The Last Resort – Seals and Badgers Under Attack

As England is facing the much-disputed pilot cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire of around 5000 badgers, in Scotland it has been revealed that over half of salmon farms have been shown to be killing seals under the guise of a ‘last resort’ to protect stocks.

In both of these cases the killing of two protected species, in conflict with farming, has been argued as necessary to protect livelihoods. However, we question – how ‘last resort’ are these reactions, have preventative measures fully been explored and does this really make the case for slowly eliminating our few remaining British predators?

Seals and Salmon Fishing in Scotland

Let’s look at the new data disclosed by the Scottish Government following a Freedom of Information disclosure. It shows between January 2011 and mid-year 2012 52% of the 215 active salmon farms killed at least one seal. Seven farms were named and shamed as accounting for a quarter of these killings, suggesting the ‘as a last resort’ licences to kill seals issued by the Scottish government are being abused.

In total the death toll reached 346 seals recorded in 2011 and 2012 including 93 common seals and 253 grey seals – both supposedly protected species of international importance. With 40% of the world population of grey seals found in Britain and over 90% of British grey seals breeding in coastal Scotland this is a key habitat for their protection; however, as our project partner Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit report through their research – they have found a “frightening decline in both species”.

Badgers and Cattle farming in England

Hmm sounds familiar, the ‘trial’ cull of badgers launched in June will not show whether culling will solve the bovine TB issue for cattle farmers, rather it will show whether the lethal method ‘free shooting’ is effective – that doesn’t sound like a government seeking a ‘last resort’!

On this basis, and despite clear criticism from most of the UK’s independent scientists against the cull including the authors of the crucial ISG report, a full scale cull is proposed to lead to the death of 100,000+ badgers across the UK (a protected species by the way!). As the cull must target 70% of local populations, and those population numbers are unknown, it will be impossible to accurately know how many are actually killed – meaning it is very likely that this will lead to no impact on the disease, or the whole local population of wild badgers reduced to a dangerous level that could lead to another UK endemic predator at risk of being completely wiped out.

OK, but what about farmers – the farming industry is under a huge deal of pressure surely they are allowed to protect their livelihoods?

Interestingly in the case of Scottish Salmon Farms only 13% of sites had predator nets installed – these are a second layer of netting used to stop seals entering the fish farms and have been shown to be very successfully used in Canadian salmon farms to protect the industry and wildlife.

Why are the nets not used? Well the Scottish government response was that the predator net installation “requires employing extra trained staff and regular net maintenance and cleaning which costs money and eats into profit margins” – so there we have it, shooting seals is not exactly the’ last resort’, it is the cheapest resort.

In the case of badgers there are two options that would have a greater, more scientifically targeted effect on the eradication of TB in cattle. Guess what – both are preventative and both non-lethal!? By simply ensuring rigorous implementation of farm biosecurity and movement controls, farmers can control not only transmission from badgers but also between cattle (which makes up the lion share of transmission).

This measure, taken by many responsible farmers should be required across the board.  In terms of badgers, vaccination has been proven to be effective in reducing bTB transmission to cattle. However, here’s the rub historically – Badger vaccination has been seen as an expensive and impractical option, and cull advocates claim it won’t be an option for several years.

We at Care for the Wild along with other members of Team Badger, want to bridge this gap and work with farmers to roll out a feasible and cost-worthy alternative to the cull – a project called the Badger Vaccination Initiative. With government backing, the scheme could be rolled out before a nationwide cull and provide a viable alternative to farmers.

We need our governments to stand by laws which defend our protected and vulnerable species and work with farmers to ensure they are able to explore the available options while ensuring minimal impact on their livelihoods. Care for the Wild believes choosing lethal options should not be the first port of call with every conflict of interests between wildlife and farming industry. These species create and shape our landscape – and have a right to inhabit our wild spaces.

If you are interested in reading more about our work with Cetacean Research and Rescue Unit click here.

To follow our work with Team Badger – Fighting the Cull and to join the campaign click here

To read the latest press release containing all details of the lethal seal control by Scottish salmon farms click here