Skip to main content

A badger cull is needless slaughter

 “Badger hates Society, and invitations, and dinner, and all that sort of thing.” ― Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows. 

News that the badger cull in the United Kingdom could be extended this year is disturbing.  Farmers are convinced that badgers transmit TB to cattle and the UK government have sanctioned culling to appease that concern.  Last year, about 35,000 badgers were killed but the Badger Trust said a leaked document showed plans to cull up to about 64,500 this year.   If this is so, then it seems odd given that a vaccine would be the better strategy.  

Yet, the best way of dealing with TB spread in cattle is through a vaccine.  Evidence that culling works in preventing the spread of TB is scant, while data suggests that culling increases the spread of badgers, as they increase their home range.  Thus, culling is likely to enhance rather than reduce the risk of TB spread to cattle.  

Badgers are like we humans.  They are not always socially agreeable.   Badgers tend to strut their own stuff when it comes to foraging for food.   But don't let that fool you.  Badgers are very much social creatures.  They are communicating all the time,  silently with their scent or with their grunts and coos and kackles.   They leave their scent everywhere, but it is not accidental.  It tightens the bond of their social group, their clan.  They also communicate through sounds and body language.  Their vocal repertoire is quite complex, with at least sixteen distinct sounds, from a purr, wail, chitter, right through to a grunt.  What each means would be contextual. Snorts, for example, are used when they are startled or surprised and are most commonly elicited when one badger is surprised by another.  "Don't creep up on me like that, you startled me!"

Badger image Vincent van Zalinge

Much of this communication, particularly through the sense of smell lies behind the spread of a clan as a result of the culling.  A study published last year found that home range could increase by as much 61 per cent as a result of the cull.  Culling is a blunt instrument that is unlikely to achieve its objective other than to appease farmers who are convinced that their problem lies with the badgers, rather than husbandry. 

As Lord John Krebs, emeritus professor at the University of Oxford, commented last year: “This research shows how important it is to find out about badger behaviour. It shows that culling badgers can cause surviving individuals in an area to move around more, and as a result, they could come into contact with infected cattle and help to spread TB. The ill-thought-out plan to control TB by killing badgers could therefore backfire.”

Dr Ray Noble is a Chartered Biologist and Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, writing extensively on agency in living systems.  He is also a novelist.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services. It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared. Utilitarian ethics considers the ba

Mr Duncan-Smith offers a disingenuous and divisive comparison

Some time ago, actually it was a long time ago when I was in my early teens, someone close to me bought a table. It was an early flat pack variety. It came with a top and four legs. He followed the instructions to the letter screwing the legs into the top. But when he had completed it the table wobbled. One leg he explained was shorter than the other three; so he sawed a bit from each of the other legs. The table wobbled. One leg, he explained, was longer than the other three. So, he sawed a bit off. The table wobbled. He went on cutting the legs, but the table continued to wobble. Cut, cut, cut! By this time he had convinced himself there was no alternative to it.  He ended up with a very low table indeed, supported by four very stumpy legs and a bit of cardboard placed under one of them to stop it wobbling on the uneven floor.  Mr Duncan-Smith argues that we need a 1% cap on benefits to be 'fair to average earners'. Average  earners have seen their incomes rise by less tha

His way or none? Why I can't vote for Jeremy

There is an assumption that all would be well with the Labour Party if people hadn't expressed their genuine concern with what they consider the inadequacies of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership. If only, it is said, the Parliamentary Labour Party and his Shadow Cabinet had supported him, instead of undermining him, all would have been fine. If they had been quiet and towed the line, then the party would not have been in the mess it is in. So, should they have stayed silent, or speak of their concerns? There comes a point when the cost of staying silent outweighs the cost of speaking out. This is a judgment. Many call it a coup by the PLP. They paint a picture of a right-wing PLP out of touch with the membership.  This is the narrative of the Corbyn camp. But Jeremy Corbyn, over the decades he has been in politics, showed the way.  It was Jeremy Corbyn who opposed almost all Labour leaders and rarely held back from speaking out, or voting time and again against the party line. As