What’s the point of shooting badgers?

Here in Britain, the sun has just come up on the 28th of August. Did guns get started on the badgers (Meles meles) last night? It’s not on the mainstream news yet. As you know, last night was yet another date announced as the first night of the badger cull.

While seeking news I found BadgerGate where anti-cull opinions are written. It’s worth reading.

Here’s an article on BadgerGate by Mark Jones, Executive Director of the UK branch of the Humane Society International (HSI). Mr Jones is a vet. On BadgerGate, he says that some of what’s been said about the badger cull makes him feel ‘ashamed to be a member of the profession [he] studied so hard to join.’

Here’s his voice again in an HSI/UK press release. ‘We are appalled to learn that the mass shooting of badgers has begun in our countryside. This is a dark day for Britain as science and ethics have been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency. Thousands of innocent badgers will now suffer and die in a completely unjustified slaughter that will at best have a marginal impact on TB in cattle [that’s bovine tuberculosis, bTB] and could very well make the problem worse. This cull isn’t just about badgers, it’s about the disgraceful way in which our government has cast aside scientific rigour, moral accountability and democracy to pacify those who would rather shoot wildlife than modernise the cattle industry.’

Talking of modernising the industry, here’s another article on BadgerGate. This one’s by Dave and Gill Purser who farm cattle in Gloucestershire. As they say, Gloucestershire is a ‘TB hot-spot’. They call for a change in ‘outdated’ bTB vaccination policies which make bTB a problem for farmers.

I haven’t found any statement of the cull’s aim. In science, it’s usual to state the aim of what you do. Shooting badgers to control bTB is contrary to scientific advice. Its aim seems to be political – winning votes from members of the National Farmers Union (NFU). Another thing I didn’t find was any explanation of why the West Country has more bTB than other parts of the British Isles.

Oh well. I’m still waiting for the news reports about what happened last night. We heard announcements that shooting was ‘underway’ but nobody has yet appeared for a photo opportunity. I won’t be surprised if somebody poses with gun on shoulder, foot on dead badger, or something like that.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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4 Responses to What’s the point of shooting badgers?

  1. I find it really curious that the badger carcasses are going to be “disposed” of, but aren’t going to be tested to see if they showed any signs of having or having had bTB – I’m not sure if that still is the case, but it seems a major omission if it is…
    I also read that Defra is looking to see a 16% decrease in the incidence of bTB in cattle in the cull areas after nine years (that would be a “success”) – but I couldn’t find any confidence intervals associated to that…
    How they will be able to attribute any decrease specifically to culling badgers when the incidence seems to be declining anyway (due to cattle measures and improving bio-security) is tricky too.
    Durham University’s Inst. of Hazard, Risk & Resilience has a short and easily read interview transcript / review of the history of bTB in Britain https://www.dur.ac.uk/ihrr/resources/podcastranscripts/bovinetb/

    • argylesock says:

      Well said. If there were good science behind culling badgers, I’d support the cull. But there isn’t. So I don’t.

      Where did you see the statement that carcases will be ‘disposed’ of without examining them for bTB?

      I remember that a 16% reduction in cattle has been predicted. That’s in the Scientific Working Group’s huge report iirc. But now you mention it, I too haven’t seen confidence intervals around that estimate. In case people reading this thread aren’t familiar with stats, ‘confidence intervals’ show how likely the estimate is to reflect reality http://www.stats.gla.ac.uk/steps/glossary/confidence_intervals.html

      Even if the 16% reduction were achieved, I notice what Mr and Mrs Purser say in their article I linked to in my post here. bTB isn’t a big problem for the UK cattle industry. Those authors, who farm in a ‘TB hot-spot’, tell us that bTB leads to 0.3% of disease-related cattle slaughtering across Britain. A little arithmetic on those figures tells us that all this dramatic, expensive shooting of badgers is supposed to save 0.048% of the cattle which vets order to be killed in Britain. Don’t blink! You’ll miss that undramatic result!

      You have a good point about the evidence that bTB is already declining. Because things are already being done about it – cattle movement controls and biosecurity. If the undramatic reduction in cattle slaughtering did happen, we’d never know that it was anything to do with the high-velocity rifles.

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