It has been announced that a trial Badger Cull will take place in the UK in early 2012, in an attempt to tackle the epidemic of Bovine TB in cattle.
This has long been a controversial subject, and there are a huge range of strong feelings voiced in response to the announcement, from incredulous fury, to enthusiastic joy.
I feel that Bovine TB is a major issue facing the UK farming industry and one of great importance, both in regard to animal welfare, and the livelihoods of UK cattle farmers.
There have been many studies into Bovine TB, and into the relationship between the spread of the disease in Cattle, and the reservoir of infection in UK wildlife, principally Badgers.
Whilst studying at college earlier in 2011 I undertook a small investigation into the relationship between Badgers, Cattle and Bovine TB, reviewing a variety of sources of facts, figures and opinions. When I started the study, I had little knowledge of the subject, and had formed some preconceptions based of snippets of media I had heard, read or watched. What struck me most whilst researching the subject was the lack of knowledge we have of bTB and how it spreads, and how to control it.
Based of the research I undertook and the evidence available to me at the time, the final pages of my project consist of this conclusion:
"During this project I have come across a wide range of differing views on the subject of Cattle, Badgers and Bovine TB. These view vary from extreme hatred and blame directed toward badgers, to optimistic (sometimes idealistic) views that TB can be controlled by vaccinations alone, and views somewhere in between, from people who say that so little is known that a definite answer either way is unrealistic. This variation in views has formed from the huge variation in public knowledge of TB, their experience of the disease, and their social or vocational background.
From my own experience and research, it would appear that there are a number of important gaps in our knowledge and understanding of the disease and the current situation in the UK. These unanswered questions include; how, and to what extent, is the disease transmitted to cattle from wild animals – how many bTB outbreaks are due solely to the wildlife reservoir? Do local environmental factors (other than wildlife populations) mean certain farms, or certain livestock herds, are more likely to develop the disease? Are vaccinations for either cattle or badgers a realistic opportunity? And are there any truely conclusive results on exactly how an extensive badger cull will affect the spread of bTB, and also affect other wildlife?
The current increase in bTB across the UK may indicate that current control regimes – monitor, test, compulsory slaughter, and movement restrictions – are not working effectively.
I believe that there are currently far too many unanswered important questions, which may hold the key to halting this national epidemic. It seems likely that the reservoir of the disease amongst wild animal populations is an important factor, and more research must be done. However, care must be taken to ensure that other factors are thoroughly researched alongside, and no single cause or ‘scape-goat’ is singled out. The more information that is known about the disease, how it is spreading and how it reacts to control measure, the more effectively it can be controlled and eradicated."
After some further research following the completion of the study, I added the following:
“Following the completion of this investigative project, I received some information from a colleague concerning research into the effect of Badger Culls. This information take the form of a publication by the Wildlife Trusts, using diagrams to show a visual interpretation of the possible outcome of badger culling. This interpretation shows badger culling to have an adverse effect on the spread of TB. The removal of badgers from the population of the area de-stabilises that population and opens up new territory, changing the behaviours of the badgers and encouraging a more mobile and further travelling population with increased immigration and emigration. As a result of this, TB is transmitted to a wider area beyond the previous culling zone, potentially worsening the situation.Therefore, I now believe that culling badgers would be an ineffective method of bTB control. It is possible that it would be effective in areas surrounded by boundaries which restrict the movement of badgers from one area to another; however there are very few areas such as these. Extensive culling of badgers, as a top predator, may also have a detrimental and unforeseen effect on other UK wildlife and habitats.”
I think it is fair to say, that whether the Badger Cull Trial goes ahead or not, this is not the end of the story. Other efforts must be made and other avenues must be explored. The problem of Bovine TB is so extensive and so serious, there cannot be one simple solution.