DEFRA assesses the value of the badger

NEARLY THREE quarters of the population of England & Wales agree that “the management of wildlife such as badgers is sometimes necessary,” according to research carried out by Reading University.

The survey asked a random sample of 401 people questions on cattle, badgers and the effect of bovine tuberculosis on both cattle and badger numbers for a DEFRA commissioned report entitled: “The economic value of changes in badger populations”.

Of the 401 people asked 71% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that “the management of wildlife such as badgers is sometimes necessary” while 11% “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed”.

Furthermore, 54% “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that “we should actively manage the badger population” while 21% either “disagreed strongly” or “disagreed”.

And 83% of respondents thought badgers to be an important wildlife species in Britain.

The report will form part of DEFRA’s ongoing efforts to construct a cost-benefit analysis of possible control options designed to tackle bovine TB once the Randomised Badger Culling Trials are complete. 

The final report of the culling trials is due to be presented to DEFRA in the first half of 2006 and is generally expected to form the basis of DEFRA’s future measures to tackle the disease.

The Reading University survey also asked the respondents to apportion a value to changes in badger numbers and the cattle population.

While 92% considered controlling bovine TB in cattle important 38% thought it should be done through management of badger populations while 36% disagreed.

However, adding a further complexity to the badger management scenario, 73% of respondents objected to badgers being intentionally killed, but 87% agreed that controlling badgers is acceptable if it can be done without killing them.

Having gained a perception of people’s readiness to accept changes in wildlife and cattle numbers the authors then assessed their “willingness to pay”.

The willingness to pay varied depending on the region of the country, understandably those respondents in bovine TB hotspot areas were more willing to pay than those in non-affected areas. 

The willingness to pay in hotspot areas was £0.04/household/year to increase the badger population by 100,000 while in non-hotspot areas it was £0.14.

More significant is the willingness to reduce the number of cattle slaughtered due to bovine TB.

Respondents in hotspot areas were willing to pay £2.62/household/year to achieve a reduction in the number of cattle slaughtered by 10,000 cattle a year – a result which the author’s state is statistically highly significant.

In non-hotspot areas the willingness to pay was reduced to £1.65/household/year.

In total, the willingness to pay to achieve a reduction of 10,000 in the number of cattle slaughtered for people in England & Wales is estimated to be £37.5m/year, an average of £3750/animal.

During 2004 DEFRA culled 23,364 cattle were compulsory slaughtered by DEFRA at a cost of £34.4m, an average cost of £1472/animal.

In conclusion the authors considered the value of changes to badger populations to be reasonable given that no alternative control measure exists.

However, they stressed that this value takes no account of society’s preferences regarding badger management policies (whether badgers are culled and the method of culling used) which their research found to be highly important.