Badgers have been roundly blamed by farmers for spreading bovine tuberculosis. The agriculture industry has been putting the government under pressure to act for some time. In attempt to control the disease – much to the dismay of celebrities such as Brian May and David Attenborough, along with many members of the public – the Coalition decided to trial a badger cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset. But what was the outcome this endeavour?
In short, it has been something of a failure. Significantly fewer badgers have bitten the dust than required and there has consequently been a minimal effect on the spread of TB. A study has shown that 50% or fewer badgers were killed than the target figure, a total of 1771 individuals. But then, the rather comical notion that marksmen with night vision goggles stalking the shires are an effective way to deal the badger population is frankly worrying.
There have also been issues regarding the humaneness of the pilot cull, with up to 18% of badgers taking over five minutes to die. Overall, the cull is estimated to have cost £7.29m – that’s over £4,000 per badger.
So is the humble badger simply a scapegoat in this? Attenborough has criticised the government for ignoring the findings of this trial; he says that by simply extending it they are choosing to overlook their findings. Has the government only got one vision? Another criticism is that by culling, the TB spread could actually worsen: the badgers may simply break free and spread over a wider area.
The real answer lies in whether the trial method itself was unsuccessful or whether the underlying aim is flawed – whether a cull would ever have prevented the spread anyway. Given the way things have turned out, success would have been little short of a kind of magic. It is clear that if culls really are the solution to the bovine TB epidemic, this was definitely not the way to do it. For now, especially with the Somerset floods, it’s a hard life for the badgers. Should the show go on?