Badgers, cattle... and scapegoats? Why UK wildlife could remain in the firing line – despite new cull review

Almost 40,000 badgers were shot in 2020 as part of the government’s strategy to reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis. But amidst conflicting science and polarised opinion, many fear a new public consultation into the method far from signals its end.

Published 8 Feb 2021, 15:28 GMT, Updated 10 Feb 2021, 10:23 GMT
A group of badgers piques the interest of a group of cows in a field in ...

A group of badgers piques the interest of a group of cows in a field in Somerset. Supporters of the licensed cull of badgers claim the spread of bovine TB is down to badgers being a reservoir of the disease; detractors claim the science suggesting this is flawed. Nevertheless, the cull of the protected species is continuing. 

Photograph by Natural Visions / Alamy

“Together, we can restore our fragile home and make it a happy new year for all the inhabitants of planet Earth.”

In a year where the world was thrown into chaos by a deadly zoonotic disease, it was perhaps appropriate for 2020’s final word to go to Sir David Attenborough. As a surprise light display illuminated London’s landmarks on December 31st, reflecting on events from the tumultuous year, his message of healing and hope was beamed around the globe.

Attenborough was given an equally international platform last September at a United Nations event, in a film introduced by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Having signed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, committing to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030, the Prime Minister addressed the Leaders for Nature and People Event, channelling Attenborough and promising to, “put the issue of biodiversity and reversing the loss of species and habitat at the very heart of our ambitions for humanity and this planet.”

Yet while the Prime Minister was warning against upsetting the delicate balance of nature and pledging to take immediate action on biodiversity loss, licensed shooters were carrying out his government’s plan to cull up to 65,000 badgers: a native species, legally protected under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

In a major U-turn – largely eclipsed by blanket coverage of COVID-19 and Brexit – an extensive badger-culling programme had once more became the linchpin of the UK government’s strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a chronic respiratory disease of cattle, by 2038.

(Read: ‘Conservation is not enough.’ Why the UK needs to double its space for nature.)

“The extent of this cull means we are looking at local extinctions of badgers and the complete destabilisation of ecosystems,” says naturalist and TV presenter, Chris Packham. “Badgers have been around since the Ice Age, and are part of a complex community of animals.” 

Packham believes “the cull is morally, ethically, scientifically and economically wrong – and goes against all we know about ecology, good conservation and how we manage natural areas."

A badger killed by the cull. 

Photograph by Secret World / The Wildlife trusts

In March 2020, the UK government responded to an independent bTB strategy review, led by Professor Sir Charles Godfray, by stating it would, “begin an exit strategy from the intensive culling of badgers,” and move towards improved bTB testing, tighter biosecurity on farms, tougher restrictions on cattle movement, and widespread vaccination of cattle and badgers.

Yet just two months later in May, seven new licences to cull badgers were granted by Natural England – the government's adviser for the natural environment – for areas of Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. In addition, 11 new licences were granted in September for parts of Avon, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Lincolnshire.

On January 27th 2021, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, George Eustice, announced plans for a public consultation on the government’s strategy for controlling bTB, saying:

“Badger culling is one of the most contentious and divisive policies within our bTB eradication strategy. Our current policy enables four-year intensive cull licences in defined areas with scope for a further five years of supplementary culling. The consultation sets out proposals for Natural England to stop issuing the current intensive cull licences for new areas post 2022 and enable new licences issued to be cut short if the Chief Veterinary Officer considers this acceptable. Furthermore, I am proposing to restrict any new supplementary cull licences to two years and cease re-issuing such licences in any areas in which supplementary culling has previously been licensed.”

While the media heralded the announcement as effectively signalling the end of the badger cull, conservationists and wildlife organisations remain wary of a government which, as recently as last March, pledged to phase out culling, before then issuing new shooting licenses. They also note that the ostensibly positive news of the government consultation plans were announced on the same day as the culling figures for 2020, which revealed that 38,642 badgers had been shot last year. 

"This is more disgraceful governmental deception,” says veterinary surgeon Dr. Iain McGill, who spearheaded the investigation into the BSE crisis in the 1990s. “They are hinting for the second year that they are phasing out culling... [but] the reality is that culling will expand massively in the next two years, as pro-cull landowners rush to apply for their licenses. They’ll be granted four-year licenses to cull, and can apply to cull for two more supplementary years after that. Thousands of badgers will continue to be targeted until at least 2028, and under “exceptional circumstances” thereafter. Sadly, this is most definitely not the end.”

Vaccination, not eradication

“We thought our badgers were safe,” says Gary Cragg, the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) Project Manager for the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust. Gary and his team of volunteers from The Wildlife Trusts have been vaccinating badgers in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire with an injectable BCG-based vaccine since 2015. These vaccinated badgers could now be culled under the Leicestershire licence.

In addition, 50% of the BEVS programme was paid for by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) – the publicly funded sponsor of Natural England – and the contract has another two years to run.

A badger in a humane trap for TB vaccination.  

Photograph by Debbie Parker / The Wildlife Trusts

A badger is vaccinated against TB. Local conservation groups have been vaccinating badgers since 2015 with a jab derived from the BCG vaccine; but some of these vaccinated badgers could be culled under licenses awarded by the government.  

Photograph by The Wildlife Trusts

“We weren’t consulted directly, but we heard that a shooting licence application had been made,” says Cragg. “Sadly, around half of the landowners who had been part of the vaccination programme supported the application. But despite one bTB breakdown in cattle recorded in June, there has been no direct evidence of infection in badgers within the BEVS project area to date.”

Each licence application requires a number of backers – the culls are managed and funded locally by farmers and landowners, with monitoring costs borne by the government. Cragg read in a local newspaper that the application had been successful. The day the licence was granted, shooters were out targeting vaccinated badgers. “It’s shocking and devastating for all of us,” says Cragg. “And a tragedy for the badgers.”

An infectious respiratory disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacteriumbovis (M. bovis), bTB mainly affects cattle, along with other animals including sheep, pigs, goats, deer, foxes, rabbits, moles, cats and dogs. While infection can be passed from cattle to cattle, badgers have been identified in three reports – Zuckerman (1986), Dunnet (1980) and Krebs (1997) – as being a potential reservoir for the disease. 

(Related: Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, why bats need our backup, not blame.)

Losing cattle “incredibly tough”

“Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that the UK faces today, causing considerable trauma for farmers and costing taxpayers over £100 million every year,” Defra’s spokesperson told National Geographic. Symptoms such as weight loss, fever, swollen lymph nodes, chronic mastitis, a cough and lesions develop in the advanced stages of the disease – but new infections are hard to spot. An average 30,000 cattle are testing positive and being slaughtered each year, with the government paying compensation to farmers for lost revenue.

BTB became a problem in Victorian England after the boom of industrialisation. The bTB bacteria passed from cattle to humans through raw milk, causing tuberculosis – which killed thousands of people before the milk pasteurisation process was introduced in 1922. This caused infection rates to fall, with the human BCG vaccine then introduced in the UK in 1953. However, globally in 2019, 10 million people still became infected and 1.4 million people died from TB.

“If there was a better way to control this disease, or evidence that vaccination really worked, then farmers would jump at it – but that evidence isn’t there yet.”

David Barton

By the 1930s, up to 40% of UK cattle were infected with bTB, but the introduction of movement restrictions and testing in 1947 brought the disease under control. It wasn’t until 1971 that a badger infected with bTB was discovered and the first badger culls began, with the animals’ setts gassed with hydrogen cyanide. In the early 1980s the disease was again brought under control, but as cattle movement increased, bTB testing schemes were relaxed and herd sizes grew. And again, cases again began to rise. Then in 2001, cattle which hadn’t been tested for bTB were moved around the country to replace some of the 6.5 million animals slaughtered after a devastating outbreak of foot and mouth disease, cases soared.

While Scotland has been officially bTB-free since 2009, the disease is still markedly affecting cattle herds in parts of Wales and the southwest of England. England is now divided into Low, Intermediate and High Risk Areas, with buffer zones known as Edge Areas, and has the highest incidence of bTB in Europe.

“Bovine TB has affected us as a family, a farm and a business since our cattle tested positive for the disease in 2001,” says David Barton, who runs a 200-strong herd on his farm in Gloucestershire, one of the country’s bTB High Risk Areas. Since then, 160 of his animals have been sent for compulsory slaughter, and while insurance and government compensation help with the financial loss, the stress suffered by farmers with infected herds is something that cannot be quantified.

“Losing so many animals has been incredibly tough,” Barton told National Geographic. “BTB is a very difficult disease to control, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where each case originates from, so I can’t say 100% that our breakdown came from badgers. But I do know that lots of measures have been introduced in the past and nothing has made a significant difference in reducing bTB until the government addressed infection in wildlife, as well as in cattle.”

Barton explains that “culling is definitely not an easy option,” adding: “It’s highly regulated and takes lots of organisation. If there was a better way to control this disease, or evidence that vaccination really worked, then farmers would jump at it – but that evidence isn’t there yet. The cull has been unpopular, but necessary.”

A badger emerging from its sett on sheep grazing land. Farmers with badger setts on their land point to scat, sputum and urination as being potential ways bTB is passed between species on ground frequented by both badgers and livestock. 

Photograph by BIOSPHOTO / Alamy

Government pressure

Yet according to many of the UK’s most respected conservationists and scientists, the evidence used to demonstrate the effectiveness of culling – drawn from many tax-payer financed government studies – is flawed, contradictory and non-conclusive. A public consultation may be about to take place, but many concluded long ago that badger culling should not be part of the strategy to eradicate bTB. 

Veterinary surgeon Dr. Iain McGill, along with Dr. Mark Jones, Head of Policy at Born Free Foundation, and 21 high-profile signatories sent an open letter to the Prime Minister in September 2020, urging him to rethink the expansion of the badger cull. Failure to revoke the cull, the letter stated, would render him “the Prime Minister who presided over the greatest slaughter of a protected animal in living memory.”

In the letter, big-hitting conservationists including Dr. Jane Goodall D.B.E., Chris Packham C.B.E., Will Travers O.B.E.Virginia McKenna O.B.E. and Dr. Ian Redmond O.B.E.; Green MP Caroline Lucas; Professor Ranald Munro, Chairman of the Independent Expert Panel on the Pilot Badger Culls; and the country’s former Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, Alick Simmons, disputed data released by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), which indicated that culling had led to reductions in bTB infections. The letter also highlighted a series of failings including the lack of, “published epidemiological evidence” to prove that badgers are a source of bTB infection, the inadequacies of current bTB testing methods in cattle, and ineffective biosecurity measures on farms.

“Before a badger cull was rolled out nationally, Natural England authorised three pilot cull zones in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2013 and Dorset in 2015,” Dr. McGill told National Geographic. Many senior scientists opposed the move, including University of Oxford zoologist Lord John Krebs, who had led an independent scientific review into bTB in the 1990s, and who designed one of the world’s most extensive badger studies, the 10-year Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT).

Published in 2007, the ensuing RBCT report by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) concluded: “Badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Indeed, some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse, rather than better.” Known as a ‘perturbation effect’, the report warned that culling disrupted badgers’ territorial systems encouraged them to range more widely and enter culled areas – and therefore increasing and spreading any potential infection that may be present.

A badger-specific bovine tuberculosis vaccination kit including two-part vaccine components, photographed in Cheshire in 2012.

Photograph by Nature Picture Library / Alamy

Quoted in The Guardian in 2012 as calling the proposed pilot strategy ‘mindless’, Lord Krebs reiterated that: “The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case.”

The Chair of Natural England’s Scientific Advisory Committee, Professor David Macdonald, was co-author of a report that also dismissed the pilot culls as an ‘epic failure’ in 2014, while Sir David Attenborough condemned them with a question in The Guardian: "Why spend a lot of time and money doing careful scientific studies and then simply ignore the results? There's good scientific research available to show that culling badgers can make things worse, not better."

Badgers as scapegoats?

According to a report published in the journal for the British Veterinary Association by Dr. Iain McGill and Dr. Mark Jones, the cherry-picking continued when the analysis of the pilot badger culls was published in APHA’s 2019 Downs study.

“The Downs paper published by APHA scientists states that between 2013-2017, bTB infections in cattle in the pilot cull zones went down in Gloucestershire and Somerset and remained the same in Dorset, when compared to control areas,” says Dr. McGill. “But they carefully selected the control areas and the authors admit that there may have been subjective bias in the study. Looking in detail at APHA’s own monitoring report for 2013-2018, which includes one further year of data, we can see that there were actually bTB increases in Gloucestershire and Dorset, while in Somerset infections stayed around the same.”

Further to this, says Dr. McGill, a freedom of information request showed that herd incidents of bTB went up 130% in one Gloucestershire pilot zone during 2018, eliminating any perceived benefits of the trial culls, but no APHA research paper including that data has been published.

Dr. Brian May, Queen guitarist and co-founder of the wildlife charity Save Me Trust, told National Geographic: “Badgers are not the problem and culling is not helping farmers. The reservoir of bTB in herds is the issue, and until we find an accurate test for bTB and contain infections in cattle, the disease will continue to spread and we will never get on top of it.”

Conservation groups see the long-awaited Badgers Found Dead Study (BFDS), commissioned by DEFRA in 2016 and released in November 2020, as evidence that bTB infection in cattle, not badgers, is where government focus should lie. The study by the University of Nottingham and University of Surrey examined badger carcasses found in Edge Areas (buffer zones) of England.

Cattle at a Norfolk farm undergoes testing for bovine TB. A range of methods include a combination of skin testing and antibody testing. Both methods are viewed as having limited accuracy – a factor cited by opposers of the cull as the likely cause for the disease remaining out of control, rather than the risk posed by badgers.   

Photograph by RGB Ventures / SuperStock / Alamy

In the northern Edge Counties of Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire 51 out of 610 badger carcasses tested positive for TB infection, while in the southern Edge Counties of Hampshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and East Sussex, just three out of 312 carcasses tested positive.

"The results of the BFDS clearly support the Badger Trust’s view that badgers may not be a reservoir host for bTB at all,” says Jo Bates-Keegan, Chair of the Badger Trust. “These latest results support those of a previous survey, which found less than 5% of culled badgers tested positive for bTB. It seems unlikely that the government’s public consultation marks the end of blame being placed unfairly with badgers on this issue, when the real reservoir resides in cattle. Nor does it signal the end of the badger cull. We are closer to the halfway point with 54 licences, most of which are in their early stages, and more to come. Tragically, we could now be looking at up to 280,000 badgers being culled, with around half of that total killed after the public consultation was announced.”

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, which has been running the country’s largest badger vaccination programme, believes the consultation announcement is confusing and misleading. The Trust’s response to the statement said: “Some people now believe there will be a ban on culling from 2022. In actual fact, they are just recommending that no new cull licences are issued after 2022. This means countless licences can be approved between now and then.” 

CEO of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Dr. Jo Smith, told National Geographic: “The cull must be phased out much more quickly and replaced with vaccination as a matter of urgency.” In 2020 the Trust commissioned an evaluation of the APHA’s report, and found that evidence used to justify the cull is fundamentally flawed. The Trust believes that badgers have been made the scapegoat by a government under pressure to tackle the disease using outdated methods. Dr. Jo Smith added, “We recognise bTB causes heartbreak and hardship for many in the farming community, but only by working together on vaccination and tightening cattle movements will this terrible disease be brought under control.”

According to Defra, “Bovine TB is mainly spread into new herds through the movement of infected cattle that have not been detected.” Despite recommended pre- and post-movement testing of herds to pick up infections, a surge in bTB cases in the Low TB Area of north Wales were linked to cattle movements in 2019. Herds and animals (except for direct overseas export) are tested using the Single Intradermal Comparative Cervical Tuberculin (SICCT) test which averages 50% sensitivity, meaning half of TB-infected cattle can be missed by skin testing. Interferon Gamma testing (a blood test) is used as a supplementary test to the SICCT, which is more sensitive but not as specific, resulting in more ‘false positive’ tests (three to four per 100 disease-free animals tested).

George Eustice says the public consultation will, “explore other options for further accelerating eradication of disease. These include possible further changes and improvements to bTB testing, supporting responsible cattle movements and… reward farmers for ‘best practice’” – effective control measures that conservationists have long been advocating.

“The government has been ignoring the science and mistakenly targeting badgers for years, when it should have been focusing on cattle movements and biosecurity,” says Chris Packham. “There is plenty of evidence that infection is transferred between cattle; the intensification of farming also helps infection to spread rapidly through large herds.”

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Protecting cattle and badgers

With vaccines heralded as the potential ‘silver bullet’ against COVID-19, an effective cattle vaccine could also be a game changer for bTB. Vaccination of cattle against bTB has been banned under EU law, owing to the inability of tests to differentiate between infected and vaccinated cattle. In our post-Brexit world, this is now open to change. 

“The government is committing the funding necessary to accelerate field trials towards the aim of securing marketing authorisations for both a vaccine and a DIVA (Differentiating Infected from Vaccinated Animals) test by 2025,” a Defra spokesperson told National Geographic. “Although a cattle bTB vaccine will not be the single solution to the problem of bTB, it will be a strong additional tool at our disposal,” added George Eustice in his January announcement. Until then, the National Farmers Union (NFU), which represents the farming community in England and Wales – who the Environment Minister noted have “invested heavily in badger culling” – is keen to ensure badger culling remains a consideration.

Responding to the consultation, NFU Deputy President, Stuart Roberts, says: “The government’s 25-year TB eradication strategy has provided some real hope to farmers and it is clearly delivering successful results. The badger cull has played an enormous role in that. A science- and evidence-based approach must continue to drive government’s approach to TB eradication in cattle, and at this critical time we cannot have eight years of progress undermined. Right now, the government should be particularly aware of the consequences of taking its foot off the gas when it comes to controlling a disease.” And while the NFU is heartened by the trials for a fully authorised cattle vaccine, Roberts warns: “If the government wants to phase out one successful measure, it must be 100 percent satisfied that any changes to replace it with an alternative must be proven to be equally effective.”

A badger foraging in Derbyshire. Badgers were first protected in 1973 to outlaw illegal hunting methods, such as baiting and hunting with dogs.  

Photograph by The Wildlife Trusts

Against the current backdrop of the coronavirus, climate crisis and biodiversity loss, many believe now is the time to take a brave, immediate and different course of action, rather than sticking to ‘business as usual’.

“I used to be a cattle farmer with a herd of Hereford cows,” says Karen Hinckley, a landowner who lives in Derbyshire. “I stopped a couple of years ago because of the impact cattle farming is having on the planet, the climate and biodiversity.”

Hinckley is not alone. In January, the first Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC Global) brought together thousands of international farmers to show how small-scale, agro-ecological farming can fix issues including the climate emergency and biodiversity loss.

Switching her cattle for sheep, Hinckley no longer slaughters her animals for meat, but sells their wool for high-end yarns, and organically farms 200 acres using traditional methods.

“The drive to produce cheap meat and milk has come at an enormous cost to farmers, animals and the environment,” says Hinckley. “We’ve lost vast areas of wilderness and we’re destroying native species – we’re facing a real emergency and urgently need to address the way we produce our food. As farmers, we can all adapt, and now is the time to change.”

Chris Packham agrees. “This is a political, socio-economic crisis. The supermarket monopoly has crippled the farming industry. If we had been paying our farmers properly, and discouraging the intensification of cattle farming, then we might not be in this ghastly mess with an inhumane, ineffective and inordinately expensive cull.”

With soils badly degraded by non-sustainable agricultural practices around the world, Hinckley’s pesticide-free pastures are rich and resilient, with wildflowers and a diverse range of birds and animals living on her land, including badgers.

“The cull has reminded me of the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes,” says Hinckley, who chose to opt out of joining the badger culling group in her area, and who has left the NFU due to its support for the cull.

The comparable cost of the cull vs vaccination has been the target of protest, as has the situation of the government paying a percentage towards vaccinating the same badgers green-lit for the government-funded cull.  

Photograph by Jim Wood/Alamy

“It’s a nonsense based on falsehoods. We’re in the middle of a pandemic so we’re familiar with disease transmission in high population densities. We’re all being told not to move to control COVID-19 – but that’s not happening with cattle. And with so many people now in desperate need, it’s a disgrace to be spending so much money – our money – on killing wildlife in such an inhumane way.”

Methods under fire

Regardless of the figures that have been used for its justification, the means of culling is of concern to many. Under the Natural England licences, badgers can be legally trapped and shot at close range, or killed by “free shooting” – which makes clean kills difficult because the animals are nocturnal.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has raised concerns about animal welfare and repeatedly asked Natural England for proof that the culling is happening humanely. Controversially, even without that assurance, the BVA has continued to support the cull – a move which veterinary surgeon, Dr Iain McGill, believes contradicts its duty to make animal health and welfare its top priority. 

“The BVA should be pushing much harder for Natural England to immediately cease granting culling licenses and stop the obvious animal suffering caused by shooting,” he told National Geographic

“There’s a difference between us supporting the principle of badger culling as part of a package of comprehensive measures to help control TB in cattle, and supporting the process as it’s happening at the moment,” the BVA’s President, James Russell, told National Geographic. “We need to control badger numbers to reduce interactions between badgers and cattle and reduce the bTB spread, but as yet [Natural England] hasn’t been able to demonstrate in a way that satisfies us that the free shooting method is as effective and humane as it needs to be. We also want to better understand the impact badger vaccination will have on bTB in cattle – sadly that evidence doesn’t exist at the moment, but given the choice between a lethal and non-lethal choice of control, we would choose non-lethal.”

Campaigner and co-founder of the Save Me Trust Brian May at a protest against the cull outside Parliament in 2015. The Queen guitarist is one of many high-profile conservationists and campaigners calling for the cull to end due to lack of persuasive evidence for it.

Photograph by Jim Wood/Alamy

Responding to the consultation announcement, Russell said: “We welcome progress on new tools and measures such as a viable cattle vaccine. Farmers, vets and the Government have put in enormous effort over the years to control bovine TB, but it’s essential that any next steps are evidence based, before any of the proven tools are phased out.”

Chris Packham’s conservation nonprofit Wild Justice, isn’t prepared to wait. It is calling on the government to “Ban the Shooting of Badgers Immediately” in a petition which last weekend exceeded the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a debate on the issue in Parliament.

“This roughshod, brutal attempt at solving a problem by continuing to kill badgers is indicative of a system of landscape management which is no longer sustainable,” says Packham. “We need to work in harmony with nature, not against it, to ensure our own futures.”

Brian May agrees. “Treating animals decently must start right here at home. We have a moral duty as custodians of the planet to protect all wildlife, when it's our interaction, our needs and our selfishness driving it to the edge of extinction,” he says.

Across countries in Africa, communities are embracing new solutions to resolve conflict between farmers, domestic animals and their wild neighbours – from building lion-proof fences to protect cattle in Tanzania, to training Anatolian shepherd dogs to see off cheetahs that stray near goat herds in Namibia, or using bee hives to keep elephants at bay in Kenya. Chris Packham believes that if the UK prime minister is encouraging developing nations to protect their iconic species by finding non-lethal solutions for wildlife and agricultural conflict, it's time for the government to rule out killing the country's own native wildlife to protect its livestock interests, too. 

“We have European legislation in place – EU nature laws, largely drafted by Stanley Johnson, the prime minister’s father – to protect many of our native species and habitats, but governments have loopholes which allow them to break these laws if deemed necessary,” says Packham.

“This could be for infrastructure development, hunting, or in the case of badgers and bTB, disease... [therefore] in reality the protections mean nothing. As an active conservationist, I feel an intrinsic sense of failure that over 100,000 badgers will be killed in the UK on my watch,” says Packham. “But even more tragic, is the fact that the badger cull will be a stain on our country’s reputation as conservationists and animal lovers for decades and generations to come.”

If the Prime Minister is committed to leading the way on biodiversity, species loss and sustainability – in the year the UK holds the Presidency and hosts the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow – many conservationists believe his government’s approach to the badger cull may require another rethink.

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