Irish badger culling 'is futile'
14 May 2007 - BBC news
A new report claims the "virtual extermination" of badgers in the Republic of
Ireland has failed to stop the spread of bovine TB. Although so many badgers
have been killed that they are extinct in many areas, the level of TB in cattle
is twice as high as in Britain, it says. The study comes from Badgerwatch
Ireland and the UK Badger Trust.
The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says the
government will assess the science, including data from the Irish experience,
before deciding on the most appropriate solution to the problem in England. It
is due to receive recommendations from the Independent Science Group on Cattle
TB this summer. The devolved powers in Wales and Scotland are assessing the
issues in tandem with England.
Badgerwatch Ireland and the UK Badger Trust have reviewed documents relating
to the systematic destruction of badgers in the so-called Four Areas Project
which operated in Cork, Monaghan, Donegal and Kilkenny from 1997 to 2002. The
project compared proactive and reactive culling of badgers in outbreak areas to
try to determine which approach would have the greatest impact on the incidence
of TB in cattle.
A review of the project for Defra found it to be the "best evidence yet of
the fact of badgers contributing to bovine TB in cattle". But the two
conservation groups concentrate on what they regard as flaws in the project -
and in the Irish Republic's current control methods. Their report says with
6,000 badger snares in operation every night in the Republic, the incidence of
TB in cattle remains a major problem. It claims the density of badgers in
Ireland is now only 10% of that in equivalent habitats in South West England;
and yet, in 2006, Ireland slaughtered 9% more cattle with bovine TB than Great
Britain - even though the Irish national herd is only 56% the size of Britain's.
"If you've eradicated virtually all your badgers and you've still got twice
the level of bovine TB in your national herd than you have in Britain, where
we're not slaughtering our badgers, then clearly Ireland has got it wrong,"
Trevor Lawson told the BBC News website.
The groups believe their assessment supports the view that bovine TB in
Ireland is largely spread by the movement of cattle. They say the disease
rocketed in Ireland when pre-movement TB testing for cattle was abandoned in
1996. It quickly reached the highest level ever recorded in 1999, with more than
45,000 positive tests. Badger culling continued throughout that period, their
In Britain, the government-backed Randomised Badger Culling Trial (also known
as the Krebs Trial), which ended in 2003, showed that culling could make the TB
problem worse. Reactive culling raised TB incidence by 25%. A proactive regime
lowered incidence inside the target zone, but resulted in an increase in
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