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Badger Cull Campaign

Ethical Consumer's campaign to stop the badger cull.

In 2017 19,724 badgers were killed in the cull. Yet the cull has made no measurable difference to rates of bTB to date. This supports one study’s findings that “only 5.7% of bTB outbreaks in cattle are caused by direct transmission from badgers”. Campaigners suggest that badgers are being used as a scapegoat to appease the dairy industry. The culling continued into 2018 and 2019.

"Bovine TB is an infectious disease which is spread through poor farming practices and not — as the Government would have you believe — by badgers. Dairy cows are kept in dirty and crowded conditions, meaning cattle are riddled with disease and exhausted from being overworked. In addition to these inhumane living conditions, grossly inaccurate TB tests lead to diseased cattle being transported around the UK and infecting new herds." Viva!

Where next for campaigning against the badger cull?

Facing a threat of legal action from the Red Tractor Scheme, Ethical Consumer was persuaded to drop its ‘Cartoons against the cull’ crowdfunder in June 2018. Rob Harrison explains what happened and explores options for future campaigning.

The badger cull tends to begin in England each year around mid August, once harvests are in. Last year it ran for over three months, until any surviving badgers began hibernation. Without any attempt to produce figures on the effectiveness of the program at combating TB in cattle, the government announced in May this year that the cull was likely to be extended from the current 21 zones to ‘most of England’. And, as if to goad campaigners further, they offered a bounty of £50 per badger eliminated. Last year 19,724 badgers were killed in the cull.

The demise of wild animals...

Also in April this year, a group of scientists published research which assessed the comparative weight of all living organisms on our planet. Amongst the many fascinating results was the insight that of all mammals on the planet, 60% by weight were livestock, 36% humans and just 4% were wild animals.

And the direction of travel for wild animals does not look good either, with half being lost in the last 50 years. Badgers are the third largest land mammal type by weight still hanging on the UK, after deer and re-introduced wild boar. Their population was estimated to be around 485,000 in 2017.

...and the rise of economic efficiency

All the other living organisms, which are not humans or livestock, can be an annoyance to food producers. Insects and fungi can damage crops, and wildlife can damage productive areas and domestic animals. During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries economic efficiency has become prioritised over all other values, with some campaigners, like the organic movement, fighting a rearguard action.

To some degree a truce has been agreed, whereby farmers will be compensated by everyone else for putting up with some annoyance from the few species that remain (e.g. set aside and environmental grants). Populations of wolves are protected in France, and farmers are compensated for livestock killed, and similar programs exist in Kenya for livestock killed by lions.

In the UK farmers are already compensated for livestock killed as part of the TB control program, but an eradication program now appears to have grown up in parallel to this on the flimsiest of scientific evidence. Is it any wonder that conservationists feel cheated?

Boycotts and the badger cull

In 2013 Ethical Consumer, alongside other badger groups, tried to organise a boycott of milk from within the first two cull zones. However, it soon became clear that any producers and retailers offering support were quickly coming under intense pressure to backtrack, the organic movement refused to take sides, and in the end no clearly cull-free options could be found. Since then other campaign groups have been opposing the cull in a variety of complimentary ways, such as legal challenges and direct action. But the cull zones are still expanding.

Boycotts are a good tool when useful dialogue appears to have come to an end. They are a blunt instrument and often only used as a last resort, but it would appear to be logical for opponents of the cull to be able to avoid the produce of farmers who are supporting or engaged in it. However, unfortunately details of the cull zones are kept secret by the government.

This appears to leave campaigning consumers with little alternative but to boycott the produce of all English cattle farmers, or at least those not publicly distancing themselves from the cull. The vegan campaign group Viva have been running a ‘dump dairy save the badger’ boycott campaign since 2011.

With 91% in our survey supporting the idea of a boycott, Ethical Consumer has decided to take this forward as a general call: do not buy English dairy produce during the badger cull. We will be announcing this as a campaign soon in our email newsletter and via social media, and working with other groups to raise its profile.

With a UK population of 485,000, badgers are not on any endangered species lists yet. But with 20,000 killed in 2017 and with the cull areas potentially doubling in 2018, we might expect to lose another 40,000 this year. As mentioned above, the direction of travel for non-human animals does not look good, and time is running out for the badgers if we cannot find a better solution for everyone.

Digging deeper

After a UK epidemic of bovine (cattle) TB in the 1930s, it was brought under control by cattle-based measures, until the last decades of the 20th century when it began to increase again.

According to the Badger Trust, “the increase followed a marked relaxation of cattle testing, slaughter and movement controls [and] coincided with the intensification of dairy farms.” On the other hand, farming organisations, notably the NFU, blamed badgers.

In the 1990s the Government commissioned a nearly 10-year, taxpayer-funded study including a Randomised Badger Culling Trial. The final report in 2007 concluded that ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain,’ and recommended cattle-based measures alone.

The Coalition Government launched a four-year trial of badger culling in 2013 in an attempt to halt the spread of TB in cattle. Despite a report from the Government’s own Independent Panel of Experts concluding that the 2013 cull was both cruel and ineffective, it was repeated in 2014.

On 28th August 2015 the government announced that Natural England had authorised the cull to start again in Gloucestershire and Somerset, and also to begin in Dorset. This is despite widespread resistance from scientists, Wildlife Trusts and the general public.

The government further expanded the cull in 2016, granting licences in parts of Herefordshire, Cornwall and Devon. This move saw a dramatic increase in the number of badgers culled in the UK, with the number jumping from 1,467 in 2015 to 10,886 in 2016.

The pilot badger culls in England are considered highly controversial for a number of reasons including their effectiveness, cost, impacts on local communities, animal rights concerns and politicised nature.

Like millions of others we believe that the badger cull will not stop the spread of bovine TB in cattle. Independent scientific studies have shown that culling would be of little help in reducing bovine TB, and even suggest that it could make things worse in some areas. Instead the cull will have a dire impact on British wildlife with over 70% of the badger population in large areas of the country being wiped out.

Badger culling trials with similar aims have previously been conducted in England, most recently the 1998-2007 Randomised Badger Culling Trial. These are also known as the ‘Krebs trials’, named after the author of a report which recommended them.

According to Defra, “Results [of the Krebs trials] showed positive and negative changes in the incidence of bovine TB in cattle as a result of badger culling”.

Professor Krebs is quoted as saying:
I can’t understand how anybody who’s looked at the science would say this is a good idea.

The current cull strategy is supposedly a farmer and land owner led movement, but Defra and the National Farmers Union (NFU) have been heavily involved in forming policy surrounding the cull, promoting the cull and monitoring the cull on the ground.

The NFU, which has reportedly used a range of bullying tactics to persuade farmers to sign up to the cull, has not balloted its members as to whether they support the idea of a cull or not.

Inappropriate collaboration between the police and the NFU, and individuals participating in the cull, has been reported in the media and remarked upon but anti-cull activists. A legal challenge to the police’s behaviour resulted in the emergence of a report that showed that the NFU had been present in the police control room in the Somerset cull zone and had some role in directing the police’s operations.

In addition, badger shooters within the zones have reportedly been favoured by police over badger cull campaigners, with some alleged illegal activity of cullers not investigated.

At least one badger cull protester is taking the police to court for handing his personal details over to the NFU.

Further alarm has been caused by the fact that Defra has refused to disclose information on the cull on the grounds that communications with the NFU constituted “internal communications”. The Information Commissioner ruled against Defra’s refusal.

A director of the Badger Trust remarked that:
The NFU is a lobbying organisation and should be seen and treated as such.”

Companies were established specifically for managing the badger culls.

They are made up of farmers and landowner ‘members’ who financially contribute to the costs of running a badger cull in specified areas over a four year period. Who these members are is not publicly known, but the name of the cull companies and their directors are.

One cull company is likely to be established for every cull zone if the cull is rolled out beyond the pilot zones.

The cull companies are companies limited by guarantee with a small board of around eight people who make all the key decisions. [The company] applies for a licence, issued by Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, and organises everything from hiring contractors to the removal of badger carcases.

Farmers pay upfront fees to the company to become members for the four-year duration of the cull.

To apply for a licence from Natural England, the cull company must meet certain criteria.
Requirements include, but are not limited to:

  • Applications must cover an area of at least 150km squared;
  • At least 70% of the proposed land area must be accessible for culling;
  • Inaccessible land within the proposed cull zone should be minimised, with at least
  • 90% of land within the cull area being accessible or within 200m of accessible land;
  • Farmers must financially commit to the cull for a four year period and must conduct an effective cull every year for a four year period.

Defra has produced guidance for Natural England on license requirements (PDF).

To be eligible for a licence to cull badgers, contractors, which are hired by the cull companies, must have a firearms or shotgun certificate and must attend a training course on all aspects of the badger cull process, from badger ecology and anatomy to a test of their shooting ability. Shooting takes place at night using lamps or night vision technology.

Shooting areas are baited and badgers, which come out to feed, are shot from a distance of around 70 metres. All activities of marksmen are supposedly recorded on a database set up by the cull company.

Back in 2014 Ethical Consumer conducted a piece of research which looked into the two pilot cull zones of Gloucestershire and Somerset.  You can download and read that report here - Inside the Badger Cull Zones.

Stop the Cull have been active in resisting the badger cull and have published a substantial amount of related information on their website.

This states that cull company members:

pay an upfront fee based on 50p/hectare (20p/acre) plus £5/head of cattle. Members also pay a 25% contingency fee on top, which is returned if not required. If still not enough, members are asked to contribute any additional funding in proportion with their initial contribution. Anyone who drops out will have to pay their fee again as a leaving fee“.

This money pays for the costs of the badger cull over a four year period.

Care for the Wild have estimated that the two pilot culls cost £7 million, equivalent to more than £4,000 per badger killed. The total figure was broken down as ‘government costs’ of £3.2m, farmers’ costs of £1.49m and policing costs of £2.6m.

In terms of government funding, Defra “was responsible for purchasing cages, but is withholding the costs of the cages under regulation 12(5)(e) protection of economic interests… All other items were purchased by the NFU or the cull companies.”

Labour costs are reportedly covered by the cull companies and the NFU. The amount the NFU contributes is unknown.

In terms of rewarding shooters, Jay Tiernan from Stop the Cull said:
Initially shooters were said to be paid £10 per badger killed, then we heard £20 per badger, but we think that teams were employed eventually and possibly paid for by the NFU, no idea how much they were paid when that happened.

A broad coalition of organisations came together to resist the cull, with a number of tactics deployed.

The Hunt Saboteurs Association (HSA), joined by individuals prepared to take direct action, actively disrupted the shooting at night.

The cull zones were divided into different areas for which different groups of saboteurs assumed responsibility for disrupting the cull. Extensive set surveying was conducted in the areas prior to the cull. The tactics deployed by the HSA had been developed during the Krebs trials, which were also disrupted by direct action activists.

People went out at night in vehicles, went into fields and used tactics to stop the shooting. These included standing between the shooters and the badgers and creating a disturbance to scare the badgers away. The marksmen were supposed to stop shooting if members of the general public were in the area. The cull disruptors report that this did not happen.

It became evident that the cull was not achieving what it was intended to achieve. Some cull supporters pulled out a couple of weeks in.

As a means of trying to meet the badger cull targets, the activities of the marksmen changed. Cull disruptors claim that they became more desperate. For example, they went out alone when they were supposed to be in groups.

Interviewees also claim that the marksmen were lying to police about the activities of cull disrupters in an attempt to have them stopped and searched. For example, making claims that people had equipment such as bolt croppers with them when they did not.

Police were regularly stopping vehicles, particularly in the Somerset cull zone. Damage was done to the cull disruptors’ vehicles. Fireworks are reported to have been fired under cull disruptors’ vehicles by those involved in the cull.

An injunction was taken out against the cull disruptors which was difficult not to break but but also very difficult to enforce.

Towards the end of the cull there was an increase in caged trapping, whereby badgers would be caught and then shot, compared with open shooting. This was a deviation in the aims of the pilot, which was supposed to measure the effectiveness and humaneness of open shooting. It was also more expensive than open shooting and made disrupting the cull easier. Traps could be immobilised during the day.

The cull disruptors had a substantial amount of local support. Local people that were not prepared to conduct direct action at night gathered information during the day. The cull
disruptors were sometimes bought food by local people.

There was one badger set in Somerset that was one of the oldest in Britain, with a few hundred badgers in it. The cull disruptors were effective in ensuring that this set was protected during the cull. However, after the cull had finished this set was attacked and the badgers killed illegally.

A full analysis of potential alternative ways of eradicating bovine TB from cattle is beyond the scope of this report. The current focus of a number of campaigning organisations is a
badger vaccination programme.

Below a couple of other seemingly significant issues are raised to illustrate the necessity of challenging the existing justifications for a badger cull.

After previous badger cull trials, in 2007 the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB (ISG) concluded that “scientific findings indicate that the rising incidence of disease can be reversed and geographical spread contained, by the rigid application of cattle-based control measures alone.”

Steve Jones, a farmer from Gloucestershire, has claimed that low milk prices paid to farmers by supermarkets prevents them from carrying out and investing in bio-security measures such as cleaning out feeding troughs after the winter. In 2012 he called for an increase in the price of milk received by farmer from 31p per litre to at least 35p.

Slurry has also been cited as a vector for bovine TB, and inadequate management and storage of slurry may result in the disease spreading.

According to a report published by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland,

Slurry containing viable M. bovis [bovine TB] may theoretically contaminate pasture, soil and silage and result in respiratory/oral transmission and infection of grazing cattle (and local wildlife) for a considerable length of time after the application of slurry depending on the conditions… Studies indicate that inadequate storage of slurry is associated with an increased risk of TB transmission.

The same report states that “Chemical disinfection of cattle slurry from TB reactor herds may enable rapid inactivation of M. bovis in cattle slurry.”

The 'third party' referred to by Defra (above) is likely to be the private cull companies ‘Gloscon Ltd’ for the Gloucestershire cull, ‘HNV Associates Ltd’ for the Somerset area and 'Fru Serve' for the North Dorset 'backup' cull area.

Information about all three companies can be found on the Companies House website, including their annual accounts and information on their directors.

All three companies have their offices registered at the NFU’s headquarters.

Cull companies are issued licenses by Natural England to organise and implement the badger cull. The companies are composed of farmer and landowner groups, classed as 'members', who financially contribute to the cull in addition to allowing shooters onto their land.

The percentage of members that are farmers, or more specifically, beef or dairy farmers, is currently unknown. An article in the Western Gazette referenced a Freedom of Information request which claimed that ’43 per cent of the land involved in Gloucestershire was on cattle or dairy farms [and that] In West Somerset, only 60 per cent of the participating farms have cattle’.

Efforts to identify cull company ‘members’ have been made by a range of organisations and activist groups, with ‘Stop the Cull’ being most notable due to information being published on their website, and numerous campaign groups referencing their work as the key source of information for the current cull zones.



Active anti-cull campaign groups

38 Degrees

38 Degrees hosts a number of petitions including some which revolve around the badger cull. Petitions have kept the issue of the badger cull on the political agenda and maintained public pressure on the Government, search their website for the latest petitions.

Animal Aid

Animal Aid are an animal rights campaign group. They have several information pages about the badger cull and have called for a boycott of dairy products.


Badger Rescue and Vaccination Everywhere (B-R-A-V-E) is a community of campaigners organising action against the badger cull.

Badger Army to Stop the Cull with Direct Action

A direct action group with an active Facebook page

Badger Trust

The Badger Trust is the largest badger action group in the UK and has been at the forefront of badger protection since its founding in 1986. The group organise an annual Badger Week to raise awareness of the cull. The Badger Trust also maintain a directory of local badger campaign groups.


This website had comprehensive instructions on how to target Ministers, MPs, MEPs, Councillors, veterinary and policing bodies DEFRA, Natural England and more. (The Badgergate website is no longer working.)


Care2 is an online community which revolves largely around campaigning and petitions. The group have hosted several stop the cull petitions, take a look at their website for their latest petitions.

Green Party

The Green Party has always had a strong stance against the badger cull. They stated that the "Badger cull is a spectacularly expensive, ineffective and inhumane policy justified by a poor understanding of the science" .

Hunt Saboteurs Association

Hunt Saboteurs oppose the cull, often with direct action and physical intervention within cull zones. As well as a national body, there are also many local hunt sab groups.

League Against Cruel Sports

The badger cull is one the League’s primary campaigns and the group are a founding member of Team Badger.


The Naturewatch Foundation have a dedicated Wildlife Crime Adviser and a specific focus on Badger baiting

Network for Animals

The Network for Animals lobby MPs on behalf of animals. They also coordinate letter writing campaigns and petitions to facilitate public engagement. They are current running an anti-badger cull petition.

Save Me Trust

The Save me Trust was set up by ex-Queen guitarist Brian May and campaigns against the badger cull. The group have a strong emphasis on tackling the problem of Bovine TB.

Stop the Cull

A direct action group working to stop the cull in the south of England.


Viva! consider the issue of bovine TB to be caused by the dairy and beef industry as a whole. They are therefore running a UK wide dairy boycott as an attempt to save badgers. Viva! is a vegan organisation.

Team Badger

Team Badger is a coalition of badger action groups. Check out their Twitter account for the latest news on the badger cull.