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Defra announced the first review the Government’s Strategy for achieving Officially Bovine Tuberculosis Free status for England, in February 2018. The Government also launched two consultations in February: the first on extending the number of new badger culls being licenced by Natural England every year; the second on allowing some culling in in the Low Risk Area for bTB. Both consultations close on 15 April 2018.

This is a devolved area. Details of policy in devolved administrations can be found in the Library Briefing Paper CBP-8188

England bTB Strategy

The Government Strategy set out the rationale for action to address the problem of bovine TB (bTB), and the range of measures intended to eradicate it by 2038. The Government’s policy is that badger culling should play a role in the control of bTB. This was disputed by some experts, and the effectiveness of badger culling as a means of controlling bTB remains contentious. Control of bTB, including badger culling as a bTB policy measure, is devolved. In England, the Government has implemented a badger culling policy since 2011, firstly by conducting pilots and then as a part of the eradication strategy.

There are an estimated 485,000 badgers in England and Wales based on data collected between 2011 and 2014. The Wildlife Trusts estimate that 50,000 badgers a year are killed on roads in the UK.

Badger Pilots 2013-14

Badger culling pilots ran for two years in the autumn of 2013 and 2014, with culls taking place in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset. Farmers in each area were licensed to control badgers by shooting, or trapping and shooting, with a target cull of 70% of the estimated badger population. The aim of these was to determine whether shooting was a humane and effective method of culling badgers. The exact location of these and all subsequent areas has not been made public, because of concerns about protests from those opposed to badger culls.

Badger Culls 2015-2017

Following the conclusion of the pilot culls, the Government commenced a limited rollout of the cull in 2015. A new area in Dorset was added and the culls continued their third year in the areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

In 2016, the Government announced a wider rollout of the badger cull and made changes to the licence conditions. Seven new culling areas were permitted in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.In December 2016, Defra published a consultation on a proposal to license a supplementary form of badger control “after a cull has been successfully completed over at least four years”. Following the consultation, the Government announced that supplementary culling licenses would be granted for the pilot areas for a further five years.

In September 2017, the Government announced that culling licenses had been granted for a further 11 areas: one in Cheshire, four in Devon, one in Dorset, two in Somerset and three in Wiltshire, bringing the total to 21 cull areas. The total area of land in England where badger culling was licensed in 2017 was 8,560km2. A total of 19,274 badgers were culled, of which 11638 were shot and 7636 were trapped and then shot.

Monitoring, assessment and costs

An Independent Expert Panel (IEP) was appointed to monitor the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting during the 2013 pilots. This was in addition to ongoing monitoring by Natural England and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

The IEP’s report in April 2014 raised concerns about the humaneness of shooting as a culling method, and concluded that standards needed to be improved if culling was to continue in the pilot areas. The Government announced that the culls would continue, with amendments to improve effectiveness in the proportion of badgers killed and time taken for shot badgers to die. The Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) has also reviewed the culls on a yearly basis, and concluded in 2017 that given the accumulation of evidence from previous years it would not be necessary for the CVO to assess future badger culls.

However, after initially supporting the cull the British Veterinary Association Council reviewed its position after examining data for the first two years in April 2015.Raising concerns about humanness it called for badgers to be trapped and shot only.

Very limited testing of TB in culled badgers has been carried out, but results have not been published. The Government is currently exploring the options for collecting data from culled badgers in the future.

In addition to the number of badgers culled, the Government publishes data on the costs of policing and monitoring the culls. For 2017, Defra’s Badger control value for money analysis set out the estimated costs and benefits. Actual costs are not yet available.

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