First Line of Address:
In March 2020, in the long-awaited response to the Sir Charles Godfray TB Strategy Review, the government appeared to confirm that intensive badger culling would be phased out in the next few years, to be replaced by badger vaccination. The resulting headlines across the media, supported by the Defra press office, talked of a seismic shift in policy and an imminent end to badger culling, a view now largely accepted by both politicians and the wider public. Therefore, I am shocked to learn despite Derbyshire having the largest vaccination programme in country, culling maybe taking place in the County later this year. In May, Natural England approved seven new supplementary badger cull licences. By the end of August, Natural England is expected to approve a further ten new badger cull licences in the High Risk, 'Edge' and Low Risk areas of England. England will see a huge expansion of culling from Cornwall to Cumbria and east to Lincoln which could well bring the total number of badgers killed so far to 200,000. Over the longer term, the government's plan to allow culling to remain an option where epidemiological assessments indicate that it is needed, could result in reactive culling licences being issued across wide parts of England. Natural England could issue up to 50 more badger cull licences by 2025, pushing the total kill figure up to 400,000, and causing local extinction in areas of England the badger has inhabited since the Ice Age. These plans are based on subjective judgements about the source of infection in badgers by local vets, who have been found to attribute an impossibly high proportion of cattle TB infections to badgers; a recent report published by the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust which shows that research, produced by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and used by farmers to justify a cull of badgers in Derbyshire, was flawed and inaccurate. Scientific evidence (from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial and more recent bacterial genome sequences) indicates that most herds are infected by other cattle. We also question why the results from the long awaited study into bTB in RTA badgers (Badgers Found Dead Study) has still not been released. Information provided to individuals suggests that the incidence of bTB in badgers was much lower than widely stated. Despite the findings of the Godfray review, which made clear that the focus should now be on cattle and non-lethal measures and a lack of evidence to support wider culling, no concrete action has been taken to introduce a National Badger Vaccination Strategy. This would see increased public funding, training and equipment for badger vaccinators, alongside a government communication campaign promoting the scientific benefits of badger vaccination to farmers and landowners and an immediate end to culling in edge and low risk areas. Research published in People and Nature by Benton et al in April 2020, suggests that badger vaccination, even when led by non-governmental groups, is practically feasible and may achieve high levels of coverage consistent with disease control benefits. Unsurprisingly, barriers to adoption are due to a lack of public funding, landowner take-up and effective communication by Defra on its benefits. The government's current consultation on introducing no cull buffer zones around vaccination schemes is ostensibly aimed at reducing the risk of vaccinated badgers being killed by cull contractors. However, in practice the proposals will only serve to minimise new vaccination schemes and cripple or destroy existing schemes. Already, badger vaccination schemes in edge areas are seeing landowner drop out rates of up to 50% in expectation of a cull. I object very strongly to the consultation and consider it to be fatally flawed. Yet, we are forced into the position that without a response we may leave vaccination schemes without any protection whatsoever. This is unacceptable. The recent judgement handed down by Mrs Justice Andrews DBE in the Judicial Review case on the Derbyshire badger cull licence decision, appears to be the catalyst for this consultation. Culling vaccinated badgers is unpalatable at the highest levels of government. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Defra Minister of State Lord Goldsmith were both shown to support a move from badger culling to vaccination in the Judicial Review judgement. However, this has not prevented the government from presenting a false image it is protecting badger vaccination, when in fact it is implementing policies which will undermine and destroy badger vaccination projects. The buffer zones suggested would be wholly ineffective, prevent vaccination schemes from expanding and allow culling in areas where previously vaccination was part of a cordon sanitaire approach. Not only that, the vast majority of schemes are unlikely to qualify for even the smallest and most ineffective buffer and stand to have them removed again when so many badgers are culled that they cannot vaccinate enough to qualify. Please urge the Government to immediately halt the issuing of any new cull licences in Derbyshire which threaten badgers and the vaccination project.