BADGERS start to roam much further afield when culling starts nearby, research has found, potentially increasing the spread of bovine tuberculosis the disease culling is meant to control.

A study led by ZSL’s Institute of Zoology and Imperial College London reported that badger culling drives badgers to roam 61 per cent further afield, raising questions about the Government’s culling strategy, which is intended to reduce the harm to dairy herds from a rising incidence of bovine TB in hotspots around the country.

And last month, the Government announced a major extension to the programme.

Surviving badgers in populations that were culled covered nearly two thirds more land each month than they did before the culling began, and the likelihood of a badger visiting neighbouring territories each night increased twentyfold, according to the study.

The increase in badgers’ range came despite the animals being less likely to leave their setts overall in the aftermath of a cull, making them less visible to the marksmen carrying out the culls.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, covered 67 badgers on 20 cattle farms in areas of Cornwall both with and without culling, from 2013 to 2017.

However, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union, Stuart Roberts, has questioned whether it is possible to make conclusions about the effectiveness of the culling strategy from a small sample size which is focussed on only one county.

“We are still awaiting the peer reviewed report examining the effectiveness of the cull at reducing TB but previously published peer-reviewed research, and anecdotal evidence from farmers in these areas, indicates strongly that TB is being reduced as a result of controlling the wildlife which carry and spread the disease. We do not see similar convincing outcomes from vaccination,” said Mr Roberts.

“Bovine TB continues to devastate family farming businesses. Last year, nearly 33,000 cattle were slaughtered in England because of this terrible disease and more than 3,600 farms that had previously been clear were affected by it.

“That’s why the NFU has always supported the Government’s 25-year eradication strategy, which looks to utilise every tool available to eradicate this crippling disease. It is frustrating that too often culling and vaccination are given a false equivalence.

“Where wildlife control has been completed over four years, we’re confident we’re seeing up to a two-thirds reduction in bovine TB in cattle.”