Last night, Monday 8th September 2014, shooting sadly began against badgers in the fields of Gloucestershire and Somerset.

This devastating news follows three years of campaigning by Network For Animals, Team Badger, and thousands of motivated individuals around the country, and a high court ruling against the Badger Trust’s Judicial Review challenge of the cull.

Network For Animals continue to work alongside the 25 organisations of Team Badger, campaigning for an end to the cull. In the last six months our supporters have enabled us to donate more than £50,000 to varied badger campaigns, enabling equiptment to be purchased for wounded badger patrols, large scale vaccination projects to take place, and nationwide action targetting local councils. Hands on, we have worked in the field with wounded badger patrols, and assisted with administrative and campaigning work to give people on the frontline the best possible support available.

We will be out in the fields of Somerset and Gloucestershire again this year, and today begin work to get a pledge to end the badger cull into every political party manifesto.

Both culls failed in 2013 to reach the target number of badgers to be killed, calling into question their effectiveness and increasing the risk of disease spread. There is no evidence to suggest that these problems have been resolved. The Government has cancelled any further independent assessment of the culls in 2014 which will reduce the data and information coming into the public domain and prevent any accurate and credible assessment of effectiveness and humaneness.

Parliament voted in April this year by 219 to 1 that the culls should not continue. Public opinion remains firmly against the continuation of culling. Majority independent scientific opinion suggests that, far from preventing the spread of bovine TB, the culls could be making it worse. In 2007, the Government’s Independent Scientific Group found that “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain”. Further scientific evidence, published in 2014, shows that “small-scale culling changes badgers’ behaviour [through a process known as perturbation] in ways that risk increasing TB transmission among badgers and exacerbating cattle TB incidence rather than reducing it”.

In July of this year, Professor David Macdonald, Chair of Natural England’s Science Advisory Committee, described last year’s pilot culls as an ‘epic failure’. Badger vaccination using the existing licensed injectable vaccine represents a more cost-effective, more humane and far less divisive way of managing infection within the badger population, while also eliminating the impacts of perturbation. The Government agrees this work needs to be promoted in the Edge areas in 2014 but strangely not in the high-risk areas in the west and south-west of England where the problem is most acute.

Farmers and the public have been falsely presented with the impression that without large-scale killing of badgers, bovine tuberculosis in cattle cannot be effectively controlled. Data from Wales where a planned badger cull was cancelled in favour of improved cattle measures shows that the number of cattle slaughtered because of bovine TB has reduced by more than half since 2009. The data on new herd incidents in Wales for the 12 months to the end of April this year show a 21% reduction on the previous 12 months, with the number of cattle slaughtered down by a third over the same period; the numberof cattle slaughtered for bovine TB control in March and April 2014 were the lowest ever recorded in both months since 2008.

Wales, having rejected badger culling, is bringing down cattle TB rates in leaps and bounds. In England, millions of public and private funds are being spent on pilot badger culls and research into alternative methods of killing badgers, with all the associated societal divisions and policing costs. Meanwhile England is lagging way behind Wales in controlling bovine TB.

The culls should be cancelled, and the government’s TB control strategy should instead be focussed on enhanced cattle measures, badger vaccination, and most importantly overcoming the last regulatory obstacles preventing use of the cattle vaccine which is otherwise ready for use.