Tony Juniper – The badger cull and Natural England

Since becoming Chair of Natural England in April I have been repeatedly asked about our role in the culling of badgers to control bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

It has been put to me that because we are the government agency leading on the conservation of the natural environment we should not issue licences that permit large numbers of badgers to be killed. Some people say that because I had previously expressed reservations about the cull I should now oppose the policy in my new role.

Given my stated views, I was questioned on the badger cull by the Parliamentary Select Committees charged with scrutinising my suitability for the role of Natural England Chair before I was confirmed in post. I told the MPs that, should I become Chair, I would go into Natural England and look at our bTB-related work with an open mind. I said I would be led by the science and that my advice to Government would be based upon that.

Since then, I have gained a deeper understanding of Natural England’s work and the extent to which it sits within a wider Government policy decided upon by Ministers, rather than by our Board or Chief Executive. The approach adopted by Ministers seeks to control a disease that has caused massive economic damage and widespread social impacts among farming communities. It embraces culling, but also includes badger vaccination and improved biosecurity to minimise cattle-to-cattle infections.

Natural England has two roles in relation to the bTB policy: one is that of conservation adviser and the other is wildlife licensing authority for England.

Protected species such as badgers can be controlled in certain circumstances, including to prevent the spread of disease, so long as a relevant licence is obtained. This licensing work is certainly not undertaken lightly and those involved in the cull, including farmers and Natural England staff, take the welfare of badgers very seriously.

In its licensing role Natural England independently considers licence applications to cull or vaccinate badgers, whilst taking into account policy guidance from the Defra Secretary of State, ensuring that the licensed activity is justified in terms of delivering disease control benefits. We also carry out monitoring visits during the culls to check that contractors are complying with licence conditions and best practice guides on shooting and cage trapping. Since badger control began in 2013, licensed culling operations have been carried out in a total of 32 areas of England and more than 67,000 badgers have been killed. Culling has begun in a further 11 areas this year.

In Natural England’s other role of conservation adviser we helped to shape the bTB strategy as it was formulated. We advised government that measures should be taken to ensure that licensed culling would not be detrimental to the survival of the badger population. We also recommended that safeguards should be included to avoid badger control harming other protected species or habitats. Both steps were incorporated into the policy.

Although many people may not be aware of this, conservation is also a big part of our licensing work on the badger cull. Natural England carries out detailed assessments of possible impacts that licensed activity may have on protected wildlife sites, imposing conditions on the licences to ensure that no harm is caused. We have also commissioned the British Trust for Ornithology to investigate any evidence suggesting that culling operations may be indirectly affecting vulnerable ground-nesting birds.

Our licensing of badger control has been challenged several times in the High Court and Court of Appeal. To date, none of the challenges has been successful in revoking Natural England’s licences, underlining the rigorous, professional approach our staff take to authorising action and I would like to thank our licensing team for the great job they have done under considerable pressure.

With regard to Government’s bTB policy more broadly, the extent to which we can advise on its overall effectiveness is, however, more limited, both in terms of the expertise we have in our organisation, which is geared more toward conservation than animal disease issues, and in terms of our statutory remit as an adviser, which focuses on conservation of the natural environment.

In relation to the controversial and polarised question of the badger cull, Natural England must continue to discharge its statutory functions to the best of its abilities. I will ensure that it does so in a scientifically rigorous way, providing important scrutiny at all times. I will also ask that Natural England is involved with more intensive efforts to understand the potential for a future policy based on vaccination, rather than one so heavily focused on lethal control.

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  1. Comment by D R Holmes posted on

    Is there not a case for a regular review of “Protected Species”.?
    As a lifelong shooter, stalker, conservationist, I have seen the imbalance in various species caused by unregulated protection measures. There is a long list, but the badger leads. Maybe spare a thought for the poor hedgehog?

    • Replies to D R Holmes>

      Comment by Barbara Lloyd posted on

      You drop in reference to hedgehogs as a lever to back your argument. Do you have any scientific facts to back your implications?

  2. Comment by marta Falco Ainley posted on

    We are now all aware that due to Global warming , our greatest threat, we now urgently need to stop eating meat and having cattle as a source of consumption. Hence , in great part, the growing veganism . Its now vital that farmers begin to do all they can to not add to the reasons for global warming. They need to grow more vegetables, edible plants, soya, nuts fruit and plant many many more trees.

    And there is the ongoing causes of the spread of bTB. Cattle movement, spreading manure and applying far too thickly., farmers at auctions take no precautions to not spread any bacteria .

    Badgers are a protected species and as such it is now just some horrible Conservative stick in the mud, stubborn attitude that wants this cruel , callous, incredibly expensive killing. It is also evident that this killing is not working.

  3. Comment by Roger Weeks posted on

    I strongly suspect an independent Tony Juniper was not the author of this document, but weep at the insincerity of its content. You are wiping out and endangering badgers as a once common species in an insane, cruel, unjustified act, completely disproportionate to any risk posed, at the behest of a politically corrupting pressure group, with disease control a minuscule component in their purpose. Meanwhile the needed remedial action within the cattle reservoir and the disease spread within the industry is ignored. Shame on you and your words of deceit. Evidence seems sadly lacking, available and new or otherwise.

  4. Comment by K Tan posted on

    Utterly disgusting. This approach is not led by science or evidence. This is a prime example of how the establishment co-opts its critics. Shameful.

  5. Comment by Mary Barton posted on

    The incidence of bovine TB has increased in areas where badgers have been culled. Defra's own adviser Professor Godfray said only last year that it would be cheaper and more effective to vaccinate badgers rather than kill them.
    This policy of culling badgers is NOT science based. I call for an immediate halt to the Cull and an independent Public

  6. Comment by Susannah Fanshawe posted on

    This is the cruel, wilful genocide of a native species, all to appease landowners, £armers, shooting estates etc., whilst pretending to 'combat BovineTB' which is spread cattle-to-cattle and via slurry.

    I couldn't be more disgusted with this government and its lackeys if I tried.

  7. Comment by Marc Biddle posted on

    Dear Mr. Juniper and colleagues. So saying above please point me to the evidence that scientifically and categorically shows that this cull is working across the board in reducing BTB to a degree that justifies the means.
    I cant find it anywhere.
    It is likely true that to be shown how and why something of this scale and cost is so effective may go some way to alleviating public concern.
    For some of the public the making available of this evidence may explain why NE has allected to increase the scope of licencing the cull year on year. Surely the evidence of it's effacy must be very strong an compelling as you have indicated above. So please point us to the yearly reports that show significant decline of BTB in cattle throughout the cull areas. Thank you.

  8. Comment by Maggie Baker posted on

    There is evidence that badgers suffer unnecessary cruelty as a result of the government policy onculling so how is it possible for the authorities to condone this when the option of vaccination of both badgers and cattle is available?

    • Replies to Maggie Baker>

      Comment by Sue Ebbens posted on

      I think you need to read more about vaccination.. it is not without problems and has not been proven 100% effective.
      Google the BMJ report ,
      on vaccination for tuberculosis

  9. Comment by Lisette De Pachua posted on

    Dear Mr Juniper,
    If this is the case and you are basing the continuance of the cull on scientific facts then why is it being rolled out when the scientific facts state it is :
    1.Not effective at reducing btb in cattle
    2. Btb has increased in cull areas
    3. It is incredibly inhumane
    4. Badgers only have 1.67% btb
    5. More effective measures have been sited
    6. Vaccination has worked

    Ask yourself this - what is the real reason behind the cull ?
    You will be backing the biggest wildlife crime in British history

  10. Comment by Ian Evans posted on

    With regards to your last point, you do have the opportunity to explore the efficacy of vaccination as a facet of the wider disease control programme. You can do this immediately by directly involving National Nature Reserves in badger vaccination programmes, especially those in "Edge Areas", where higher levels of disease resistance could potentially help contain or slow the spread of bTB.

  11. Comment by Jill Eisele posted on

    where are the comments, i dont believe you have none

  12. Comment by Rav posted on

    "We advised government that measures should be taken to ensure that licensed culling would not be detrimental to the survival of the badger population" - except in Cumbria where there are no min/max kills and complete eradication is the goal (despite the fact the bTB came from imported N. Irish cattle and not badgers).
    There is no ban on hunting hounds despite the recent Kimblewick debacle (99 hounds killed due to bTB) - not even advice to keep them off cattle fields/farms. Biosecurity is neither monitored or enforced, as can be seen by the utterly disgraceful conditions on many farms, not to mention farmers consistently breaking basic cattle movement restrictions and swapping tags of infected cattle.
    Monitoring of cull operators has ceased altogether (as confirmed by the recent recording of the operators meeting). Testing of killed badgers has shown a negligible level of TB. TB is increasing in cull areas and vets have recently publicised the level of cruelty involved in the cull - not one or two cases but widespread cruelty and prolonged agony by those getting their kicks from government sponsored animal abuse.
    Frankly, Mr Juniper, if indeed you wrote this idiotic statement, you are either playing the long game and hiding it well or you have become the problem. Every one of you involved in this disgraceful 'policy' are no better than those criminal badger baiters. Shame on you.


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