A number of high profile wildlife experts, broadcasters and celebrities have called for the UK government to delay the badger cull in England until after it has been considered by the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention – the European convention of protecting wildlife and habitats.
The Humane Society International – UK (HSI) has launched an appeal to the Standing Committee in the hope that it will rule against the proposed cull which will see up to 70% of local badger population killed in order to take action against bovine TB.
The open letter sent to the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, is copied at the end of this article.
The HSI have submitted a complaint – which will be discussed in November – to the committee based on 3 aspects that they consider the UK government has either ignored are got it wrong. These are:
- It lacks legitimate purpose – very few cases of bTB in cattle are attributable to badgers and the government’s own best estimates predict only a 12-16 percent reduction in bTB in cattle as a result of killing badgers after nine years.
- Insufficient consideration has been given to alternative non-lethal solutions – Under the Convention, the slaughter of badgers should not be permitted in preference to alternative options such as stricter controls on cattle movement and the development of vaccines, which have a greater chance of reducing bTB, solely because it is more convenient for farmers.
- It is detrimental to badger populations – the Convention requires that control measures must not result in local disappearance of, or serious disturbance to, badger populations. But with badgers being shot at night and with no recent national or local data on English badger populations, it will be impossible to meet this requirement. Without proper data, farmers aiming to achieve the government’s target of reducing populations by at least 70 per cent will not know when to stop killing before the entire local badger population is wiped out.
The HSI have said that the Bern convention authorities have said that there are sufficient grounds to consider the complaint. with the badger cull due to start at anytime the concern is that badgers will be culled before the Standing Committee can make a decision on the complaint.
While I’m against the badger cull as there are much better ways of dealing with bovine TB including examining how we actually raise cattle now, I think it’s unlikely that the complaint will be successful. There appears to be little new in the evidence that the badger cull will be in breach of the Convention with the same arguments being made in the failed attempt of 1999 at the start of the last badger cull trial.
The quickest and best way to control bovine TB is to change the way that we raise cattle. The growth in bovine TB has mirrored the way in which farmers now move cattle around from farm to farm as the cattle go through various stages of maturity in preparation for going to market. The days of a cow living on one or two farms during its life no longer exists and cows can easily be moved through 6 or more farms so spreading any infection around.
Sadly though it’s unlikely that we will ever be able to go back to that sort of farming especially with overseas investors now grabbing land in the UK and driving up the price of farmland by more that three times over the last decade. Until the government gets to grips with spiraling land prices by restricting overseas land speculators farmers will have no choice but to place money before animal husbandry methods in order to make their farms profitable.
It would be great if England followed the lead of Wales and undertook a trial using vaccines in badgers to try ad reduce the impact of bovine TB but with only 10 – 12% of TB incidents caused by badgers it’s not going to be until a cattle vaccine is developed and permitted access into the food chain by legislators that real reductions of bovine TB are going to occur.
I hope that HSI are successful in their complaint but i will not be holding my breath for a successful campaign unless they have something substantially new to present to the Committee.
Open letter to Caroline Spelman MP from Humane Society International.
The Rt. Hon. Caroline Spelman MP
Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
House of Commons,
Dear Secretary of State
Request to delay the badger cull until after the Bern Convention has delivered its decision
The government’s proposal to license farmers and landowners to shoot badgers at night to kill at least 70 per cent of their population in license areas is, in our expert opinion, fundamentally flawed both scientifically and morally, and does not represent a credible long-term solution to the problem of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
The vast majority of available scientific evidence indicates that culling badgers (the majority of which are likely to be healthy, non- bTB carriers) is not an effective way of controlling bTB in cattle and can in fact increase incidence of bTB in some circumstances. In 2007 the Independent Scientific Group evaluating the results of a ten-year ‘Randomised Badger Culling Trial’ concluded that “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.” Therefore we cannot agree with the government’s assertion that its badger cull proposal is ‘science-led’. Indeed it appears to ignore much of the science.
Badgers are listed in Appendix III of the Council of Europe’s Convention on the Conservation of
European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention) and, as such, the UK government is
committed to regulate their exploitation to keep populations ‘out of danger.’ So, in January this year, concerned that the proposed shooting of thousands of free-running badgers may constitute a breach of the Convention, Humane Society International/UK (HSI UK) lodged a formal complaint with Bern in Strasbourg.
Bern has confirmed to HSI UK that there are sufficient grounds for it to consider the complaint.
However, we understand there is a strong possibility that the government may proceed with the cull before the Bern Convention is due to consider the matter.
If, as it states, the government takes seriously its responsibilities to wildlife and respects the authority of the Bern Convention, it is logical that any badger cull be delayed until after the Convention has decided whether or not it might constitute a breach. In addition, and according to the government’s own policy documents, starting and then stopping a cull could expose farmers and their cattle to the unnecessary risk of increasing localised TB outbreaks.
We therefore call on the government to delay the badger cull and await a decision from the Bern Convention.
Mark Jones, Veterinarian
Executive Director, Humane Society International/UK
Brian May CBE, Musician and founder of Save Me
Chris Packham, Naturalist and TV presenter
Joanna Lumley OBE, FRGS, Actress and Author
Jilly Cooper OBE, Journalist, Author and TV presenter
Dale Vince OBE, Founder and owner, Ecotricity
Lorraine Platt, Founder, Conservatives Against Foxhunting
Philip Mansbridge, Chief Executive Officer, Care for the Wild International
Will Travers OBE, Chief Executive Officer, Born Free Foundation
Bill Oddie OBE, Author, Actor, Comedian, Artist, Naturalist and Musician
Dame Judi Dench, Actress
Mark Carwardine, Zoologist and Wildlife Presenter
Mike Dilger, Naturalist, Writer and Wildlife Presenter