One in 10 Welsh farmers have killed badgers, 'dice survey' suggests
AROUND one in 10 livestock farmers in Wales could have illegally killed badgers in the past year, according to a random poll involving the throw of a dice conducted by universities in Bangor, Kingston and Kent.
In all, researchers spoke to 428 farmers at rural shows in Wales. Because of the sensitivity of the issue, researchers who carried out the study decided to adopt the ‘randomised response technique method’.
The technique involves the person being questioned rolling two dice and following rules as to whether they should answer truthfully or dishonestly, depending on the numbers rolled.
The researchers never know the result of the dice rolls, so they cannot tell if any specific individual may have committed an illegal act.
The research, published in PLOS ONE, showed that ‘over 10 per cent of livestock farmers in Wales have illegally killed badgers in the 12 months preceding the study, the researchers said.
The researchers stressed that the figures they uncovered can only ever be an estimate - as they can never know for certain what percentage of those who took part actually stuck to the dice rules and answered truthfully.
It means there is also an estimated margin of error in the results of between +5 per cent and -5 per cent.
But, say the report authors, the survey sample represents about 2.8 per cent of the farming industry in Wales, a higher ratio than those that may be questioned in a political opinion poll.
The technique has been used successfully in the past in difficult subject areas, such as wildlife crime in South Africa, abortion in Catholic countries and tax evasion in the Netherlands.
“Attempting to resolve the issues regarding badgers as carriers of bovine TB requires cross-disciplinary scientific research, a departure from deep-rooted positions, and the political will to implement evidence-based management,” says Dr Freya St John, from the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology.
“We believe this study makes an important contribution to that debate.”
It followed last year’s decision by the Welsh Government not to instigate a cull and introduce a badger vaccination programme in parts of West Wales and the decision to postpone planned pilot culls in England last autumn.
According to Dr Paul Cross, from Bangor University’s School of Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, the proportion of farmers estimated to have killed badgers should be considered by policymakers and in the wider debate.
“Studies investigating the effects of badger culling on TB outbreaks in cattle have not factored in the prevalence of illegal badger killing, and its potential to spread disease,” he added.
John Evans, from the Save the Badger group in south Wales, said it was “shocking” that such a high number of farmers in Wales could have been killing badgers.
“It begs the question how many farmers are doing this and have not been quite as frank. Badgers are protected by law and to kill, injure or disturb them is illegal.”
From the farming industry’s point of view Farmers Union of Wales vice-president, Brian Walters, urged farmers not to kill badgers and while he said condemned anybody breaking the law he said he could understand why someone could be driven to it.
“It shows the pressure farmers are under and the measures they are prepared to take in order to control TB because at the moment our government is not doing anything and successive governments have not done anything to tackle TB in the rural countryside.”
Responding to the report, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “There is no quick fix to tackling this disease.
“It demands a sustainable and long term approach and the application of a comprehensive range of measures including strict biosecurity, cattle testing and movement controls.
“Last year we vaccinated over 1,400 badgers against TB and will resume vaccination later this year.
“Badgers are protected animals in the UK and the issue of illegally killing them is therefore a matter for the police.”