HomeManagementBadger ManagementBovine TB and Badgers Consultation - Fact Sheet

Bovine TB and Badgers Consultation - Fact Sheet

Bovine TB and Badgers Consultation - Fact Sheet

Badgers have for long been recognised as the heaviest and most aggressive predator of a wide range of species, running as fast as a dog, with no natural predators of their own to contend with other than man.  Their acute sense of smell, climbing and digging ability, and routine coverage of their marked territory, ensures that few prey species are safe from predation. Modern conservation practices supply super highway field strips of food supplies for uncontrolled badgers and other predators.

Prey species includes hedgehogs, leveret hares, frogs, toads, lizards, snakes, small rodents, young rabbits, poultry, piglets, lambs, domestic pets, the eggs and chicks of ground nesting birds, together with the nectar and larvae of a range of insects, including many of 28 species of bumblebee, some being plant specific.

It has been established since the 1930’s that badgers carried bTB endemically with research published c. 1935, 1955 and 1978 by MAFF in Gloucester.  The potential problems of an uncontrolled badger population were recognised by MAFF from 1982, when badgers on the Cotswold escarpments reached level of 25-30 per sq km.  MAFF and ADAS resolved the science and solutions pre-ISG.

Despite further research on bTB risks to livestock and wider population growth though the 1980’s these warning signals were ignored and the badger was made a protected species with the introduction of the Badger Act in 1992.  It was from this date that bTB cases began their steep ascent to the catastrophic current epidemic proportions, in line with the increase in the uncontrolled badger population. 

We are now at a crossroads where Government has accommodated Animal Rights organisations in supporting protection policies, but is now faced with the prospect of explaining to the British public the massive ecological, health and cost problems that protection policies have caused.

The NFU is well equipped to present the case for the farming industry, but is not able to present the crucial case for wildlife welfare and management, which involves specialist knowledge and skills in removing reservoirs of infection, controlling  badger numbers and establishing a healthy population of badgers in balance with other important species.

A Government supported Wildlife Management Strategy is the only possible successor to the range of failed Wildlife Protection schemes put in place by so called conservation organizations.  British Wildlife Management is able and willing to support the Government on the wildlife management and welfare issues, in order that the Badger/TB problems can eventually be properly and rapidly resolved.

As with most species on the planet, overcrowding leads to more competition for food, poor accommodation, under nourishment, susceptibility to parasites and disease, and subsequent death from the build up of life threatening parasites or infections.

The very significant increase in badger numbers has resulted in an unhealthy badger population creating more reservoirs of infection, which greatly contribute to the spread of the disease to other species.  Because old and sick badgers are pushed out to the outer limits of group territory, by younger members of their families, a relatively small increase of badger numbers, provides a significantly higher risk of infecting livestock, where they come into contact in the same habitats.

The old sick badgers will tend to be the first to look to share food and water with cattle, thereby directly planting infected material amongst otherwise healthy animals. Less able to fend for themselves in territorial disputes, they will disperse further than might be expected to survive, especially when stressed by inefficient and inhumane killing.

Once the sick badger carrying the disease has infected one healthy farm animal it is hardly surprising that the disease spreads quickly cattle to cattle, bearing in mind they live and move in close contact with one another. No matter how much so called bio-security is deployed by the farmer, one trip by one animal to the site of infection unravels the biosecurity process.  Some 62 badgers observed feeding on a maize silage face at 3am on the Wales/Hereford border highlights the scale of the contact problem.

My own experience from childhood in East Anglia and with MAAF at Gloucester while living on the edge of the Frome valley between 1980 and 1992 provided many insights, particularly when talking to MAAF specialists, hunt terrier men and earth stoppers, and members of badger groups. Some of the badger group members worked with hunt terrier men helping with earth stopping. All such special interests groups can and must work together for our precious wildlife.

The Report of the Krebbs Committee in 1997 concluded that there was compelling evidence that badgers were a significant source of TB in cattle. This did not come as a surprise to wildlife managers and those who had studied past research, and had practical experience of the subject. They had no doubts that the badger was the maintenance host of this disease.

At this point there should have been immediate action to cull badgers under licence to specialist badger managers, using traditional best practice methods – see back of Red Fox Welfare Equation Leaflet and Terrier Work and the Terrier Leaflet as it existed before the Hunting Act - www.britishwildlifemanagement.org

As a consequence of inaction we now have a huge badger population in the wild.  The protected badger has greatly increased in numbers and territory in Mid-Wales reaching the highest ground, where it competes for food with the red fox and protected raptors such as the buzzard, peregrine falcon and in some places the hen harrier.

In one central Wales sample which I surveyed with the assistance of hunt staff, having originally estimated a 10 x increase since 1950, there is clearly an increase in numbers of 40 x,  where badgers have moved from close to the floor of the Wye valley to setts over 1,600 feet above the Eland Valley reservoir, spreading out over mountains, hills and heather moorland – see www.britishwildlifemanagement.org  photo library.

In the Welsh uplands the detrimental imbalance in species numbers has reached crisis proportions, where all species are suffering in one way or another. Badgers are known to be making a serious impact on live lamb losses with lamb wool remains at these sets in the Eland valley.

Badgers compete with foxes for lambs and a whole range of ground nesting birds, hedgehogs and small mammals, thereby depriving rare species of carrion or key food supplies.  As far as ground nesting birds are concerned, in this area they have all but disappeared.  The larder for the predators is bare.

Many insects like the bumble bee, which are plant specific and which store nectar for their larvae in late summer, are being wiped out by badger predation, with serious consequences within the complex chain of action and re-action for many species of insects and plants. This has been identified as a very serious problem in Dorset.

To say that badger numbers in the most highly infected areas have increased by a factor of at least 3 since 1950 would be an underestimate. To consider a National spring badger population of at least 1 million would I believe be sensible - see Fox Population Dynamics on the back of the Red Fox Welfare Equation Leaflet.

It was never intended that the Badger Act should stop the control of badger numbers, however the provision for the issuing of crucial licences was not complied with, as a direct response to the hostility of animal rights activists, who have never understood the issues involved.

We all now pay the price, of what is now the necessary indiscriminate slaughter of the badger population brought about unnecessarily by badger protection legislation and the ignorance and intolerance of animal rights activists.

From a long tradition in the past of managing wild species, and the wide introduction of keepered habitats, badgers have been dug as a matter of routine, in the same manner as foxes.  This has been proven over time to be the most humane and efficient method of keeping badger numbers under control, so that the damage they do is limited.

Highly skilled individuals with their superb working terriers, provided a rural service throughout the country in the best practice, most humane management of the fox and badger.  Fox earths and badger setts and other temporary refuges were recorded and monitored on a national basis, within the system of subscription hunting, and by many of those engaged in pest control outside the recognition of the Masters of Foxhounds Association.

Both badger and fox management overlapped, with the flushing foxes from underground and the stopping both fox and badger holes being a key part of ensuring that as many foxes were put above ground as possible to be tested by fox hounds on hunting days – see Terrier Leaflet.

The association of terrier men with both badger and fox control has sadly drawn the focussed attention of animal rights activists, who rarely have understood the purpose and relative humaneness of digging and the welfare purposes of earth stopping.

On a wider subject in this debate, there are now more than 1 million ha of under-grazed molinia grass in the uplands of Britain, and _ million ha of potential heather moorland, all of which could be brought back into profitable grazing for cattle and sheep together with game management, all which provides enormous benefits for a wide range of upland bird species, creating very attractive habitats for tourists, and helping the rural economy in many ways.

These deteriorating and often abandoned and derelict areas can now be reseeded with heather and other upland plants, but the economics of such restoration and game management also require high levels of predator control to be economically viable. Legislation protecting both badgers and raptors prevents such projects being undertaken and every body loses.

Britain’s unique climate ensures all year round growth of grass and other vegetation, which for generations has been profitably utilized by grazing animals.  The land was maintained in good order by high standards of grazing management skills by farmers, graziers and commoners.

A vested interest ensured that little of the abundant growth was wasted, being equally important to avoid over-grazing, as it was to allow land to become neglected and under-grazed.  Cattle and sheep grazing provided an efficient cycle of low cost vegetation being converted into quality meat, with a by product of dung and urine being returned to the ground, thereby creating a fertile soil structure and conditions under which insect, plant and bird life thrived.

The lowering of the acid run off from the hills contributed to river systems rich in life.  Large variations in the underlying geological structure of the soil, moisture, elevation, aspect, acidity, and the distribution of hefted animals, created an extraordinary variation of unique and beautiful landscapes for which upland Britain is famous.

The establishment of 80% of the world’s heather moorland in the British Isles, was encouraged some 300 years ago, as a direct result of the demand and production of beef and lamb from a thriving and growing population in the industrial areas of Britain.  Wildlife and upland communities flourished under good management practices.

The removal of protection legislation for the badger and raptors, allowing them to be properly controlled and managed, would be a first positive step in giving the incentives for restoring our priceless British upland heritage for cattle, sheep, deer and game, which encourage rich wildlife populations.

Government must grasp the Wildlife Management message in order to get the public on their side on a wide range of what can only be good management practices, which will include killing both sick and healthy badgers.  We have a duty of care to deploy mans benevolent guiding hand to manage all around us to the highest standards. The public will support this strategy if it is put over clearly.

This will include as a priority, persuading the public that too many badgers are very bad indeed for many other wonderful species, whose very existence they threaten.  Above all we need to restore best practice in managing badger populations, which means as far as possible killing them selectively and humanely using specialists under license.

Edmund Marriage.

Go to top