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Badgers are cute? Try telling that to a hedgehog – or a dairy farmer

8 July 2014

Badgers really are having their moment in the spotlight, aren’t they? Ever since the government decided that the bovine TB epidemic was so serious that something drastic had to be done, Mr Brock has been the recipient of a fantastic PR campaign by the animal-rights lobby. Badgers have been painted as sweet, fluffy, bumbling characters – though I’m not sure that most hedgehogs would recognise that description.

As Charles Moore writes in his Notes this week:

‘Badgers, because protected, have grown bolder, so I have had more chance to study them… They are more hairy than fluffy, and their colouring is dirtier than people think. They are ungainly, verminous, and very destructive.’

And as Charles goes on to say:

‘I don’t know where the fluffy, pretty stuff came in: I suppose when people first ceased to know them at first hand. Of course, one must not criticise badgers for their habits: they are, by nature, what they are. But honesty about the natural world is needed, and hard to come by.’

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Of course, their colouring does make them fairly photogenic, as the BBC discovered when they chose an image of a badger as the cover of a wildlife calendar in 2013. But since when were environmental or culling decisions made on the basis of which animal looks the cutest?

Just last week, a study published in Nature magazine stated that one of the only things that could control the spread of bovine TB was the culling of whole herds of cattle. Defra and farms minister George Eustice (who worked on his family’s farm for 9 years prior to going into politics) have both dismissed the report, mainly because it excludes specific badger-to-cattle infection due to a lack of data. But, although they admit it is a ‘draconian’ idea, the report states that ‘this might be an acceptable cost if one is prepared to take a sufficiently long term view’.

In the same week as this study was published, the cuts that have affected milk prices in recent weeks continued. Supermarkets including Morrisons, Asda, Lidl and Londis have all been criticised for paying less that 30p per litre of milk, which is the amount that farmers’ unions say that producers can survive on.

Unions are, by definition, going to be biased. That’s part of their job. But, even bearing that in mind, it’s hard to argue that it’s a good time to be a dairy farmer in the UK. Talk of culling whole herds of cattle is enough to make the toughest dairy farmer shudder. As Eustice himself said: ‘What this paper proposes would finish off the cattle and dairy industry in this country’.

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  • chiefwhippet

    The choice by you of the phrase which includes the word “verminous” pretty much sums up your attitude. As if to imply another living creature has no right to exist. It was used by the Nazis about Jews.

    Farmers getting into politics, in order to sway political legislation is rather worrying. But I note that farmers are entertaining the idea of killing off, in vast numbers, all those poor cows they were lamenting about last year. Crocodile tears yet again.

  • Paul Caton

    This is not even journalism. Lazy, ineloquent and terribly misinformed.

  • eclair

    Shame badgers arent commonly edible. For all I know they are. We could add them to the list of other animals that various people dont seem to have a problem with on the glorious 12th. Or we could let nature take its course but I think its a bit late for that. Nature hasnt taken its course in this country for hundreds, probably thousands of years.

    Great shame some people dont realise that. If you think there will be some natural balance to control badgers other than us and TB then Im afraid you’re on a loser.

    • George Holliday

      It’s quite funny how many people on here think they can somehow dismiss yet another study that proves culling badgers will have no effects on TB. The pro-cull lobby are becoming desperate now, acting as if they know more than the experts who have studied this for years.

      • eclair

        There are two problems here, not just one. A great deal of badgers who multiply exponentially and have no predators and TB. Cull the over-stock to reasonable levels and vaccinate the rest. Not just throw up your hands in horror at the poor little badger who can cheerfully wipe out a herd of prime milkers and hope we’ll think of something to do that we can afford while we still have cattle farms in business.

        • George Holliday

          Where is your evidence?

          I’ve read the studies (and my comment quoting all fifteen of them was bizarrely deleted), and the evidence is as clear as can be. You will achieve nothing by culling badgers, because unless you have hard boundaries to the cull zones and can prevent perturbation, fleeing badgers from disturbed populations will spread the disease to other areas. It is widely agreed that unless you can cull over 90% of the badgers over a very wide area with no perturbation, then it will have little to zero effect on TB, and this is not economically feasible, nor would it be appropriate to wipe out a native mammal from vast tracts of the country- where incidentally, TB is absent- to protect an industry that has become too intensified and unsustainable.

          It is extraordinarily expensive to cull and much cheaper to vaccinate because the latter can be done by volunteers. To add insult to injury, the government has absolutely no idea how many badgers there are, so they will never know if they have achieved their target, and have constantly moved the goalposts. The government’s own independent expert panel even dismissed the culls as a failure and completely unscientific.

          All the experts agree on this, and now that yet another study proves it the pro-cull lobby simply fail to accept that the problem lies within the cattle industry, not badgers. As the study proved, a very small percentage of farms are responsible for a large percentage of TB cases, so even if there are plenty of farmers who are imposing strict biosecurity, it is undermined by the few that don’t. Owen Paterson fails to mention a single scientist that supports his policy. Better skin testing, vaccination of badgers and cattle, and increased biosecurity are the only ways to get on top of the disease. Just because the scientists come up with facts you don’t want to hear, that doesn’t make them any less true.

          • eclair

            Im certainly not shutting my ears to any information, however, until something positive can be done and quickly, farmers here will continue to protect their stock, in as far as they can, by shooting, poisoning and digging out.

          • ButcombeMan

            You are absolutely right about disturbed populations.

            You consistently come to the wrong conclusions because you are too narrowly focused on just TB and dismiss out of hand any concerns about the wider wild life damage that too large a general badger population does to other creatures.

            Badger are now a pest.

            They do not need to be, people with your narrow views have made them that.

            A temporary suspension of the protection for an experimental period while maintaining a ban on baiting and digging out, would substantially reduce the stock over three years with neighboring farmers able to coordinate their response and deal with perturbation together.

            The bottom line is, badger have too much protection

            Localized culling, partly for the reasons you give, is not a solution.

  • Smithersjones2013

    What is the purpose of this gratuitous piece of badger baiting? Why is there no mention of the vaccination alternative or that EU bureacracy is hindering the advancement of that alternative?

    How about the Tories get about freeing us from the suffocating layers of Brussels bureaucracy and how about ‘encouraging’ Supermarket chains to stump up for the necessary funding to make Bovine Tb vaccinations a practical reality (given they are the only ones who seem to make a profit out of it)?

    Don’t you just love these balanced objective positive articles?

    • Camilla Swift

      Yes, good point.I have written about vaccinations (for both badgers and cattle – and why we don’t use them) before, here, which is why I didn’t mention them now. Perhaps I should have done:

    • Kitty MLB

      Good point in regards to vaccinations, but how do you suppose we vaccinate the entire population of badgers,
      and have you any idea how difficult that would be.
      And yes, as usual, the EU are horrid, and the Tories are horrid.And I am sure UKIP have a view on badgers.

      • Camilla Swift

        Kitty – I may be wrong, but I think he was referring to vaccinating cattle, which would be less difficult than vaccinating badgers. But, as he points out, the only existing cattle vaccination is illegal under EU law.

  • Clued-Up

    The bTB disease control model mentioned in this article is based on over 15 years worth of data about the disease, its spread and the wide range of factors implicated in the transmission of the disease. The accuracy and sophistication of this model is proved by its ability to predict very accurately – on the basis of the theoretical model – the actual changes in disease patterns at local and national level which we know happened. These facts mean everybody should have a lot of confidence in what the model says about the effects of trying different cattle bTB control mechanisms.
    When the model says that by targeting the 10% farms which are “super spreaders” of cattle bB we can remove 80% cattle bTB in 5 years we should try this approach. An 80% cattle bTB reduction in 5 years is a benefit at least 400% better than the most optimistic claims made for the badger cull.
    When the model says England would benefit by copying the Welsh scheme of conducting a cattle bTB test across the whole nation to assess the true nature of our bTB problem we should try that too. We know from experience that check showed the Welsh their perceived “low risk” areas had a lot more cattle bTB in them than they’d suspected – and they couldn’t tackle bTB without addressing that previously unsuspected disease reservoir.

  • In2minds

    This is being portrayed as a black and white issue.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      Yes, and we’re constantly being tormented, harassed and pestered over it.

  • starfish

    ” one of the only things that could control the spread of bovine TB was the culling of whole herds of cattle”

    Indeed – if you killed all cattle there would be no bovine TB

    Is this the quality of research we make decisions on?

    I note from the article

    “Bovine tuberculosis (TB) has been a long-standing problem in Britain. In the first half of the 20th century, 40% of British cattle were suspected to be infected, with contaminated milk being a major transmission route to humans3. This route was eliminated with the pasteurization of milk, and a ‘test-and-slaughter’ scheme was started in the 1950s to eradicate infection among cattle. Incidence fell markedly and in the 1970s only 0.22% of tests revealed infected animals”
    Strangely this was achieved without the eradication of badgers

    • starfish

      I also note that yet again we are expected to have faith in “models as evidence”
      That has worked so well for climate change(TM)…

    • flaxdoctor

      Maybe you weren’t aware that a change in the law enabled badger numbers to increase exponentially. No vectors, no disease transmission. Lots of vectors, lots of disease transmission. Simple as that.

      • George Holliday

        No it’s not as “simple as that”. If you bothered to do the research you’d know that culling badgers actually increases disease transmission since social groups become disrupted and the remaining diseased animals flee the cull zone, causing the so-called perturbation effect. Over a 9 year study the maximum possible reduction in Bovine TB that could be achieved was 16%, and the authors of the study (commissioned by the previous government, and surprise, surprise, conveniently ignored by this one) concluded that culling could make no meaningful contribution to TB in cattle.

        Many farmers even agree on this- I recently emailed a dairy farmer (in the cull zone) who said he was not keen to cull the badgers on his land because he knew that by keeping any possible reservoir localized and keeping populations undisturbed considerably reduced the risks.

        I’d love to know the sources behind your supposed expertise on the subject, that allow you to dismiss such carefully considered research.

        • flaxdoctor

          My ‘supposed’ expertise is based on the known facts of epidemiology. As you may be aware, malaria is vectored by mosquitoes. Malaria can be completely controlled by eliminating the vectors of the protozoan that causes malaria. However, this is not a perfect analogy, because unlike badgers, mosquitoes do not pass the disease amongst themselves and thereby maintain a source of infection. Possibly unwittingly, you seem to be making a good case not for mere culling, but eradication of badgers. If you read my comment above, you will see that I wrote ‘no vectors, no disease transmission’. This is clearly a different scenario to one which makes the vectors move around more and spread their payload over a greater area.

          • George Holliday

            Even if you eradicate badgers you have conveniently ignored that bovine TB is a disease of cattle- hence the name- thereby you have not solved the problems within the industry where our unreliable skin tests often miss infected animals and the correct biosecurity measures may be lacking. Most of the transmission is from cattle to cattle.

            There is an alternative, if there wasn’t the Welsh Government and the Wildlife Trusts wouldn’t be vaccinating badgers as we speak. Whatever you think of the efficacy of vaccines, and we still have a lot to learn, there is little doubt that vaccination is a far better approach than culling.

            • flaxdoctor

              TB in most areas was practically eradicated before the explosion in badger numbers. I grew up on a dairy farm in the 70s and 80s. We had ZERO infection cases in three decades. None at all.

              I haven’t ignored the name – highlighting it merely means you’re unaware of its host range – it infects a huge range of mammalian hosts – humans, deer, pigs, cats, foxes, mustelids and rodents – and of course cattle. If is wasn’t such a huge interspecies problem we wouldn’t (a) be concerned with the infection focus in badgers and (b) we would have no concern about it spreading to humans.

  • Mr Creosote

    Badgers ate my kid’s guinea pigs – twice!
    With the help of an otter, they also managed to wipe out 40 Koi and mirror carp from the pond in one night.
    Gas the lot of them I say…

    • John Matthews

      a dog once bit my sister, can we now advocate killing all dogs?

      • Mr Creosote

        If the same dog went on to kill a small child, would you still advocate protecting it?

        The above-mentioned badger also ripped the front off the hen-house and shredded 20 free-range chickens. As a result of it’s protected status I’m unfortunately precluded from finishing the thing off with a spade, but that is undoubtedly what it deserves.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Well, as they say, “shoot, shovel and shut-up”.

          • goatmince

            Triple S beats SS, my fascist friend. N’est-ce pas?

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …and we know what you and your goat sockpuppet would like to do with the badgers, lad (with or without the prophylactics).

  • goatmince

    TB? In cattle? Nowadays? What is this, Africa?

    Keep your livestock tidy and clean and vaccinate, FFS.
    Everyone else can.

    • flaxdoctor

      Which ‘everyone else’ is that then? Any bTB-free countries you’d like to guess at? Certainly not the USA – how about the EU? Good luck with that.

      • goatmince

        the biggest and most effective lifesaver in the history of mankind and in this instance the history of the domesticated animal is … hygiene.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …and prophylactics, for those special moments with your goat sockpuppet.

          • goatmince

            I don’t do ancient prophylactics – we must babyfather the living daylight out of the indigenous population to reduce undesirable rise in additional immigration.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …but judging by the ever growing number of your sockpuppets, you don’t appear to know much about prophylactics, lad.

              • goatmince

                If it was one person coming up with all these superior lines he would have to be a some kind of rare breed genius, non?

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  …maybe you should ask the goat about them. He’s likely a bit smarter, you know.

        • flaxdoctor

          Hygeine? Yes, when you’ve got a source of infection, you eradicate it. Thanks for your helpful hint.

  • ButcombeMan

    Or a ground nesting bee or wasp. Or ground nesting birds.

    My couple of acres was awash with ground nesting bees and wasps 20 years ago, now we are awash with badgers. Cubs romping about. We have not seen a hedgehog for 16 years, the bees and wasps have all been dug up long ago, any new nests/hives are soon discovered.

    The hedgehog being a much more useful animal than the badger.

    The answer to the badger glut, surely, is to remove the protection of badgers for an experimental period of (say) three years.

    Less badgers would mean less badgers maimed by motor cars, to bleed to death in a ditch.

    The motor vehicle has become the top predator.

    My suggestion would not extend to allowing badger baiting or digging out.

    • John Matthews

      Yes hedgehogs increased where badger culls took place due mainly to less competition for food however I would say these animals lived together for many 100s of years. The problem is the neonicotinoids killed the bees/wasps and birds. We are only just finding out the scale of this a new study is out tomorrow I believe.

      • ButcombeMan

        Badgers were also culled for 100s of years if they became a nuisance.

        Which is why they lived together with hedgehogs and find it difficult to co-exist now. and cannot now. Man was the badger’s top predator after the wolf dissappeared.

        Nicotinoids may well be affecting bees, I am not qualified to comment and that is red herring. You ignore this point on which I am well able to comment through practical experience of living in the country for 50 years. Badgers dig up wasp and bee nests. They clear them very effectively

        • George Holliday

          I’m afraid living in the country doesn’t imply you have studied the routes of disease transmission, or the effects of badger removal, or the impact of livestock on disease and whole herd removal- that would be down to the scientists. Admittedly I am no expert on disease, but the difference is, I prefer to listen to those who have actually done the research, rather than anecdotes.

          It’s quite astounding how many people on here think they can dismiss another study that suggests culling badgers will not reduce TB, even with the evidence staring them in the face. You’re free to dismiss it all you like, but facts don’t cease to be facts just because they’re ignored.

    • Kitty MLB

      We also live in the country, dear man.On the edge of ancient
      woodland, and have come across a few hedgehogs and
      have rescued a few from various incidents.But you cannot
      blame the demise of the hedgehog just on badgers.
      People now have nice neat gardens, with no wild areas for
      them to hide, others prefer to be within some hedgerow.
      And then we must remember their favourite food happens
      to be slugs, and of course farmers and gardeners use
      insecticides. Saying that badgers do need culling,
      the countryside is not a cutesy watership down fantasy.

      • ButcombeMan

        I am glad we are agreed “badgers need culling”.

        I do not actually really think they “need culling”. I do not think they need any special protection, except from digging out and baiting.

        As things are, desperate farmers will and from what I hear, do, resort to illegal shooting, the slurry tanker or (worst of all) the cored out apple baited with slug pellets.

        Town people, interfering with policy in the country is rarely a good idea.

        • George Holliday

          Yet again, the “townie v rural” argument. As it happens, I have lived in both urban and rural areas, and I am strongly opposed to the cull. Your background is irrelevant if you have done the research.

          I take it you are unaware of the hideous cruelty that is inflicted upon badgers on a daily basis. Badgers were protected because there are thugs out there who take great pleasure in badger baiting, and it was widespread as recently as the 1960s. The Protection of Badgers Act was implemented to stop this needless and horrific persecution. Recently there has been a spike in incidents of brutal, sickening attacks on badgers- animals found mutilated and disguised as roadkill with their paws cut off, poison found poured into setts, and petrol fumes pumped into setts. I don’t know about you but I don’t need any excuse to lock these kind of people up and throw away the key.

    • George Holliday

      Your evidence is purely anecdotal. As for the hedgehogs argument, it is absolute tosh. Badgers may prey on hedgehogs opportunistically, but they comprise only a tiny part of their diet. The major threat to hedgehogs comes from roads, habitat fragmentation and pesticide use, as they require a constant network of foraging areas with good ground cover and motorways represent death traps. No natural predator is going to represent anywhere near the same level of threat as man-made obstacles. Badgers are simply a scapegoat.

      • ButcombeMan

        So you agree, Badgers prey on Hedgehogs when they can.

        The ability of a population of Hedgehog. to resist predation by Badger is logically & therefore, affected by the size of the population of Badger.

        The population of badger in some country areas is huge because they have no predator other than the motor vehicle, Where it is very big, there are no or very few, Hedgehog.

        I repeat I am NOT for a “cull”. I am, actually against the culling in certain areas. I think it has missed the point of the wider damage badger do.

        I am simply against the special protection of badger, when, by over population, they do so much damage across so many animal and insect species. . I am against badger baiting and against digging out.

        I think the protection could sensibly be suspended for an experimental period of three years while maintaining a ban on baiting and allowing only the actual landowner or his agent, to kill badger, as they can other vermin.

        My views have nothing at all to do with TB incidentally. Wild bees are very seriously affected by Badger.

        I have never been able to understand the views of those who protect the badger over other species. At the moment there is lack of balance.

        • George Holliday

          I think you’ll find loss of hedgerows and increased pesticide use are responsible for the declines in bee populations. There’s no evidence to link badgers to the declines of either bees or hedgehogs. They are generalist predators and opportunists, and do not preferentially prey on any one species. Three quarters of their diet in this country is earthworms, and they will also prey on pest species such as voles and rabbits.

          The only places in which badgers have an impact on hedgehogs are where populations of the latter are isolated and fragmented. But you will not save hedgehogs by culling badgers, as those populations will eventually succumb to inbreeding anyway and are doomed unless fragmented patches of habitat are improved, and linked with other patches of habitat.

          As I said badgers have special protection because so many people are hellbent on making them suffer. We don’t have the same protection for say, frogs and toads, or songbirds, because those are not targeted by thugs in the same way, so there is little need to impose uneccessary legislation.

          • ButcombeMan

            With not much respect at all, you are talking crap.

            You are part of the irrational Badger defence league. prepared to jump through hoops. irrationally, to defend the badger and maintain their massive numbers, over other species. However much damage they cause to other forms of wildlife.

            Badgers regularly destroy both wasp and bee nests underground.

            Probably about ten in total, in my small patch, in the last three years. In the last month, a bumblebee hive in my coppice.

            Basically you are just ignorant.

  • John Matthews

    no reasonable environmentalist has a problem with culling if they thought it would solve the problem and can be carried out humanly. However as all the science has said this does not the solve the case yet the government went along with the cull anyway.
    As a result I imagine the conservationists used other tactics in protests etc to get their point across perfectly understandable.
    Also worst time to be a dairy farmer? Hmm subsidies would suggest otherwise.

    • flaxdoctor

      “reasonable environmentalist” …good luck in your hunt. Beware of the rocking horse droppings though.

      And please list those ‘subsidies’ that dairy farmers get that enable them to survive selling milk at below the cost of production? Just a couple would be good – have a go.

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