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December 14, 2011

DEFRA’s English Badger Cull Decision Breaches Bern Convention, Says HSI UK

Humane Society International/United Kingdom

  • Badgers are under threat. Dirk Freder/istock

LONDON—Humane Society International/UK is submitting a formal complaint to the Bern Convention against the United Kingdom in response to the announcement by DEFRA Minister for Agriculture, Caroline Spelman, that the government will proceed with two pilot studies next year to slaughter badgers in England.

HSI UK believes proceeding with a badger slaughter breaches the international convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats because it lacks ‘legitimate purpose’ and poses a significant threat to local badger populations. In addition, HSI UK does not believe that alternative strategies for controlling tuberculosis in cattle (bTB) and badgers have been sufficiently explored.

Mark Jones, veterinarian and Executive Director of HSI UK, said:

“For DEFRA to blindly push ahead with a pilot badger slaughter, despite compelling scientific evidence that it will be ineffective, hugely damaging to local populations and cruel, is an absurdly misguided decision and one that appears to be in clear breach of the Bern Convention. The Coalition’s reputation on animal welfare is already in tatters and now it risks being remembered as the Government that brought institutionalised cruelty back to the countryside. Badgers are supposed to be a protected species so plans to decimate them surely cannot be reconciled with an international Convention on wildlife conservation.”

HSI UK’s complaint to the Bern Convention Secretariat in Strasbourg [1], states that the UK as a Contracting Party is in breach of the Convention on three main grounds:

  • Legitimate purpose: The Government claims a badger slaughter will prevent livestock damage by reducing the spread of bTB. However, the proportion of cases of bTB in cattle attributable to badgers is very small and the Government itself admits that the slaughter is likely only to achieve a 12-16 per cent reduction in bovine TB cases in cattle after 9 years.
  • Satisfactory alternative: The Government has given insufficient consideration to alternative non-lethal solutions including cattle movement/testing controls and the development of vaccines for badgers and cattle. The Convention should not allow a slaughter of badgers in preference to alternative options such as stricter cattle movement controls, which have a potentially greater chance of reducing the spread of bTB, solely because it is more convenient for farmers.
  • Detriment to the badger population: There is no recent or precise data on English badger populations either nationally or locally. This means that estimates of the minimum and maximum numbers of badgers to be killed in order to reduce populations by 70% as the Government intends, will be based purely on guesswork, and it is entirely possible that some populations of badgers in designated control areas could be completely wiped out. The pilot studies will involve the ‘free shooting’ of badgers at night which is likely to result in massive welfare problems as well as increase the chances of local population perturbation. The Convention’s requirement that any control measures must not result in local disappearance of, or serious disturbance to, badger populations, cannot therefore be met.

The slaughter of badgers as a means of controlling bTB has been widely criticised by scientists and conservation experts including members of the Independent Scientific Group [2] commissioned to assess the results of the 10 year Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) completed in 2007; Chairman of the Royal Society's Science Policy Advisory Group Lord Krebs [3]; the Medical Research Council [4]; and a host of conservation and animal welfare experts [5].

More than 100,000 signatures of public opposition have been gathered on petitions conducted by groups such as the League Against Cruel Sports, RSPCA and 38 Degrees, and more than 5,000 HSI UK supporters have written to DEFRA expressing their opposition to the Government’s plans.


Editor’s Notes:

 1. More detail on our complaint on request.

 2. The Independent Scientific Group, reporting on results from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, concluded that ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain’ – 2008.

 3. Lord Krebs speaking in the Daily Telegraph, 11 July 2011.

 4. Medical Research Council report, July 2011, stated that localised badger culling can more than double the risk of tuberculosis infecting cattle.

 5. Natural England, which DEFRA proposes will issue the shooting licences, stated that it has a “low level of confidence” that DEFRA’s policy would be effective in reducing bTB in cattle Natural England submission to DEFRA consultation, page 11, August 2011.

 6. Sir David Attenborough interview in Daily Telegraph 14 July 2011.

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Humane Society International/UK and its partner organisations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organisations — backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands-on programmes. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide. On the Web at hsiuk.org.

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