The NGO has long been of the view that the badger has been put on a pedestal in the UK and evidence has grown in recent decades that its over-protected status is unjustified.
The badger population has risen to levels incompatible with the interests of man and wildlife in many areas. The increased incidence of Bovine TB in cattle is just one consequence of this imbalance. Others are the well-documented, badger-related declines in important wildlife species such as hedgehogs and bumble bees, physical damage from sett-building and an increase in costly and sometimes fatal road traffic accidents arising from having too many badgers on rural roads.
As wildlife managers, it seems to us ridiculous that there are now many more badgers in England than foxes, yet the former no-one can touch whilst the latter can be readily controlled where necessary. Although we accept that the badger is protected under the Berne Convention, it is controlled in many other countries which are signatories to that treaty. The convention allows control for specified reasons and, in theory of course, the badger can be controlled here under licence too. But wildlife licensing managers under successive Governments have simply not granted licences when asked, so members of the public have given up applying. The badger population has thus increased out of all proportion, causing big problems on a number of fronts, of which TB in cattle (and badgers) is only one. A highly undesirable side-effect of the 'non-licensing' policy appears to be that some people have taken badger control into their own hands outside the law.
In several past submissions to Government the NGO has urged that for all these reasons the protected status of the badger should be eased. If gamekeepers and others could legally control excess badgers as local circumstances required, just as they do now with foxes, badger numbers nationally would slowly return to a lower, sustainable level, in balance with the needs of man and wildlife. In the short term such a policy would have to take into account the risk that low-intensity culling could spread disease through increased badger movements (perturbation) but in the long term we think that easing badger protection is an absolute fundamental for healthy livestock and a wildlife conservation priority. Regular, low-intensity culling would not attract the hostile reaction that high intensity, widely publicised localised culls are bound to draw.
We therefore urge the Government yet again to consider freeing up badger control generally as part of its long term strategy, not just for disease control but for sound wildlife conservation throughout the UK.