Shooting Badgers (1)

Badger. Photo: Chris Packham

In the past two years, more than 67,000 Badgers have been killed under a government programme which claims to have as its aim the eradication of bovine Tb in cattle. About two thirds of these Badgers are shot (free shooting, sometimes called controlled shooting) and one third are trapped and then shot.

Free shooting is licensed by Natural England and its legality is being challenged by Wild Justice.

Whatever you think about the Badger cull in terms of its effectiveness, I assume that most people would want such a massive body count to be delivered as humanely as possible. Alick Simmons, a former DEFRA Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, has written about such issues on this blog several times and about the Badger cull in particular here).

Back in March 2014, DEFRA (under Owen Patterson) received a report from an independent expert panel chaired, in the end, by Sir Ranald Munro (the IEP report). That report looked at many aspects of the Badger cull including animal welfare aspects.

Based to some extent on studies of gunshots in humans, the IEP took 5 minutes as a threshold for a humane death by shooting and 95% of Badgers as a threshold for how many Badgers should die in that period as a threshold for the cull being humane. Five minutes is a long time but in humans the onset of extreme pain from firearm injuries can be that long.

In the studies on which they reported, where trained observers accompanied shooters into the field and observed deaths of Badgers, the good news was that just over half of Badgers died within 10 seconds of being shot. However, it was ‘extremely likely [ie 95-100% probability] that between 7.4% and 22.8% of badgers that were shot at were still alive after 5 min, and therefore at risk of experiencing marked pain‘ and so the 95% criterion was not met.

Shooting free-living animals is a messy business, some take a long time to die (the longest observed out of 69 shots observed with thermal imaging equipment until the animal stopped moving was 13 minutes 34 seconds). Although many shot Badgers were seen to die in seconds others were wounded and could not be observed until the point of death (whenever that was) because they ran off into cover or disappeared down setts. Importantly, some Badgers that the shooters assumed they had missed were subsequently found to have been hit but injured.

In their recommendations, the IEP states that it considers that for the Badger cull to be humane the total of Badgers that are not recoverd after being shot at (the non-recovery rate, NRR) plus the number of Badgers known to take more than 5 minutes to die should together form less than 5% of the Badgers shot at.

Natural England license Badger culls. Natural England have not defined an alternative criterion for a humane cull. Natural England produces an annual report on the Badger cull which does not enumerate the number of Badgers which take more than 5 minutes to die but does give the NRR.

The NRRs in recent years have been as follows:

Natural England does not report on the proportion of Badgers that take more than five minutes to die, but only on the NRR. But the NRR alone is routinely twice as high as the NRR and ‘percentage of Badgers taking more than 5 minutes to die’ should be together to meet the criterion recommended by the IEP.

It is difficult, in my opinion, to give the Badger cull high marks on animal welfare criteria when it comes nowhere near meeting the criteria recommended by the IEP and Natural England, DEFRA and the NFU appear to be perfectly happy with this state of affairs.

More on this subject soon.

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26 Replies to “Shooting Badgers (1)”

  1. This is just absolutely typical of this Government including DEFRA and Natural England that their approach to every aspect of nature is that if it gets in their way KILL IT. or bulldoze it. Are they going to carry on and on with this cruel shooting, because in the end surely it will become unsustainable.
    As I understand it there are now perfectly good vaccines that can be used on badgers to prevent bovine TB spreading IF ,and it is a big if badgers actually spread the disease,
    Why does this rotten Government not put its efforts into using vaccines? But then then they are generally “as thick as two short planks” and they are always very reluctant to abandon their first resort of “kill it bash it” philosophy.

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  2. Thanks, Mark, for giving this issue further coverage. In terms of the area covered, the proportion of England over which badgers are being killed is greater than in any other country regardless of species.

    This is not some invasive species undermining our native flora or fauna. This is a native species the population of which has recovered from years of persecution. And yet instead of celebrating this recovery, we sanction its widespread killing. At taxpayers’ expense. And don’t believe the spin; it’s about to get worse. NE is considering 18 more licence applications.

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  3. 'This is not some invasive species undermining our native flora or fauna. This is a native species the population of which has recovered from years of persecution.'

    But it's also a meso predator that has become an apex predator because humans have removed its natural predators/competitors.

    By all means let the numbers grow, but don't assume that there will be no adverse consequences for the rest of the eco system.

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  4. Defra continue to deny any correlation between bTB outbreaks and the number of hunts in an area. If there are horses, hounds, quad bikes etc. indiscriminately traversing fields there is a risk that infected material (sputum, faeces etc.) could be carried from an infected farm to a bTB free farm on the feet, tyres. And hounds can themselves become infected as happened at the Kimblewick Hunt when over 100 hounds were disposed of for having bTB. But if you have Lord Kimble as a Defra government minister ...

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  5. Not a great fan of this so called culling. TB is a horrible disease whether in Badgers or Cattle but there are lots of other things that should be done first before resorting to killing native wildlife. The usual test in cattle is considerably less than 100% efficient and misses a high percentage of " carriers" that seem unaffected by the disease, so many cases are of cattle infecting cattle. WE NEED A MUCH BETTER ROUTINE TEST. There are a whole host of biosecurity measures that should be compulsory, including keeping cattle off pastures that have been grazed and had disease excreted on them by infected cattle for 6 months, manure from potentially infected cattle must be stored for a minimum of 6 months and preferably spread on crop fields not grass. More effort should be made to keep cattle and badgers ( or infected Deer) apart.
    Even then inoculation of Badgers would be infinitely preferable. only IF THAT IS A FAILURE SHOULD KILLING BADGERS BE CONSIDERED IF AT ALL. Then it should not be free shooting.

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  6. Does anyone know how the blokes that actually do the shooting (the "contractors") get paid? This doesn't occur in my part of the country, so I haven't a clue. Is it an hourly rate or by the night? Or is there an element of payment related simply to the number of corpses they produce? I know the Forestry Commission's own Ranger's meet good standards for culling Deer with high-powered rifles, but their "contractors" who apply for and obtain the licences to take Deer on some of their land often do not.

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    1. The contractors are paid per body. It's something like £30 each from what I can remember. The term contractor or marksmen is another joke. Many of these have just an afternoons training and most are simply farmers or their mates with a suitable gun license that like to go out shooting animals.

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      1. Thanks for the reply. Wow! If ever there was a way of encouraging bad practice and reckless shooting...then that is it. So it's basically The Good Old Boys getting £30 for every dead Badger they can produce. No doubt they will have mates supplying them with extra corpses from all over the place. You are right this will be a complete joke, out in the fields at two in the morning the only use the official rule-book will be put to is as emergency bog roll.

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  7. You don’t live in the countryside all your life without meeting some for whom the gun is a way of life, an obsession along with the killing that goes with it. For some of them a hit is good as a kill, it’s a mind-set that cares little for the suffering they cause. Always excusing their action and obvious enjoyment of the inflicted brutality by the invention of absolute necessity of need. Usually “too many” with all their prey classified as vermin to be cast aside. The sort of stuff a phycologist would have a field day with. Cruelty doesn’t get much worse than hunting where a living animal is ripped apart while still alive, it will be the same types and individuals that are involved in the badger cull, all no doubt boasting of their exploits to one another. There are so many gunmen now involved in the badger cull, including no doubt many of a less professional approach but all of course of dubious motivation, with many a dusty old gun brought back in to use. When I say the Government have unleashed a war in the countryside I use the words advisedly as killing is very much in vogue under this administration, the numbers involved paint a truly grizzly waste of life on a false premise. Its counter, care and demonstrating that care being our only hope of stopping this runaway train of absolute destruction.

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    1. I believe the badger cull is misguided, damaging and not a solution to the the problem of bTB but I would be interested to know what evidence there is for the claims of 'many a rusty old gun' and whether or not the people carrying out the culling are involved in fox hunting etc. I certainly cannot say this is not happening but if it is simply supposition and unfounded allegation I am not sure how helpful it is to the case of opposing the cull.

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      1. Some think that "contracting" is a foot in the door, for a bit of vermin shooting, a go at the pigeon, or a spot of lamping.

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      2. JW - what you say is absolutely correct, but in the absence of any serious or independent attempt to gather proper evidence, all you have left is your own observations and what you can glean from conversations with people closely involved. It's unscientific and unsatisfactory.
        However, all I can say is that my own impressions line up pretty closely with those of Roger Weeks. His sentence about brutality always being excused by the invention of necessity sums up my experience of many 'countrymen' just about perfectly.

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  8. How do i support wild justice.

    Every year i feel sick as June 1 arrives and cull officially arrives i get badgers most nights naturally and main Sett approx 1000 metres away.

    This year year twice single high powered rifle shots in First week May.

    Zero cubs seen this year i strongly suspect illegal culling.

    I rang Local Duchy of Cornwall head office for farm concerned and was advised to speak to public relations office in London ?

    Regratabily whatever method is chosen the law is something for City folk it appears.

    I live in south herefordshire i see the law broken daily.

    The river full of phosphates and green and very low.

    The Atlantic Salmon numbers have collapsed over last 5 years.

    Shad have almost become extinct in river.

    The illegal pumping of water goes on unabated around the clock zero oversight.

    Public footpaths routinely blocked but thousands in grants claimed every year try walking into Ross on Wye from north easily.

    Fox hunting ban is a joke but people power has weakened its visibility and any prestige it has in Ross.

    It was my local hunt caught feeding live Cubs to pack of young hounds at its base.

    After removing 3 people from hunt and getting jobs on other hunts and delaying legal process at every step Judge gave fines out shocking.....

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    1. Why don't wild justice raise funds and resolve this. Badgers can be trapped and tested. Any badgers that test positive can be given a lethal injection and negative ones can be given the vaccine. Vaccinated badgers could be tagged or micro chipped.

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      1. Mike, that is exactly what is needed, problem is getting it done.Of course it seems we can send soldiers to Arab country's getting lots killed and injured but somehow catching a relatively low number of Badgers is beneath our capability.
        We now and in the near future have a job for all the unemployed that Boris is trying to find jobs for.
        One thing hardly anyone understands is farmers more than anyone would like the problem solved.We are so far behind the rest of the world in solving this disease and others it is embarrassing.
        Several farmers have lost herds that their father's and grandfather's had kept and the cattle had been bred generations and meant a great deal to those farmers.

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        1. Posted on behalf of Alick Simmons who put in in the wrong place! - Taxpayers have been paying for the control of this disease since 1950. In addition, several charities (eg Derbyshire Wildlife Trust) have raised money, admittedly with taxpayer support, to vaccinate badgers. Not to mention the thousands of volunteer hours involved. And now you’re asking people to cough up yet more money to apply unproven and inaccurate tests.

          The current policy, other than few tweeks and the widespread systematic killing of badgers is largely unchanged since compulsory eradication began in 1950. The taxpayer and farmers have hoodwinked. It’s a money pit, it doesn’t work and it’s time for a root and branch review starting with two questions:

          1. What is the objective?
          2. Is it good value for money?

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      2. It’s a nice idea but the the test that is available for badgers to detect bTB infection is not sensitive enough for use as a screening test. That is, there are too many false negative results meaning that a substantial number of infected badgers would pass the test and presumably be released.

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  9. One of the questions which constantly rears it's head is why are so many animals killed in an area where no cattle exist. Huge swathes of the killing zones contain little but shooting estates. Shooting estates (and game keepers) hate badgers. This cull has given them the perfect chance to remove them.

    Having fought this evil policy first hand and had my boots on the ground everywhere from Gloucestershire to Dorset to Wiltshire I can safely say it is an absolute joke. The humane standards are a disgrace, contractors break the rules all the time and the farmers laugh at biosecurity. Badgers are left for hours in traps (we found one at 2:30pm on a hot day when the guidelines state all traps need to be checked by noon) and we have found several shot badgers that have struggled home to die right by their setts. Even live ammunition has been found left lying around.

    There is no monitoring because ultimately they don't care, it's a species removal program, it's about how many they can kill. The whole policy is driven by an unellected corporate entity - the NFU.

    On top of all this it doesn't actually work. It's about time we stopped blaming wildlife for problems we've created by our industrial farming methods.

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  10. Vaccinating cattle seems to be the desirable way to go. As I understand it, the main objection to this is that TB testing cannot distinguish between a vaccinated animal and one that has the disease which in turn would create problems for the sale and transport of cattle. One potential solution to this might be to microchip the cattle at the time of vaccination with the chip details - including the vaccination details - stored on a national database. It would be very simple to have scanners at cattle markets and they are already present at Ports to control dog travel. There may be some practicalities that I am missing here but surely an approach that is better than the pointless killing of large numbers of badgers?

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  11. We are probably a century into this disease being known as a problem.
    Probably nothing will happen as the will to get rid of it is not in the Government of this country.
    It is a disgrace and other countries have been far better at either getting rid of the disease or at least well on the way to doing so.
    We are one of the worst countries at disease control shown very well by us being by far one of the worst in the present pandemic.
    No one wants this disease getting rid of more than farmers and any mug thinks the majority of farmers make money out of it is a fool.

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