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History of badger controls

A number of different measures have been tried to control the TB in cattle by culling badgers. None of these were entirely successful.

The following information concentrates on what has been tried in the past in relation to controlling the reservoir of bovine TB in the GB badger population.

Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT)

The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) was set up as a result of the Krebs report and took place between 1998 and 2007 to investigate how bovine TB spreads between cattle, badgers and other wildlife. It was overseen by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG). Results showed positive and negative changes in the incidence of bovine TB in cattle as a result of badger culling.

Krebs report

Because of a continued increase in TB in cattle, it was clear by 1996 that the interim strategy was not working so the Government asked Professor John Krebs to carry out a further review.

His report recommended that a randomised block experiment be carried out to determine the effectiveness of culling in reducing TB breakdowns in cattle herds.

Interim strategy

This policy was introduced in 1986 and involved the removal and culling of badgers only from farms where a TB incident had been confirmed and where, following investigation, it was thought that badgers were the most likely cause of the disease.

During the operation of the interim strategy, the annual incidence of bovine TB increased in south west England and occurred in other areas with no recent history of infection, including the West Midlands and south Wales.

Meanwhile a trial of a live badger diagnostic test was conducted between 1994 and 1996 but was stopped because of the poor sensitivity of the test and problems with the trial.

Dunnet review

Lord Zuckerman had recommended a further review 3 years after his original review. This was conducted by Professor Dunnet in 1986, who concluded that some form of badger control was unavoidable. He recommended the use of an interim strategy until there was:

  • sufficient data from research and badger removal operations for a further substantive review, and
  • development of a reliable live diagnostic test for bovine TB in badgers.

Clean ring strategy

Lord Zuckerman advised that areas should be cleared of infected badgers and kept clear, so from 1982 to 1985 a ‘clean ring’ strategy applied. Under this strategy, social groups of badgers on and around the breakdown farm were identified, trapped and a sample of carcases from these groups were examined. Where infection was found, all badgers in the social group were removed. The ring extended out until groups with uninfected badgers were found. Trapping took place in the cleared area for a further six months to keep the area clean.

Zuckerman review

Many people were not convinced that badgers spread the disease and felt that gassing was an inhumane way of controlling badgers, so, in 1980, Lord Zuckerman was asked to review the problem. Gassing operations stopped at the start of the review.

Lord Zuckerman concluded that badgers were probably a significant source of bovine TB infection and that the high density and close proximity of cattle and badgers in parts of south west England made spread of the disease easy. Because the disease seemed to have spread since controls stopped at the start of the review, he advised that control measures should start again. As gassing was considered inhumane, cage trapping, followed by shooting, became the method of killing badgers.

Gassing

By 1975 there were concerns about the lack of controls on who could kill badgers, so MAFF decided that only its own staff, or people under its control, would be able to cull badgers to stop the spread of TB. Gassing was the method used. This was permitted under The Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act 1975.

Badgers Act

The Badgers Act 1973 protected badgers from being persecuted but also allowed the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) to issue licences to individuals to kill badgers to prevent the spread of disease.

TB discovered in badgers

In 1971 a dead badger infected with bovine TB was discovered on a farm that had suffered a disease outbreak in its cattle herd, and this seemed to give backing to the theory that badgers are a cause of TB in cattle.

Further information

Page last modified: 17 October 2012