MORE than 1,200 badgers have been culled in Cheshire over the past two years – while cases of bovine TB in cattle have risen.

Figures from the Department for Food and Rural Affairs have revealed that 472 badgers were killed in the Cheshire zone as part of the Government’s cull in 2018.

In addition to the 736 badgers culled in 2017, that takes the total killed in the Cheshire zone over the past two years to 1,208.

But while badgers have been killed in an effort to control levels of bTB, farmers have been left to slaughter even more cattle carrying the disease at the same time.

According to figures released yesterday, January 16, 2,389 animals were slaughtered in the 12 months up to October 2018 – an increase of 252 over the 2,137 slaughtered in the 12 months up to October 2017.

Martin Varley, director of conservation at Cheshire Wildlife Trust, said: “We are deeply saddened to learn exactly how many badgers, a protected species in the UK, have been culled over the last two years – as well as how many of our farmers have had to kill their cattle due to bTB.

A Badger Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire. A Badger Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire.

“However, I’m not at all surprised. The science and trials already showed us and the government that a cull is unlikely to make a substantive improvement in cattle infection rates, and may make matters worse.

“Only one in 20 cases of bTB herd infections are transmitted directly from badgers, meaning there are 19 other transmissions not being dealt with by culling.

“As farmers ourselves we are deeply concerned about the spread of this disease. We manage many of our nature reserves using livestock as they are a great way to maintain brilliant areas for wildlife to thrive.

“However, the evidence all points to alternative methods as the solution – better biosecurity to prevent transmission on farms, stricter movement controls of cattle transportation, improved TB testing in livestock, cattle vaccination and badger vaccination.”

Cases of bTB among cattle in Cheshire significantly increased in the years leading up to the Government’s decision for a cull.

While 891 animals were slaughtered in 2013, 1,656 were slaughtered in 2014.

The RSPCA believes that it is more likely that the movement of herds of cattle into Cheshire has caused an increase in levels of TB across the county, rather than badgers.

It says that an increase in the number of cattle slaughtered for bTB is not necessarily a bad thing, because it highlights an improvement in detection – but it does have serious concerns about the cull.

A spokesman said: “The RSPCA continues to call for the badger cull to be scrapped as it is widely agreed to be ineffective in eradicating bTB and costly to both animal welfare and farmers’ livelihoods.

RSPCA: Vans were spotted at the back of the premises a few days later RSPCA: Vans were spotted at the back of the premises a few days later

“bTB is a devastating disease for farmers because their cattle are destroyed and their business is restricted. However, scientific evidence shows that culling badgers is not the answer.

“The focus of bTB eradication methods should shift instead to improved herd management including stricter controls on the movement of cattle, increased levels of cattle testing using the most up to date science, improved biosecurity, and vaccination of both badgers and cattle – to stop the spread of this terrible disease.”

The Randomised Badger Culling Trial took place between 1998 and 2005 to test the feasibility of badger culling as a means of controlling bTB in England.

In the trial, no statistical benefits were found until after the fourth annual cull took place, and therefore Defra is only expecting the cull in Cheshire to have a positive outcome on bTB levels by 2021.

The RSPCA says that four-year target is disputed, because bTB levels were already declining in some areas as the RBCT began.

Defra says it tested no badgers in 2017 to see if they were carrying M bovis – the bacteria that passes bTB onto cattle – while only a limited number were tested in 2018 using a more efficient method of blood sampling than it previously could.

“The absence of robust scientific methodology to underpin the cull policy concerns the RSPCA,” the charity added.

“The cull policy depends on being able to remove 70 per cent of the population, but if it is not possible to determine the size of the population in the first place, it could result in badgers being exterminated completely from the area or increased movement of badgers through different territories increasing disease spread.”

That fear is shared by the Wounded Badger Patrol, a campaign group which has battled against the cull in Cheshire.

The group also fears that the actual number of badgers killed in Cheshire could be nearer to 1,200 in 2018 alone, because a stretch of south Cheshire comes under the ‘Staffordshire zone’.

The total number of badgers killed in the Staffordshire zone in 2018 was 3,979.

Almost 15,000 badgers have been killed since culls began in 2013 Almost 15,000 badgers have been killed since culls began in 2013

A spokesman for the group said: “The figures are staggering to us – because behind every badger death by culling recorded in the government’s ledgers, there’s a peaceful wild animal who died from bullets while either trapped in a cage or while out foraging.

“The figures also don’t address the pain and suffering of badger survivors, some of whom will have lost parents, young, or most or all of their clan. As no-one knows how many badgers there even are in the UK, at what point will the government stop to think about the risk of localised extinction?

“At Wounded Badger Patrol Cheshire, we have had amazing patrollers out on the county’s public footpaths every single night of the Government’s cull since it began in Cheshire in 2017, and we have seen at first hand the very dangerous situation of high-velocity weapons being fired in the open countryside at night.

“We will be there helping badgers again next autumn, and every time we’re needed, because they’re being scapegoated and it’s not only grossly unfair, it’s morally reprehensible. We won’t let this cull go unopposed, and we would call on the decent people of Cheshire to start really thinking about this and not letting Cheshire’s badgers be sacrificed for nothing.”

A spokesman at Defra said: “bTB remains one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK, causing devastation for hard-working farmers and rural communities.

“While the badger culls are a necessary part of the strategy, no one wants to be culling badgers forever.

“That is why we are pursuing a range of interventions to eradicate the disease by 2038, including tighter cattle movement controls, regular testing and vaccinations.”