The government’s chief scientist has advised ministers that a badger cull would reduce the spread of the bovine tuberculosis in heavily affected areas.
Sir David King, the chief scientist, in effect paves the way for a government-approved cull of badgers in the worst affected areas such as the South West and south-west central England and South Wales.
But he advises that any cull must be accompanied by a series of tough cattle controls for it to be successful.
Sir David’s report is largely based on the Independent Scientific Group on cattle TB’s final report on the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, published in June, and other associated studies.
Interestingly, however, Sir David did not consider the Four Area Trial conducted in the Republic of Ireland.
His report appears to contradict the ISG’s conclusions that a badger cull would only serve to make the situation worse by increasing the distances roamed by the remaining badgers.
But, in contrast, Sir David concluded that culling would be beneficial in areas surrounded by hard physical boundaries, such as coastline and motorways.
Sir David King’s conclusions
• Badgers are a clear source of infection for cattle. Reducing the density of badgers in those areas of England where there is a significant level of TB in cattle reduces the incidence of TB in cattle in the same area;
• Removal of badgers should take place alongside the continued application of controls on cattle. Genuine commitment by all interested parties to the overall TB strategy is needed if TB is to be successfully controlled;
• Removal of badgers is the best option available at the moment to reduce the reservoir of infection in wildlife. But in the longer term, alternative or additional means of controlling TB in badgers, such as vaccination, may become available. Research into these should continue;
• Removal of badgers should only take place in those areas of the country where there is a high and persistent incidence of TB in cattle. It is not an appropriate measure in other areas;
• The minimum overall area within which badger removal should take place is 100 km2, although increasing the area would increase the overall benefit;
• Where there is inaccessible land within the overall removal area, badgers should be removed on the accessible land bordering it;
The full report, including an expanded list of conclusions, can be viewed at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills website.