TB in Cattle Factsheets (PB5118)

TB in Cattle - Badger Culling Trials

The field trial

The Krebs review of bovine TB in cattle and badgers found compelling evidence that badgers are a significant source of infection for cattle, but the relative contribution that badgers and other wildlife make to the disease in cattle is not known. The badger culling trial was designed and is overseen by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB. The trial is based on the Krebs review recommendation and is part of the Government’s research programme. The trial will address many questions including:

  • What contribution do badgers and other wildlife make to TB in cattle?
  • Is the culling of badgers an effective way of controlling TB in cattle?
  • What factors maintain the disease in wildlife and how does TB in wildlife relate to TB in cattle?

The trial aims to give a better understanding of the nature of TB in cattle and badgers. Information gathered will be used to develop a long term policy based on sound science to control TB in cattle. We ask farmers and landowners to enter the trial but participation is purely on a voluntary basis.

How the trial will work

The trial compares three different control methods in 30 areas of around 100km2 where recently the incidence of TB in cattle has been relatively high. The areas will be grouped into 10 sets of ‘triplets’ each part of which is allocated a different treatment.

The three treatments

  1. 'Proactive' culling where as many badgers as possible from the whole area are trapped and killed humanely and the area is kept as clear as possible for the rest of the trial.
  2. ‘Reactive’ culling where badgers are only trapped and killed from social groups associated with farms where TB in cattle is confirmed.
  3. ‘Survey only’ where no badgers are trapped or killed but the land is surveyed to record badger activity.

The triplets

The first eight triplets have been identified in the following areas:

  • Gloucester/ Herefordshire
  • Devon/Cornwall
  • East Cornwall
  • East Herefordshire
  • North Wiltshire
  • West Cornwall
  • Staffordshire/Derbyshire
  • Somerset/Devon

The remaining two triplets have not been identified yet.

Badger welfare

The trial takes account of badger welfare. Trapping and shooting will be done by specially trained staff from our Wildlife Unit. Snaring and gassing will not be used. No culling will take place from 1 February to 30 April inclusive to reduce the risk of capturing sows which have dependent cubs that are still underground.

Badger numbers

There is no universally accepted way of measuring badger populations. The best estimates suggest that in 1997 there were around 310,000 badgers in Great Britain. The trial will not significantly affect the badger population. The Krebs’ review suggested that 12,500 badgers would be killed in the trial areas, but experience with the trial so far suggests this may be an overestimate. The actual numbers will not be known until the trial is complete.

Culling outside the trial areas

There is no badger culling outside the trial areas. Badgers are not an endangered species but are protected by law, and illegal culling of badgers may lead to prosecution.

Trial results

The Government is committed to making information about the trial widely available. The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) will need time to assess the results. Information will be released as soon as possible but we need to make sure that early release does not affect the outcome of the trial. Depending on the strength of the association between cattle and badgers, the ISG expect the trial to start providing reliable results by 2004, earlier if the association is very strong.

TB Factsheet 6
© Crown copyright June 2000 . PB5118F . For further copies please call DEFRA Publications on 0845 955 6000 . http://www.defra.gov.uk
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