Background to the badger cull


The Badger Cull and Context

In 2013 badger culls were conducted in Somerset and Gloucestershire as part of a government-supported pilot programme to reduce the spread of tuberculosis in cattle.

Despite widespread opposition from both scientists and the general public, the badger cull has begun again for its third year.

The culls are highly controversial for a number of reasons, including their questionable effectiveness, cost, impacts on local communities, animal rights concerns and politicised nature.

In December 2011 the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) announced that badger culling, paid for by groups of farmers and landowners, would take place for the purpose of preventing the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). A pilot was to be carried out in two areas: Gloucestershire and Somerset.

Krebs Trials
Badger culling trials with similar aims have previously been conducted in England, most recently the 1998-2007 Randomised Badger Culling Trial. These are also known as the ‘Krebs trials’, named after the author of a report which recommended them.

According to Defra, “Results [of the Krebs trials] showed positive and negative changes in the incidence of bovine TB in cattle as a result of badger culling”.

Professor Krebs is quoted as saying:
I can’t understand how anybody who’s looked at the science would say this is a good idea.

NatEng_logo_RGBNatural England, an executive non-departmental public body responsible to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, issued badger cull licences for Gloucestershire and Somerset in September and October 2012.

In February 2013 Natural England issued authorisation letters for the two pilot areas, and stated that an area in Dorset was also to be prepared as a contingency plan in the event that one of the other planned pilot culls did not take place.

Culls in the two zones were initially intended to last for six weeks, but they were both extended by three weeks as a result of not enough badgers having been killed.

Plans to roll out the badger cull to ten other areas of England in 2014 were abandoned after the government’s Independent Expert Panel’s 2014 report concluded that the 2013 trial culls were both ineffective and inhumane.

However, the two culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset were repeated in 2014.


Cull politics

The current cull strategy is supposedly a farmer and land owner led movement, but Defra and the National Farmers Union (NFU) have been heavily involved in forming policy surrounding the cull, promoting the cull and monitoring the cull on the ground.

The NFU, which has reportedly used a range of bullying tactics to persuade farmers to sign up to the cull, has not balloted its members as to whether they support the idea of a cull or not.

Inappropriate collaboration between the police and the NFU, and individuals participating in the cull, has been reported in the media and remarked upon but anti-cull activists. A legal challenge to the police’s behaviour resulted in the emergence of a report that showed that the NFU had been present in the police control room in the Somerset cull zone and had some role in directing the police’s operations.

In addition, badger shooters within the zones have reportedly been favoured by police over badger cull campaigners, with some alleged illegal activity of cullers not investigated.

At least one badger cull protester is taking the police to court for handing his personal details over to the NFU.

Further alarm has been caused by the fact that Defra has refused to disclose information on the cull on the grounds that communications with the NFU constituted “internal communications”. The Information Commissioner ruled against Defra’s refusal.

A director of the Badger Trust remarked that:
The NFU is a lobbying organisation and should be seen and treated as such.”


Implementing the cull

Companies were established specifically for managing the badger culls.

They are made up of farmers and landowner ‘members’ who financially contribute to the costs of running a badger cull in specified areas over a four year period. Who these members are is not publicly known, but the name of the cull companies and their directors are.

One cull company is likely to be established for every cull zone if the cull is rolled out beyond the pilot zones.

The cull companies are companies limited by guarantee with a small board of around eight people who make all the key decisions. [The company] applies for a licence, issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and organises everything from hiring contractors to the removal of badger carcases.

Farmers pay upfront fees to the company to become members for the four-year duration of the cull.

To apply for a licence from Natural England, the cull company must meet certain criteria.
Requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • Applications must cover an area of at least 150km squared;
  • At least 70% of the proposed land area must be accessible for culling;
  • Inaccessible land within the proposed cull zone should be minimised, with at least
  • 90% of land within the cull area being accessible or within 200m of accessible land;
  • Farmers must financially commit to the cull for a four year period and must conduct an effective cull every year for a four year period.

Defra has produced guidance for Natural England on license requirements (PDF).

To be eligible for a licence to cull badgers, contractors, which are hired by the cull companies, must have a firearms or shotgun certificate and must attend a training course on all aspects of the badger cull process, from badger ecology and anatomy to a test of their shooting ability. Shooting takes place at night using lamps or night vision technology.

Shooting areas are baited and badgers, which come out to feed, are shot from a distance of around 70 metres. All activities of marksmen are supposedly recorded on a database set up by the cull company.


Inside the Cull Zones

In order to effectively oppose the cull it is necessary to understand the organisations, individuals, motivations and politics driving the cull and those inside the cull zones.

As part of this project, Ethical Consumer sought to discover what detail was available on the two pilot zones in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

Read our ‘inside the cull zones‘ report here.



Funding the cull

Stop the Cull have been active in resisting the badger cull and have published a substantial amount of related information on their website.

This states that cull company members:

pay an upfront fee based on 50p/hectare (20p/acre) plus £5/head of cattle. Members also pay a 25% contingency fee on top, which is returned if not required. If still not enough, members are asked to contribute any additional funding in proportion with their initial contribution. Anyone who drops out will have to pay their fee again as a leaving fee“.

This money pays for the costs of the badger cull over a four year period.

Care for the Wild have estimated that the two pilot culls cost £7 million, equivalent to more than £4,000 per badger killed. The total figure was broken down as ‘government costs’ of £3.2m, farmers’ costs of £1.49m and policing costs of £2.6m.

In terms of government funding, Defra “was responsible for purchasing cages, but is withholding the costs of the cages under regulation 12(5)(e) protection of economic interests… All other items were purchased by the NFU or the cull companies.”

Labour costs are reportedly covered by the cull companies and the NFU. The amount the NFU contributes is unknown.

In terms of rewarding shooters, Jay Tiernan from Stop the Cull said:
Initially shooters were said to be paid £10 per badger killed, then we heard £20 per badger, but we think that teams were employed eventually and possibly paid for by the NFU, no idea how much they were paid when that happened.


Monitoring the cull

In 2013 the trial badger culls in West Gloucestershire and Somerset were monitored by an independent expert panel, set up by the government for the purpose of ‘overseeing the design and analysis of the data collection on the humaneness, effectiveness (in terms of badger removal) and safety of the two badger culling pilots’.

The panel concluded that the 2013 culls were not effective in achieving the target of removing at least 70% of the pre-cull badger population. The report also raised questions about the humaneness of the cull.

Despite the independent panel’s conclusions, the cull went ahead in 2014 within the same trial zones, but without an independent evaluator.



Disrupting the 2013 cull

A broad coalition of organisations came together to resist the cull, with a number of tactics deployed.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), joined by individuals prepared to take direct action, actively disrupted the shooting at night.

The cull zones were divided into different areas for which different groups of saboteurs assumed responsibility for disrupting the cull. Extensive set surveying was conducted in the areas prior to the cull. The tactics deployed by the HSA had been developed during the Krebs trials, which were also disrupted by direct action activists.

People went out at night in vehicles, went into fields and used tactics to stop the shooting. These included standing between the shooters and the badgers and creating a disturbance to scare the badgers away. The marksmen were supposed to stop shooting if members of the general public were in the area. The cull disruptors report that this did not happen.

It became evident that the cull was not achieving what it was intended to achieve. Some cull supporters pulled out a couple of weeks in.

As a means of trying to meet the badger cull targets, the activities of the marksmen changed. Cull disruptors claim that they became more desperate. For example, they went out alone when they were supposed to be in groups.

Interviewees also claim that the marksmen were lying to police about the activities of cull disrupters in an attempt to have them stopped and searched. For example, making claims that people had equipment such as bolt croppers with them when they did not.

Police were regularly stopping vehicles, particularly in the Somerset cull zone. Damage was done to the cull disruptors’ vehicles. Fireworks are reported to have been fired under cull disruptors’ vehicles by those involved in the cull.

An injunction was taken out against the cull disruptors which was difficult not to break but but also very difficult to enforce.

Towards the end of the cull there was an increase in caged trapping, whereby badgers would be caught and then shot, compared with open shooting. This was a deviation in the aims of the pilot, which was supposed to measure the effectiveness and humaneness of open shooting. It was also more expensive than open shooting and made disrupting the cull easier. Traps could be immobilised during the day.

The cull disruptors had a substantial amount of local support. Local people that were not prepared to conduct direct action at night gathered information during the day. The cull
disruptors were sometimes bought food by local people.

There was one badger set in Somerset that was one of the oldest in Britain, with a few hundred badgers in it. The cull disruptors were effective in ensuring that this set was protected during the cull. However, after the cull had finished this set was attacked and the badgers killed illegally.


Impact of the cull on local communities

The culls created problems for the people that lived in the areas, who experienced pressure as a result of the constant police presence and the fact that marksmen, police and anti-cull activists were driving about at night, sometimes erratically. This was noisy and disruptive.

In addition, tensions were created between neighbours that felt differently about the cull.

According to a report compiled by an anti-cull protester:
hosting a badger cull divides rural communities down the middle. It pits neighbour against neighbour, farmer against farmer, farmer against villagers and farmers against the NFU… Farmers who oppose the badger cull get very little hearing. It hits the local economy very hard indeed, particularly the tourist industries that many rural communities, including farmers, rely on.

The report provides details of people living in a cull zone area who were trapped in their houses as shooting took place in the near vicinity at night. Coupled with the sound of wounded badgers in distress, this kept them awake for many successive nights. In addition, they faced disruption as a result of roads being closed off.


Alternatives to the cull

A full analysis of potential alternative ways of eradicating bovine TB from cattle is beyond the scope of this report. The current focus of a number of campaigning organisations is a
badger vaccination programme.

Below a couple of other seemingly significant issues are raised to illustrate the necessity of challenging the existing justifications for a badger cull.

After previous badger cull trials, in 2007 the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) concluded thatscientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone.”

Steve Jones, a farmer from Gloucestershire, has claimed that low milk prices paid to farmers by supermarkets prevents them from carrying out and investing in bio-security measures such as cleaning out feeding troughs after the winter. In 2012 he called for an increase in the price of milk received by farmer from 31p per litre to at least 35p.

Slurry has also been cited as a vector for bovine TB, and inadequate management and storage of slurry may result in the disease spreading.

According to a report published by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland,

Slurry containing viable M. bovis [bovine TB] may theoretically contaminate pasture, soil and silage and result in respiratory/oral transmission and infection of grazing cattle (and local wildlife) for a considerable length of time after the application of slurry depending on the conditions… Studies indicate that inadequate storage of slurry is associated with an increased risk of TB transmission.

The same report states that “Chemical disinfection of cattle slurry from TB reactor herds may enable rapid inactivation of M. bovis in cattle slurry.”



Syndicate farms and land owners

At present an official or ‘full list’ of syndicate farms and landowners (farmers and landowners who allowed shooters onto their land), is not known.

Freedom of Information requests sent to Defra asking for information on those involved with the cull have been declined on the grounds that information regarding farms and dairies involved in pilot badger trials was not held by Defra, but “held by a third party” which was not subject to Environmental Information Regulations.


Cull companies

The ‘third party’ referred to by Defra (above) is likely to be the private cull companies ‘Gloscon Ltd’ for the Gloucestershire cull, ‘HNV Associates Ltd’ for the Somerset area and ‘Fru Serve’ for the North Dorset ‘backup’ cull area.

Information about all three companies can be found on the Companies House website, including their annual accounts and information on their directors.

All three companies have their offices registered at the NFU’s headquarters.

Cull companies are issued licenses by Natural England to organise and implement the badger cull. The companies are composed of farmer and landowner groups, classed as ‘members’, who financially contribute to the cull in addition to allowing shooters onto their land.

The percentage of members that are farmers, or more specifically, beef or dairy farmers, is currently unknown. An article in the Western Gazette referenced a Freedom of Information request which claimed that ’43 per cent of the land involved in Gloucestershire was on cattle or dairy farms [and that] In West Somerset, only 60 per cent of the participating farms have cattle’.

Efforts to identify cull company ‘members’ have been made by a range of organisations and activist groups, with ‘Stop the Cull’ being most notable due to information being published on their website, and numerous campaign groups referencing their work as the key source of information for the current cull zones.