.

However, the consultation also made mention of taking measures to break the link between bovine TB in cattle and in wildlife. No details were given about what this would actually mean on the ground, but after the consultation closed, in an announcement on 20 June, Lesley Griffiths (Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs) confirmed that “…we must find ways to break the cycle of infection between badgers and cattle. We are considering a range of options to do this, including where necessary cage trapping and humanely killing infected badgers. This is a new approach and is not a repeat of the reactive culling previously used in England. The trap, test and removal operations being planned will be restricted to those breakdowns where investigations indicate badger infection is a key driver of the disease persisting. We will also only remove test-positive badgers. In areas where it can be proved badgers are not contributing to the disease, we will continue with cattle-specific measures, including increased biosecurity.” Their stated intention is to undertake this work on sites with chronic breakdowns (very long term presence of TB infection in the herd).

The Welsh Wildlife Trusts have engaged with Welsh Government through the development of their thinking and planning over the last six months and have been able to attend meetings where the changes in policy were discussed. Overall, we believe that the positive trends in TB over the last five years means that extreme caution needs to be exercised before implementing changes to the current policy that are un-tested, or carry risk.

For this reason, we object to the proposed localised badger control measures that have been described. We know from the £50m Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) that reactive, local badger culling has the greatest potential to significantly worsen bovine TB in the surrounding area. This is associated with changes in badger behaviour caused by culling, and the effect was sufficiently pronounced in the RBCT that the reactive culling part of the trial was halted early. Despite the statement that the proposals are different to the RBCT reactive culling, we do not believe that the known risks can be adequately controlled, and in fact, the more you do to attempt to control them, the closer you get to vaccination-only

strategy for badgers anyway. We are concerned that the proposal therefore carries the possibility of making the disease picture significantly worse.

We are very disappointed that after several years of sound evidence-based policy in Wales, we are facing progress being put in jeopardy by un-tested, risky proposals at the expense of our wildlife. We are also very worried about the precedent this might set.

The Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee (CCERA) recently held an enquiry into bovine TB (to which WTSWW’s Lizzie Wilberforce and Wildlife Trusts Wales’ James Byrne gave oral evidence). In its recent report, the Committee recommended that if this work went ahead, it should be scientifically monitored and reviewed, and either adapted or stopped if it is shown not to be effective. We believe that this is essential, and that the results should be made public.

At present, we are not asking members to take specific action on the issue, but if you share our objection to the reinstatement of badger culling as part of the TB Eradication Programme, it is always beneficial to write to your constituency and regional Assembly Members to express your views. You can find out here who they are and how to contact them. This would be particularly valuable if they are part of the CCERA committee (members are Mike Hedges AM, Gareth Bennett AM, Jayne Bryant AM, Siân Gwenllian AM, Huw Irranca-Davies AM, David Melding AM, Jenny Rathbone AM and Simon Thomas AM).