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Badgers and bovine TB

Controlling bovine tuberculosis in badgers information is now available on GOV.UK.

Bovine TB is mainly a disease of cattle but can affect a range of species; there is a significant reservoir of infection in badgers. The disease is transmitted between cattle, between badgers, and between the two species.

The Government has committed, as part of a package of measures, to developing affordable options for a carefully-managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine TB.

Areas of England with a high incidence of bovine TB in cattle also tend to have high numbers of badgers, and the scientific evidence demonstrates conclusively that badgers contribute significantly to bovine TB in cattle. This evidence comes from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), in which there were positive and negative changes in the incidence of bovine TB in cattle as a result of badger culling. However, the relationship between bovine TB in badgers and in cattle is highly complex, and the rate of transmission between species is not in direct proportion to badger density.

Badger control policy

On 19 July 2011, the then Secretary of State announced that she was strongly minded to allow culling, carried out by groups of farmers and landowners, as part of a science-led and carefully managed policy of badger control.

However, before a decision was made on whether to grant licences to permit the controlled removal of badgers, we needed to be sure that we could address a number of important issues that were raised during the 2010 public consultation. We therefore consulted on draft Guidance to Natural England. This guidance set out in detail how Natural England would exercise its function to issue licences to allow the controlled culling and/or vaccination of badgers in areas of high incidence of bovine TB in cattle in a carefully regulated way for the purpose of controlling the spread of the disease, if a decision were made to permit culling.

Previous public consultation on the Government’s approach to tackling the disease and badger control policy ran from 15 September 2010 and concluded on 8 December 2010.

Badger control training course guidance

Guidance for those running training courses has been published.  Course providers must show they have the relevant skills and experience to run and assess this specialist course.

Badger protection legislation

Badgers were first given protection under the Badgers Act 1973 and badger setts were protected under the Badgers Act 1991. The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 consolidated this earlier legislation.

Summary of the Protection of Badgers Act 1992

The 1992 Act makes it an offence to:

  • kill, injure or take a badger
  • cruelly ill-treat any badger
  • interfere with a badger sett

Licensing Powers

Under the 1992 Act, licences may be granted by the Agricultural Departments (in England, this is Defra; in Wales, the National Assembly for Wales Agriculture Department; and in Scotland, the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department) for the following purposes;

a) to interfere with badger setts for the purpose of:

  1. any agricultural or forestry operation;
  2. any operation to maintain or improve any existing watercourse or drainage works, or to construct new works required for the drainage of land, including works of defence against seawater or tidal water;
  3. controlling foxes in order to protect livestock and penned game.

b) to kill or take badgers or to interfere with their setts for the purpose of;

  1. preventing serious damage to land, crops, poultry or any other form of property;
  2. preventing the spread of disease.

In England all licences regarding badgers are, in practice, granted by Natural England, either as the licensing Authority themselves or on behalf of the Secretary of State, depending on the purpose of the licence.

Further information

Page last modified: 15 August 2014