My first memory of badger was on a family holiday in mid Wales at the age of ten. I was standing by an old farm gate in the dark, looking at stars with my dad. Suddenly we heard a snuffling from the bushes behind us and to our amazement a large female badger lumbered out on to the path we were standing on and behind her were three very new cubs-presumably out for the first time from their sett. Seemingly oblivious of our presence they made a bee line for the gate we were standing next to. Under they went-I could have reached out and touched the noisy cubs as they rushed to get past these two strange two-legged figures…and then seconds later they had disappeared into the dark and silence descended. Had we just had an incredible close encounter or was it all a dream?

From then on I became fascinated with badger. They are an iconic species; as much part of the UK landscape as a robin or an oak tree. Seeing a badger sett and wondering whether you will see the badger emerge can be a very special moment-whether you are an adult or child.

But all is not well in the countryside. Over the past 15 years of so DEFRA has been undertaking trial culls of badger around the UK. Since the latest Bovine TB outbreak began in the early 2000’s; an estimated 277,500 cattle have had to be destroyed. There is nothing more heart-breaking than seeing a farmer weep as his herd are confirmed as positive for TB. The loss of revenue is only a part of the story-the other part is the personal sense of loss; the tragedy of wasted lives and the pain of an uncertain future.

For the badger in an area of a TB hot spot it also means the end of life. There is no easy way to tell whether a badger is infected or not and as a result the culling of every badger around hot spot zones is often the only way to contain an outbreak. There are no winners.

Bovine TB is primarily spread by the cattle themselves, not badgers. Our intensive farming system means that there is constant movement of cattle around the country. As infected animals are moved, so they spread the disease. As infected cattle move in to a new area, foraging badger come and eat insects from infected cow-pats and then spread the disease to neighbouring farms. Effectively the badger acts a bit like a mosquito-it becomes a vector for TB and ensures the disease moves across a landscape.

DEFRA are now working on solutions including inoculating badger around the edge of infected areas; trying to find new ways of minimising unnecessary cattle movement and finding a successful injection for cattle to prevent infection. At present a bovine injection against TB is still perhaps as much as ten years away; and trials suggest success rates are likely to be less than 70%. But for now the future remains a rather bleak one; with further badger culls likely to take place. TB is now so entrenched in the countryside; it is highly likely that farmers will continue to battle for years to come and badgers will continue to be culled to try and minimise the effect.

So what can be done? The most likely route to success in Hampshire is to encourage farmers to transport their herds as little as possible and for DEFRA to focus on a major county-wide inoculation scheme for badgers in non-infected areas. And eventually, through a combination of unpleasant culls, injections and quarantine – we may one day get on top of the TB scourge.