Badger cull around Banbury could 'wipe out' this wild mammal

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Intensive badger culling in Oxfordshire - including on land around Banbury – could ‘wipe out’ the wild mammal, protesters have said.

Oxfordshire badger protection groups, including members from north Oxfordshire, held a protest in the city on Friday calling on Oxford University to seek to prevent misuse of its research.

DEFRA (the government department for the environment, farming and rural affairs) has licensed culls in a bid to stamp out bovine tuberculosis (TB) which it says is passed to cattle by badgers, costing farmers and taxpayers millions of pounds a year.

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The protesters believe 60 per cent of Oxfordshire is a cull zone and around 5000 badgers across the county have been killed so far since 2020.

Badger Coalition members hold their protest in Oxford in a bid to get Oxford University to prevent misuse of its researchBadger Coalition members hold their protest in Oxford in a bid to get Oxford University to prevent misuse of its research
Badger Coalition members hold their protest in Oxford in a bid to get Oxford University to prevent misuse of its research

Oxfordshire badger group vaccinates badgers across the county and works with landowners who want a kinder alternative to the slaughter of badgers. However vaccinated badgers can stray onto neighbouring land which may be included in the cull.

Miles Flower from Banbury joined the protest in Oxfordshire Friday. He said: “We were in Oxford calling for the scientists who were originally part of the Randomised Badger culling trials to join us in calling for an end to badger culls.

"’Epidemiological culling’ licences would see all (100%) of badgers slaughtered across large areas of the county. The aim is to achieve the local extinction of badgers, including those in areas around the breakdowns with completely healthy badgers, followed by vaccination of any incoming migrants.

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"The latest scientific evidence shows that this would be futile and cruel. It is the ‘reactive culling’ originally proposed by the National Farmers’ Union that was ‘banned’ in 2003 as ineffective.

"The Oxfordshire Badger Coalition has appealed to Oxford University to speak against this unscientific, unethical and needless proposal.”

Oxford University scientists helped design and run the original Randomised Controlled Badger Cull Trial (RCBT) on which the current culling policy was based.

The campaigners believe that research is now being misused to try and justify killing all badgers in response to new bovine TB (bTB) outbreaks in cattle herds.

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A DEFRA spokesperson said: “Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges the livestock sector in England faces today, causing considerable trauma for farmers and costing taxpayers over £100 million every year.

“We have always been clear that we do not want to continue the current badger cull longer than necessary. Our bovine TB eradication strategy has led to a significant reduction in this insidious disease and building on the progress made we are now able to move onto the next phase, including wider badger vaccination, alongside improved cattle testing and work towards deployment of a cattle vaccine.”

DEFRA did not respond to questions about 'misleading' science being misused to justify a cull, that it could make this wild mammal 'extinct' in Oxfordshire, how many badgers are believed to be in the county or what would happen on land where owners did not want badgers to be killed.

Further they did not give any information about a consultation or whether DEFRA would listen to public opinion given in a consultation.

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Campaigners say over 5,000 badgers have been killed in Oxfordshire since 2020.

In a statement they said: “Currently an estimated 60 per cent of the county is a killing zone and that may expand in 2023. A further 5,000 badgers may be killed this year alone. Culling is expected to continue until 2026 when it should be phased out.

“DEFRA plans to consult on the future of badger culling over the autumn. The NFU is lobbying the government. It wants to intensify badger culling and for culling to continue indefinitely. It is promoting so-called ‘epidemiological culling’ which would kill every badger across a very large area in reaction to new clusters’of herd breakdowns (outbreaks).

"If they get their way, Epi-culling could be piloted in Oxfordshire then rolled out nationally. Badgers – a protected, much loved, native mammal - would become locally extinct across large areas of Oxfordshire. We need to speak up now – and Oxford University must add their influential voices.

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“BTB started declining before badger culling started. Badger culling is pointless and has been shown scientifically to have failed. It is about time that those responsible realise what a huge mistake it has all been and own up. It will come out in the end so we should end it now - here in Oxford, where it all started.”

The group says between 1995 - 2005, a group of zoologists, vets and statisticians including many from Oxford University, advised, designed and helped run the Randomised Badger Culling Trials.

"They had two controversial results, one suggesting badger culling made no difference to cattle herd breakdowns and another that badgers might potentially cause half of all breakdowns. Overall, they concluded that culling would bring ‘no meaningful contribution’ to Bovine TB control in cattle herds.

"Yet rather than accept the findings, in 2011, DEFRA accepted the NFU’s argument that the solution was to kill at least 70% of badgers over much larger areas. This was piloted in areas of high BTB infection and rolled out across the west of England from 2016.

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“Since then, new scientific evidence has shown that badger culling since 2013 has failed to have any effect and that the RBCT and related research used to justify culling has further statistical issues.

“Killing every badger in the UK won’t help control the disease – only better cattle measures can do that. BTB, is a disease of cattle, passed from cow to cow. A cattle vaccine is already being trialled and a more accurate Detecting Infected among Vaccinated Animals test is already available.

"There is every reason to stop culling immediately. Despite this, indications are that DEFRA and the farming industry lobby may be thinking of doubling down on their failed and unpopular badger cull policy.”