Bovine TB: Fact, Fantasy & Politics

Pilot culls - the basics

  • Author: Badgergate
  • Published: 11-05-2013 at 13:06:50

What are they?

The pilot badger culls are trials that the Coalition Government plans to undertake in two areas of England to test certain elements of the Government’s new policy for bovine TB eradication in England. If successful, the culls will be rolled out to other parts of England.

Defra is the main Ministerial government department responsible for designing the policy and overseeing its implementation and evaluation. Actual culling is being organised and implemented by groups of farmers and landowners under licences issued by Natural England.

The main method of culling requires hired teams to shoot free-running badgers at night using rifles and shotguns. A second method involves trapping badgers in cages first before shooting them. Pilot cull areas must be at least 150 square kilometres in area and licence-holders must have access to at least 70% of the total licenced area for culling.

Why is this happening?

What are the objectives?

The stated objective of the pilot culls is to test the Government’s assumptions about a new method of badger control: ‘controlled shooting’ or shooting of free-ranging badgers at night under specific rules issued by the Government. This approach has never been used by Government as a means of badger control in the UK before but the Government is confident that controlled shooting will be effective, humane and safe (with reference to the public) given that there is widespread shooting of other species in the UK. However, given the concerns of experts and the general public about the lack of actual evidence for any of these points in relation to badgers, the Government has decided to take a ‘precautionary approach’ – hence the two pilot culls.

The pilot culls will specifically test the following:

See:   Paragraph 1 under "Badger control pilots" & Paragraph 5.4 (and other sections) of

When and where is it going to happen?

The pilot culls were originally planned to start in the autumn of 2012.  Natural England issued licences for two pilot cull areas, one in West Gloucestershire and one in West Somerset. However, both culls were postponed until the summer of 2013 only days before shooting was scheduled to start.

The licences remain valid and the pilot culls are expected to begin in these two areas any time from 1st June onwards and must be completed within a period of six weeks. Culling by shooting alone can take place between 1st June and 31st January whilst culling by cage-trapping and shooting can only take place between 1st June and 3rd November.

The West Gloucestershire pilot cull area falls mainly within the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury council districts, with parts falling within the districts of Wychavon, Malvern Hills and the southeast part of Herefordshire County. It excludes the Forest of Dean area, however. The West Somerset pilot area falls mainly within West Somerset council district, with one section in the district of Taunton Deane.

The total pilot areas are: 311 square kilometres in West Gloucestershire and 256 square kilometres in West Somerset (see Table 1 below). Culling is to take place in at least 70% of each of these areas.

If any farmer or landowner who has signed up to the cull decides to opt out once the cull is under way for any reason, the Government will continue to cull the badgers on their land and charge the landowner accordingly.

third pilot cull area has been identified in Dorset as a reserve in case one of the other two areas is either unable to comply with the licence requirements or withdraws.

How many badgers will be killed?

Minimum and maximum cull targets were set in February 2013 based on the most recent estimates of the badger population in each of the two pilot cull areas (Table 1).

The first year’s cull will involve the removal of up to nearly 3,000 badgers in West Gloucestershire and over 2,000 badgers in West Somerset.

Table 1:  Pilot cull areas, estimated badger population and cull targets
2013 Data West Gloucestershire West Somerset
Total pilot cull area (km2) 311.00 256.05
Estimated minimum badger population in cull area (80% one-tailed CI 2657 1972
Estimated maximum badger population in cull area (80% one-tailed CI) 4079 2973
Minimum cull target 2856 2081
Maximum cull target 2932 2162

Notes: CI=Confidence Interval. CIs and the implications of using an 80% one-tailed confidence interval are discussed separately in our sections on badger population estimates in the cull areas, the 2013 cull targets and pilot cull design.

References:    1.  West Gloucestershire licence authorisation letter 

2. West Somerset licence authorisation letter

3.  Estimates of badger population sizes in the West Gloucestershire and West Somerset pilot areas (2013) 

4.  Estimates of badger population sizes in the West Gloucestershire and West Somerset pilot areas (2012)

What happens after the first years pilot culls?

Defra has appointed an Independent Expert Panel to monitor and evaluate the design, conduct and assumptions of the pilot culls. The Panel’s findings will guide the Government in its decision on whether to implement this policy in other areas of England.

If the pilots are deemed successful, badger culling will be rolled out elsewhere in England. Under the Government's new policy, up to 39,000 km2 (or c. 30%) of England is eligible for badger culling under licence.  Up to 10 licences a year could be issued, each covering a minimum area of 150 square kilometres. No limits have been set on the maximum culling area.  Licencees would be committed to removing at least 70% of the badger population over at least 70% of the total licenced cull area in the first year. They would also be required to cull badgers every year for at least another three years and to remove enough animals to maintain the badger population at less than 70% of what it was before culling operations began.

The total number of badgers culled will depend on the eventual number of successful applications and the total area over which culling takes place:  the larger the area culled, the higher the likely number of badgers killed.

So what’s the big deal about culling ‘a few’ badgers when we have so many? 

Firstly, no one actually knows how many badgers there are in England for sure. We should have a better idea of this figure once the latest national survey results are available sometime later this year. Based on a 2005 assessment of available data by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee under the Tracking Mammals PartnershipNatural England estimated there to be around 220,000 badgers in 2011.

Secondly, if culling takes place in all the areas proposed by the farming industry up to July 2011 covering nearly 11,000 km2 in totalestimates provided to Defra by Natural England in 2011 suggest that between 70,000 to over 100,000 badgers could be culled over four years. In other words, up to nearly 50% of England's badgers may be removed. Given that up to 39,000 km2 of England is potentially eligible for badger culling under the present policy, the actual proportion of badgers removed over time may be even higher, depending on how many licenses are eventually granted and the actual total area culled.

Third, one has to wonder whether the Government is genuinely committed to an objective assessment of the conduct and outcomes of the two pilot culls when one reads reports of Mr Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment, not only guaranteeing that the pilot culls would go ahed in the summer of 2013, but also expressing his wish to see the policy rolled out more widely:

“We will go ahead with the policy, I can absolutely guarantee, next summer. From that I would like to see this policy rolled out because at the moment it is the only tool we have to resolve the problem in wildlife.”

Owen Paterson, 1 November 2012 as quoted in the Farmers Guardian

Further information

You can find out more information about the pilot badger culls from Natural England and Defra’s websites as well as from the various policy documents and reports listed below.

A.  Natural England

B.  Defra

Defra have been in the process of moving their old website to Information is currently scattered between their old and new websites. Things seemed to be better organised/easier to find on their old website, but maybe that’s because they’re still transferring information. The National Archives website is often a good place to find things that appear to be no longer available on either their old or their new website.

C.  Important policy and guidance documents relating to bovine TB eradication, badger control and the design and conduct of the pilot badger culls:

1.  Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England.  July 2011.

2.  The Government’s Policy on Bovine TB and badger control in England. December 2011.

3.  Guidance to Natural England  - Licences to kill or take badgers for the purpose of preventing the spread of bovine TB under section 10(2)(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992

4.  Controlled shooting of badgers in the field under licence to prevent the spread of bovine TB in cattle. Best practice guidance. Best practice for the controlled shooting of free-ranging badgers in the field and the associated use of artificial light (i.e. ‘lamping’) October 2012 (Revised guidance of May and August 2012).

5.  Establishing and running a badger culling training course and assessing competence: minimum course requirements. October 2012

6.  West Gloucestershire licence authorisation letter

7.  West Somerset licence authorisation letter

8.  Estimates of badger population sizes in the West Gloucestershire and West Somerset pilot areas. A report to Natural England. 22 February 2013. (No author named.)

9.  Estimates of badger population sizes in the West Gloucestershire and West Somerset pilot areas. A report to Natural England by Fera. 15 October 2012.

10.  Details of Independent Expert Panel appointed by Defra to monitor and evaluation pilot culls

11. The impact of culling on badger (Meles meles) populations in England and measures to prevent their ‘local disappearance’ from culled areas. Supplementary advice provided under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). 4 July 2011.