is-free-shooting-of-badgers-humane?
Badger. Photo: Tim Melling

This afternoon the Wild Justice petition calling for an end to Badger shooting will be ‘debated’ in Westminster Hall by backbench MPs and will receive statements from Shadow and actual DEFRA ministers.

No doubt the debate will wander all over the place with MPs spouting quite a lot of nonsense that makes them look foolish as they are simply reading out inaccurate briefings supplied to them by others. That’s my guess anyway. Part of this spouting will probably be about the efficacy of culling as a bTB measure – see previous blog – but that isn’t really what the Wild Justice petition was about.

The petition – click here – was about whether the method of killing free-living Badgers chosen by DEFRA was (and is) or wasn’t (and isn’t) humane. Just a reminder, this is the full text of the Wild Justice petition:

Shooting of Badgers is licensed by Natural England as part of the DEFRA Badger cull. 24,000+ Badgers were shot in 2019.

Shooting is poorly monitored and Wild Justice believes it has never met the animal welfare standards recommended by a 2014 Independent Expert Panel, whose recommendations were accepted by DEFRA. This method of culling is inhumane and should be banned immediately.

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/333693

The consequences of moving away from free shooting of Badgers would be that more Badgers would have to be killed through cage-trapping if the cull were continued. The reason that this is opposed by farming interests is that it requires much greater expertise and is more expensive – correct me if I am wrong.

The current DEFRA policy ignores, or at least gives vanishingly low priority to, welfare concerns. It prioritises expediency and cheaper cost over the inevitable suffering imposed on tens of thousands of Badgers over the course of the cull and in the years to come.

I wonder how many MPs will even address the welfare issues – I expect to be in Westminster Hall listening to the debate and keeping count.

This is a subject about which, in theory, proponents and opponents of a Badger cull might agree. I bet they won’t…

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For any MPs who want to address the issue raised by the petition here are some notes:

  • whether one believes that the Badger cull is working or not in terms of reducing bovine TB infections, shooting of free-living Badgers is an inhumane way to carry out a cull of a mammal.
  • thousands of Badgers are shot every year, in the dark, with rifles.  A smaller number are cage-trapped and then humanely dispatched.  During the course of this Natural England-licensed, DEFRA-promoted, cull, well over 100,000 free-running Badgers have been shot in the English countryside.
  • an expert panel convened by DEFRA under the chairmanship of Prof Ranald Munro, reported in 2014 that shooting of Badgers could not be considered humane if more than 5% of those shot took longer than 5 minutes to die.  In pilot culls 6-18% of Badgers died more slowly than this.  One Badger in this small sample of monitored shooting took over 13 minutes to die. DEFRA has ignored this advice. These data were derived from observers being present, and known to be present, when Badgers were shot – the vast majority of Badger shots are made unmonitored and it is impossible to believe that under those circumstances the welfare standards of shooting will be maintained at what was already an unsatisfactory level
  • reporting by Natural England of the culls they have licensed show that the recommended criteria for quick deaths have never been met in the field (and the vast majority of kills take place unseen by any monitors).
  • the British Veterinary Association withdrew its support for shooting of free-running Badgers in 2015 stating that such culling was not effective enough nor humane enough to be supported.
  • at a time when the Animal Sentience Bill is passing through Parliament we are seeing a Natural England-licensed, DEFRA-promoted inhumane mass slaughter of a much-loved native mammal.
  • even if the Badger cull were effective it cannot be claimed to be humane and yet DEFRA and NE appear callously unbothered about this aspect of their cull.

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