Badger Cull U-Turn: “Sunak now wants all the badgers dead”

The current government’s war on badgers to prevent Bovine Tb (a disease of cattle that is primarily passed by cattle to other cattle) took a chilling turn yesterday (14 March) with Ministers U-turning on its plans to phase out the badger cull. They instead announced proposals that would see the extermination of the vast majority of badger populations across much of south-west and central England.

The government will now hold a 5-week consultation on epidemiological culling (or ‘epi culling)’, where 100% of badgers in bovine TB-affected areas will be slaughtered, an increase on the 70% limit previously imposed when a four-year trial of culling started in 2013. The outcome of the ‘consultation’ – which will mostly involve landowners and the NFU – is in about as much doubt as the result of ‘elections’ being held across Russia this week.

The badger cull – the largest slaughter of a protected species ever sanctioned by a UK government –  has failed to get the support of the public or eminent scientists over more than a decade and was initially going to be phased out under plans announced in 2021 by the then environment secretary, George Eustice. After intensive lobbying by the NFU and campaigning by its own pro-cull MPs (like South Dorset’s Richard Drax, a wealthy landowner who said in a recent Commons debate on farmingthat all wild animals have to be culled“) the government will instead continue to issue licences to shoot badgers.


The concept of killing badgers in areas where an ‘epidemiological assessment’ points to a reservoir of disease in wildlife is not entirely new. The Farmers Weekly discussed proposals in September last year, quoting shooting estate owner and unelected Defra plant Richard Benyon on Westminster’s plans to develop a “targeted, cluster-based approach” to disease control.

However, ‘epi-culling’ is based on a single ‘model’ trial in Cumbria that oversaw the shooting dead of over 1100 badgers between 2018 and 2022 but where a published report stated that no demonstrable benefit was achieved in terms of reduced TB breakdowns in cattle herds. ‘Epi-culling’ is also based on incompetent misunderstandings by government scientists of their own findings and the mis-briefing of their Minister.

While partly concealed by a move to encourage the vaccination of recovering badgers after culling, for which farm take-up is likely to be minimal, the new killing spree under what might be a simplified license system could see the tally of largely healthy adult badgers and their cubs (killed using crude methods opposed by the British Veterinary Association), rise from around 250,000 shot to-date, towards half a million by 2038.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are ‘reservoirs’ of BTb in wildlife from deer to mice all across the country. The continual scapegoating of wildlife by industries and lobby groups is as deliberate as it is incorrect. To borrow the powerful and unforgettable theme of Martin Niemöller’s ‘First they came…‘ which speaks to the dangers of apathy and indifference in the face of injustice, the hunting, shooting, and culling industries have their beady eyes on everything from foxes to deer and birds of prey. If a government can get away with wiping out huge swathes of the badger population, we need to be aware that efforts to overturn the Hunting Act and to slip in the granting of licences to shooting estates to ‘cull’ Buzzards could be next…


Heading back and heading backwards

The government’s U-turn is on the current policy formed under Boris Johnson who indicated in 2020 that any future culling of badgers would be in ‘exceptional’ circumstances only.

The government cites evidence from the first 52 areas where badger culling was conducted, which claims to show a reduction in rates of bTB breakdowns in cattle by 56% on average after four years of culling. Instead the new policy is expected to establish ‘cluster groups’ across many south west and central English counties where locally ‘free for alls’ may be allowed over the coming years.

Wildlife scientist and campaigner Tom Langton who has studied and published on bovine TB and badger culling describes the government view as ‘simply mistaken’ based upon a misreading of the published science.

Not only are DEFRA not prepared to discuss or meet with us on their outlandish claims, but they also now can’t even read the science that their own staff have published. Even Oxford University have told them they are wrong. Now they are refusing to hand over the code that they used to analyse the data. It is an utter shambles because such refusal to supply access to check science will invalidate the consultation as the public are being misled, as we have pointed out.” Legal action is already in place with an appeal for Judicial Review and this consultation is likely to trigger further action.”


 Vote for Change

Could the roll out of ‘epi culling’ not get past a ‘proposal’ stage though?

The current government is facing its own extermination at the next general election and is taking increasingly desperate and unpopular measures to woo both the gammon vote with vague and legally-challengable ‘non laws’ on so-called extremism and the ‘rural’ vote by targeting one of the UK’s most loved and most iconic mammals. Ministers may be hoping to create a point of difference with the Labour Party, which has said it would stop the cull, in an attempt to retain seats in rural areas.

Langton told Protect the Wild:

“Sunak now wants all the badgers dead and this looks like a last chance grab at getting widespread culling back in place so it is difficult for Labour to scrap it as promised, in favour of the urgent cattle testing policy revisions that Defra have suppressed with their BTB partnership cabal which was recently exposed on the Badger Crowd website.”

While Protect the Wild doesn’t endorse one particular party, it’s hard not to smile when recent polling by the Country Land and Business Association shows the majority of Conservative MPs in rural areas – including the cull-loving Richard Drax – are at risk of losing their seats to Labour and the Liberal Democrats.


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Many thanks to Tom Langton for his help with this post. Tom is a key member of The Badger Crowd, a grassroots support and fundraising coalition including Badger Groups and Trusts around the UK, the public and a range of charities and funds. The Badger Crowd believes that legal challenges are an important fight, not just for the badger but also for the future of our countryside and the farming industry. The bovine TB badger cull policy is failing farmers, taxpayers and our precious wildlife and is allowing the bTB epidemic to spread and cause hardship and misery to a wide range of people across the country.