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As Defra ends vaccination scheme, the fate of badgers is bleak

As the government’s badger bovine tuberculosis (bTB) vaccination scheme comes to an end, campaigners have accused Defra of pulling the rug from under them.

The Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BAVS) was due to run from 2019 to 2023. The government provided some funding towards private projects to vaccinate badgers in the so-called ‘Edge Area’ – that is, the buffer zone between the areas with cattle at a high risk of bTB, and those with a low risk of the disease.

Nottinghamshire Badger Trust has spoken out in anger at the government’s decision not to continue the funding. The Trust received part of the funds it needed to carry out an extensive badger vaccination programme across the Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire border. The Trust said:

“The decision, made with just a week’s funding remaining, has left the Trust with no option but to end the project.”

Chief Executive Paul Wilkinson said:

“Having the rug pulled from under us by our project partner when we had a skilled and motivated team primed for action has left us baffled and frustrated – but knowing that we will not now be able to vaccinate badgers on land where farmers are ready and waiting for us to do so makes us angry”.

Culling badgers

The Trust continued:

“The charity, which has a long history of working with farmers and landowners across the county, feels it is the victim of the Government’s decision, in 2019/20, to expand the badger cull into its original project area – undermining more than six years work and resulting in the Trust having to build relationships with landowners from scratch.”

Of course, the government has always scapegoated badgers for the spread of bTB in cattle. It’s a convenient get-out, so that that both Defra and farmers don’t need to analyse the real problem – that is, industrial farming. And for as long as badgers are scapegoats, they will continue to be culled.

The government’s annual badger cull has run for the past decade. It issues four-year licences to land owners, and badgers are intensively shot and trapped for a six-week period each year, usually beginning in September. The fact that the badger cull still takes place might come as a shock to members of the public, as there have been many mainstream headlines over the years, stating that it was coming to an end. But the government continued issuing new four-year licences in 2022.

On top of these active cull zones, there are a number of other zones that have been granted supplementary licences. These are, effectively, extended licences for zones after they have already been extensively culled of badgers over the course of four years. In 2022, the government awarded two-year supplementary licences to murder badgers in ten new locations across the country, which were licensed to run until January 2024. On top of all this, Defra is likely to issue licences indefinitely to kill badgers at a targeted, local level from 2026, although it currently isn’t clear what the system will be.

Vaccinating badgers did, in theory, give the scapegoated mammals protection from being culled. But, as the Nottinghamshire Badger Trust has pointed out, the government expanded the cull into its original vaccination area, anyway.

 

Badger

The most persecuted of animals

The badger is supposedly one of our most protected creatures. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 should have ensured this, but the government’s senseless cull completely undermines any protections that the Act is gives.

In October 2022, Protect The Wild was sent undercover footage of how culled badgers were being disposed of at a pet crematorium. The investigators told us at the time:

“We…quickly found what their schedule was, picking up bagged badger bodies from different bins around Northamptonshire and the Buckinghamshire border. Cage trappers and shooters regularly discarded the gloves in the bushes near the bins.

Those collections would always end up in the Pet Crematorium, where they would be gutting horses for what we presume is feeding the Grafton Hunt hounds, right next to piles and piles of badger bodies.

Those bodies would be removed from the plastic bags that cull shooters are required to use and thrown into an industrial-sized skip, possibly for collection by a bigger company to be turned into meat and bonemeal (MBM) renewable biomass fuel.”

No action was taken against the owner of the crematorium.

Half of the UK’s badger population has now been murdered in the government’s misguided campaign to eradicate bovine TB (bTB), and a number of areas of the country are now facing local badger extinctions. On top of this, badgers are targeted by baiters, who love to watch their dogs fight the creatures, ending in a torturous death for the badger. More than 10,000 badgers lose their lives to baiting every year in the UK.

Fight the cull

While the government shows, yet again, that it has little regard for badgers, activists across the country are preparing to fight the annual cull. They’ll be surveilling setts, checking which badgers survived last year’s murder-spree, and come the start of the cull in September, they will be in the countryside near you. There are many local groups – search for yours and help save badgers.

 

Featured images via Shutterstock