No badger cull on Clinton Devon Estate land
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Over the past 5 years, 35,000 or more badgers have been needlessly shot under licence across England, as part of the government’s strategy for reducing bovine TB in cattle.The vast majority of these badgers (over 85%) are likely to perfectly healthy and TB free and there is little evidence that the tiny proportion that are TB infected pose any major risk of disease transmission to badgers or cattle.After five years of culls that are estimated to have cost the tax payer over £50 million, the government has failed to provide any reliable evidence that the indiscriminate cruel slaughter of tens of thousands of badgers is having any significant contribution on lowering the level of bovine TB in cattle in or around the cull zones.
In spite of this, the government is now consulting on plans to lift the limit of 10 new licensed cull zones in the high-risk area for bovine TB in the west and south west of England, and to introduce the possibility of badgers being culled in response to TB outbreaks in other parts of England where bovine TB is currently rare (the ‘Low-Risk Area’).One of these areas is supposed to cover the area from Exmouth to Sidmouth and up to Ottery St Mary, which of the majority is owned by Devon Clinton Estates.
We ask Clinton Devon Estates to not participate in the cull, taking the following arguments into account:
• More than 35,000 badgers have been shot and killed across licensed zones since 2013. The government’s rationale for continuing and expanding these culls is to reduce new incidents of Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle. However, the government has produced no clear evidence that the culls are reducing bovine TB in cattle, and the vast majority of shot badgers will have been free of infection.
• The proposal to remove the limits on the number of cull zones that can be licensed each year, and to extend culling into the low-risk area, both deviate from the original policy and current Natural England guidance, yet no scientific evidence is provided to justify this deviation.
• Badgers are listed on Appendix III of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), to which the UK is a signatory.
The badger culls are, by their nature, indiscriminate (badgers are not tested for the presence of infection before they are targeted), and extending the culls will clearly increase the risk of local disappearance of or serious disturbance to badgers, with no clear evidence that serious damage to livestock will be prevented. The proposals to allow badger culling in the low-risk area include ‘removing as many badgers as possible’. This amounts to local eradication, which would place the UK in breach of its commitments to the Bern Convention.
• ‘Controlled shooting’, the method by which the majority of badgers targeted to date have been killed, was rejected by the government’s own Independent Expert Panel, and by the British Veterinary Association, because of welfare concerns. Yet during the 2017 culls across 21 licensed zones, Natural England monitored just 74 instances (just over 0.6%) of ‘controlled shooting’ for accuracy and humaneness. Extending the number of zones that can be licensed, and the geographic spread of those zones, while continuing to allow controlled shooting, will further compromise Natural England’s ability to monitor the culls and risks substantially increasing unnecessary animal suffering.
• Environment Secretary Michael Gove has been quoted as saying that he wants to ‘enhance environmental and animal welfare standards’, and in December he published a draft bill recognising animal sentience and outlining the need for government to pay regard to the welfare needs of animals when formulating and implementing government policy. Yet by continuing and expanding badger culls, he will be condemning many thousands of perfectly healthy animals to an unnecessary and potentially prolonged and painful death.
• The assumption that persistent hotspots of cattle infection in the low-risk area are ‘maintained’ by infection in badgers is unfounded. Achieving and maintaining bovine TB-free status in the low-risk area in England depends upon preventing the introduction of infection through cattle movements, and controlling the risk of infection spreading to neighbouring herds and local wildlife populations through strict biosecurity measures, increased testing intensity, and the imposition of cattle movement restrictions, on farms that become infected. The focus needs to be on compulsory risk-based trading, in order to prevent farmers in the low-risk area from buying cattle from potentially infected farms, and the implementation of strict biosecurity measures and other restrictions on farms that do bring infection in. There is no evidence to support the assumption that eradicating bovine TB following outbreaks in the low-risk area can only be achieved by culling wildlife, and the assumptions made about the cost-saving that might have accrued in East Sussex if badger culling had been implemented have no basis in evidence.
• Culling badgers in the low-risk area in response to an outbreak may actually result in an increased prevalence of bovine TB among remaining and surrounding badgers through perturbation, potentially increasing the risk to cattle. Vaccination of badgers is the only proven method of reducing the prevalence of bovine TB in an infected badger population while maintaining the stability of that population and avoiding perturbation, and should be the only badger intervention under consideration for the low-risk area. There is no evidence on which to base the assumption that the risk of spread of bovine TB between badgers is higher in the low-risk area, nor that the risk of perturbation is lower if badgers in these areas are subjected to culling.
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