Adopt

Campaigners demand Oxford University scientists speak out against badger extermination

Oxfordshire Badger Group has delivered a petition and an open letter to Oxford University. The campaigners say that the biology department must break its silence and speak out against the badger cull, which has so far killed more than 230,000 badgers in England. The petition has more than 13,000 signatures so far: add yours.

The group has told Oxford University:

“Your science has been misused to justify killing many thousands of badgers in Oxfordshire alone.”

The government’s badger cull has been ongoing since 2013. In 2023, 19,750 badgers were needlessly murdered and 859 of them were killed in three “cull zones” in Oxfordshire. The group has stated that two “epi-cull zones” are expected to be created in Oxfordshire under the government’s proposed new policy of epidemiological culling. If the government goes ahead with its proposal, Natural England will issue licences indefinitely to kill 100% of badgers at a targeted, local level from 2026. Defra has been running a consultation on the plan, which will end on 22 April.

Oxfordshire Badger Group says of the university’s School of Biology:

“Culling originated in Oxford University. We believe YOU have the scientific authority to end it.

Please, Please speak out before it is too late.”

The open letter

In its letter, the group addresses the university’s role in participating in the original research that was used to justify the cull:

“Many of you helped design, coordinate or were otherwise involved in the Randomised Controlled Badger Cull Trial (RBCT) and related research from the University of Oxford. You concluded that the available scientific evidence showed that badgers caused around 50% of bovine TB breakdowns during a rising epidemic but that culling badgers would not help control bovine TB.

Yet the government simply overturned your conclusions to justify introducing badger culling. Many of you vocally opposed this in 2012 and 2015 but you were ignored. Now 250,000 mostly healthy badgers are dead.”

The 19-year-old RBCT is regularly cited by Natural England as proof that badgers spread bTB to cattle. But experts have exposed the trial as unsafe science, with a number of crucial flaws to it. And back in 2017, independent consultant scientist and ecologist Tom Langton – who has meticulously studied the RBCT – concluded:

“The ISG [Independent Scientific Group which oversaw the trial] should have concluded that the RBCT had failed to find a link between proactive badger culling and a reduction in bTB herd breakdowns – the exact opposite of its finding.

Instead it concluded that badgers do pass bTB to cattle at a significant rate. It also said badger culling was not worth doing because of a balancing effect resulting from perturbation effect causing herd breakdown. That was a story that the public and government of the day embraced – but one that extended way beyond the limits of safe scientific conclusion, and one that the government kicked into the long grass.”

Cows in a farm in Settle, North Yorkshire.

Cow-to-cow

Since the days of the RBCT, numerous studies have shown that badgers are not the primary transmitter of bTB in cows, and that the disease is primarily passed from cow-to-cow. The Badger Trust has stated:

“Cattle spread bovine TB to other cattle in over 94% of all cases of the disease. There is a huge amount of scientific evidence and field studies to show that the vast majority of bTB infection in cattle is a result of cow-to-cow infection.

Bovine TB is largely spread cow-to-cow within intensive dairy and beef production systems. It spills over into the wider environment as a form of industrial pollution through faeces and slurry soil, water, organisms and infecting both wild and domestic animals.”

Of the numerous studies on the cull,  one was published in the Veterinary Record in early 2022. The results, analysed by the Canary, proved that government rhetoric is nonsense. It found that:

“areas with culls generally had higher incidences and prevalence of bTB than areas without badger killing.”

The study analysed 30 cull zones between 2009 and 2020 and the results were handed to the government. But according to Tom Langton, who was one of the study’s author’s, the findings were promptly dismissed by the government.

And in May 2023, another report – authored by independent researchers, veterinarians, and epidemiologists, including Langton once again – stated:

“Much if not all the evidence relating to badgers as the source of infection is anecdotal and is therefore subject to unconscious or other bias. Evidence relating to infected badgers is usually completely lacking, beyond their known presence in the area, whereas evidence relating to cattle is more likely to be robust, having been derived from genotyping, cattle movement records and cattle testing.”

A close-up shot of three badgers enjoying a playful moment together on the ground

Oxford University scientists have a duty to speak out

Langton has stated that scientists at Oxford University should speak out against the cull, acknowledging that new learning shows that the cull has always been unneccessary. He said:

“Badger scientists at Oxford University who dominated the badger culling review, planning and experiments between 1995 and 2007 have been reluctant to speak out in a comparable way since the 2016 cull roll outs, some because they moved away, others perhaps because they remained involved. The controversy surrounding badger culling may be the reason some steer away from engaging on various elements of the science and the destructive mass killing of Britain’s favourite sentient animal and its young cubs, most of whom are completely healthy.”

Meanwhile, in its open letter, Oxfordshire Badger Group has said to the university’s scientists:

“You told us last autumn and more recently that Oxford’s Biologists have ‘no appetite’ to step up. IS that still the case when so many lives depend on YOU to put the record straight? Badger culling started in Oxford and you could help end it here by letting the world know it should not be continued.”

Urgent: sign the petition

Defra’s consultation on the badger cull comes to an end on 22 April. You can urgently sign Oxfordshire Badger Group’s petition. Although it has already been handed in to the university, the group says:

“Every signature helps show Defra the strength of public opposition.”

On top of this, you can also sign Protect the Wild’s petition to the Labour Party, which is set to win the next General Election. Labour has stated that it would end the cull, but we mustn’t be complacent. We are keeping pressure on the incoming Labour government – should it win the election – to honour its promise. Protect the Wild also argues that ending the badger cull and redirecting resources towards comprehensive disease management strategies, including improved testing protocols and biosecurity measures, is not only morally justifiable but also fiscally responsible.

Please urgently sign Oxfordshire Badger Group’s petition here. More than 13,000 people have already signed: the goal is 15,000.

Sign our petition to Labour here. More than 10,000 people have signed: let’s get 15,000 signatures.