The Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) killed 33,627 badgers in England in 2022, raising the total number of badgers killed under government approval since 2013 to over 210,000.
The government said it killed the badgers to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB), a contagious, chronic bacterial disease that primarily affects cattle but can also infect other animals. Bovine TB can be transmitted through ingesting contaminated food or water, and close contact with infected animals.
Governments typically implement testing and surveillance programs for cows, and quarantine and slaughter of infected animals to control the spread of bovine TB. In some regions, efforts are also made to control the disease in wildlife populations, such as badgers in the UK.
The UK government killed most of the badgers in 2022 through “controlled shooting,” a method opposed by both the British Veterinary Association and the government’s Independent Expert Panel due to animal welfare concerns, international wildlife charity Born Free Foundation said.
Born Free added that controlled shooting involves targeting free-roaming badgers at night with high-powered rifles.
Mark Jones, a veterinarian at Born Free, expressed his dismay at the latest figures, stating, “The badger cull is the largest destruction of a protected species on record.”
He emphasized that despite the massive number of badgers killed, the government has failed to provide convincing evidence of any disease control benefits in cattle. Furthermore, hardly any of the killed badgers have been tested for bovine TB, although it is likely that most were disease-free and posed no threat, Jones said.
Jones warned that if the government keeps killing badgers, this protected species could vanish from areas of England it has inhabited since the Ice Age. “This shameful policy must be brought to an end,” he urged.
“Badger setts across England are lying empty for the first time in history. One of our most iconic native wild animals is being wiped from parts of our natural landscape because of the badger cull,” Peter Hambly, executive director of the animal welfare organization Badger Trust said.