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Local extinction of badgers moves closer as badger cull heads for record badger deaths

Another 11 cull zones have been added to England, covering a land mass almost double the size of London, as the cull intensifies. As you may recall, Hampshire lost 578 badgers to the cull last year. The target for 2022 is a massive 1,586 (minimum 1,064) with a new cull area added and we now know that culling started on 29th August despite Defra failing to publish details until last Friday evening.

For the time being North East Hampshire Badger Group has decided to pause its participation in the APHA "Southern Edge" bTB project. We want to understand how the Hampshire cull figure for 2022 has increased so dramatically when only 1 out of 74 badger carcasses submitted to the APHA from across the county (August 2021 to September 2022) has tested positive for bTB. At the same time there's been a 27.3% decrease in new TB cattle herd breakdowns. Yesterday we submitted a Freedom of Information request to the APHA asking how many of the 578 animals culled last year were tested for bTB and how many tested positively for the disease. The APHA has until 29th November to respond. The following is an extract from this week's press release by Badger Trust about the 2022 cull numbers which provides more information.

After refusing to release this year's intensive cull licence statistics for the first time since the controversial badger cull began, the government has now finally succumbed to public and campaign pressure and published this year's intensive cull licence figures. As Badger Trust feared, this year's licence data reveals that the total death toll for badgers in England is now expected to surpass 200,000 since culling began in 2013. This unscientific onslaught is now pushing badgers to the brink of extinction in long-established cull areas, areas where bovine TB disease control has remained unaffected by killing badgers. Not only are the public reporting badger setts now sitting empty for the first time in living memory, but the government's own statistics have revealed that badger numbers are being overestimated in cull areas. Year-on-year, the government is forced to reduce the minimum and maximum kill targets in intensive cull zones, as contracted shooters struggle to find enough badgers to kill in each designated area. This year is no different, with five zones already absent of a minimum kill target. Peter Hambly, Executive Director of Badger Trust commented: “The local extinction of badgers is happening right here, right now. The government has finally admitted they want 2022 to be the record year for badger deaths from their senseless cull. Over 67,000 badgers have been marked for slaughter this year, with massive new areas intensively culled for the first time – including in Northamptonshire, Hampshire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. We already know parts of the southwest are empty of badgers – the government seems intent on wiping out this iconic mammal. If they tested the culled badgers they would know that most don’t even have bTB. "England is a killing field for badgers and people need to act now to stop the unpopular cull before we lose this amazing creature forever.” These harrowing figures come with scientists confirming that bTB is unaffected by badger culling. As a cattle-to-cattle transmitted disease, badger culling does not work to reduce rates of the disease in cattle. Despite the science and the badger’s protected legal status, this government is quite literally washing away badgers from Britain, a place that they’ve called home for the past 500,000 years. Badgers remain safe from culling in Wales and Scotland, and bTB rates remain lower there as well. Etched into place names across Britain, the iconic ‘brock’ is at risk of localised extinctions where badgers have been relentlessly culled for a decade. With this year set to kill up to another 67,000 innocent badgers, this iconic native species is at serious risk of eradication. Setts hundreds of years old now sit empty for the first time in history. This move comes at the same time that Defra, which has maintained publicly that badger culling will end in 2025, had for the first time refused to disclose the 2022 cull licence information. Never before has Natural England withheld this information from the public, information which is in the public interest and led campaigners to suspect that the figures would confirm their concerns, that there would be yet more evidence that badgers are facing localised extinctions. After two months of Badger Trust calling on Natural England to release the cull figures for 2022, the stats have finally been published and the picture looks even more grim than expected. In total, the government figures reveal that up to 67,801 badgers could be killed this year as a further 11 zones in England have been added. These 11 zones combine into an area almost twice the size of London (London = 1,572km2). The total death toll since the culling began could now exceed 240,000 badgers – a supposedly protected native species. It is clear that the government is increasing badger persecution rather than phasing it out as they promised. These statistics come at a pivotal time in the culling operation, in what is meant to be the last year that intensive culling licences are to be issued. Whilst a phase-out of badger culling has been previously promised, these statistics reveal a vastly different picture. Recent statements by Defra spokespersons have also U-turned on the promise of a phase-out of badger persecution. Instead, Defra now claims to retain the right to keep culling badgers beyond 2025 where “epidemiological evidence supports it”. What such evidence is, remains a mystery as all current scientific evidence shows that badger culling does not work. And Defra’s only analysis of the cull was retracted after it became evident that their figures had been incorrectly calculated. This government's attack on nature began with badger culling over ten years ago. Since then, this iconic and much-loved native animal has been pushed to unsustainable levels in cull areas. These latest figures only serve as evidence of this catastrophic programme, which in England has pushed badgers to the brink of extinction whilst allowing bTB to rage uncontrolled in English cattle herds. While the government refuses to admit badger culling has failed to reduce bTB in England, badgers, who have lived on the British isles for more than 500,000 years, are being wiped out from their native English landscape. Their absence will be the legacy of this failed disease control strategy. More information:

The badger cull year has two licence issue points: in May 'supplementary’ licences are issued to continue killing badgers at a lower rate in areas where an ‘intensive’ licence has already been in place for at least four years; in September ‘intensive’ licences are issued for new areas to undertake mass killing of badgers, and are valid for four years from point of issue. The new intensive licences issued will run from August 2022 until 31st January 2026.

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