During the annual badger cull this autumn, more than 32,000 badgers were killed. This was done with the intent to reduce tuberculosis in cattle.
While officials stated that the culls were effective in stemming the prevalence of the disease, independent scientists said the date said officials were quoting was cherry-picked.
In 2017, 33,000 animals that were infected with TB were slaughtered in 2017. Michael Gove, the current environment secretary approved a huge increase in badger culling in September, which could see up to 42,000 animals shot. The data published by the government on Tuesday shows that so far, 32,601 badgers have been killed, a record number.
It seems that this cull is nothing more than an effort to protect capital over biodiversity.
While some badgers will be spreading TB, it is poor biosecurity on farms and the frequent trading of cattle that has more of a negative effect on TB control efforts than badgers themselves. The increasingly high amount of badgers culled in efforts to stop the spread therefore seems meaningless. Around half the culls failed to meet their initial targets.
“The ways that these targets were altered varied between sites in a completely non-standard way,” said Prof Rosie Woodroffe, of the Institute of Zoology, who was part of a 10-year badger-culling trial. “The scientific term for this methodology is ‘making it up as you go along’.”
Woodroffe stated that there was no basis for confidence in the cull, since it was impossible to estimate from the information gathered. “We are all used to politicians making optimistic statements based on unreliable data. For a scientist to do so is deeply worrying,” she said.
“Claims that the culls are reducing cattle TB is based on cherry-picking data from a report produced by government scientists. It states explicitly that ‘these data alone cannot demonstrate whether the badger control policy is effective in reducing bovine TB in cattle’.” said Woodroffe. The government focused on areas where TB seemed to be dropping, yet missed out areas where rates of TB seemed to be rising.
“This is the largest destruction of a protected species in living memory.” Said Dominic Dyer, the chief executive of the Badger Trust. “By the end of 2018, the government will have spent over £50m of public funds killing over 67,000 badgers [since 2013], which could push the species to the verge of local extinction in areas of England where it has lived since the ice age. The badger cull is a cruel, costly and ineffective policy and its continuation is a national disgrace.”
We have to ask; what is the point of this cull? To simply protect assets? It is clear that government officials do not view natural biodiversity as an asset. Other options must be assessed.