Impact of localized badger culling on tuberculosis incidence in British cattle


Pathogens that are transmitted between wildlife, livestock and humans present major challenges for the protection of human and animal health, the economic sustainability of agriculture, and the conservation of wildlife. Mycobacterium bovis, the aetiological agent of bovine tuberculosis (TB), is one such pathogen. The incidence of TB in cattle has increased substantially in parts of Great Britain in the past two decades, adversely affecting the livelihoods of cattle farmers and potentially increasing the risks of human exposure. The control of bovine TB in Great Britain is complicated by the involvement of wildlife, particularly badgers (Meles meles), which appear to sustain endemic infection and can transmit TB to cattle1. Between 1975 and 1997 over 20,000 badgers were culled as part of British TB control policy, generating conflict between conservation and farming interest groups2. Here we present results from a large-scale field trial3,4,5 that indicate that localized badger culling not only fails to control but also seems to increase TB incidence in cattle.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Percentage of total cattle herds found to show evidence of exposure to TB (in confirmed and unconfirmed breakdowns) based on routine testing, and the badger culling policies in operation at the time.
Figure 2: Triplet-specific TB incidence in reactive trial areas (the number of confirmed breakdowns since enrolment in the trial, on completion of the initial proactive cull, divided by the number of baseline herds at risk) observed and predicted had these areas received no culling.
Figure 3: Map of reactive (filled shapes) and no culling (outlined shapes) trial areas superimposed over the 1998 testing intervals for cattle (1-yr testing is conducted in areas of highest incidence, 4-yr testing in areas of lowest incidence).


  1. 1

    Krebs, J. et al. Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle and Badgers PB3423 (MAFF Publications, London, 1997)

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Krebs, J. et al. Badgers and bovine TB: Conflicts between conservation and health. Science 279, 817–818 (1998)

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Bourne, J. et al. Towards a Sustainable Policy to Control TB in Cattle PB3881 (First Annual Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, MAFF Publications, London, 1998)

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Bourne, J. et al. An Epidemiological Investigation into Bovine Tuberculosis PB4870 (Second Annual Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, MAFF Publications, London, 1999)

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Bourne, J. et al. An Epidemiological Investigation into Bovine Tuberculosis PB5801 (Third Annual Report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, Defra Publications, London, 2001)

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Hopkins, F. G. Committee on Cattle Diseases: Report (HMSO, London, 1934)

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Hardie, R. M. & Watson, J. M. Mycobacterium bovis in England and Wales: past, present and future. Epidemiol. Infect. 109, 23–33 (1992)

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Woodroffe, R., Frost, S. D. W. & Clifton-Hadley, R. Attempts to control tuberculosis in cattle by removing infected badgers: constraints imposed by live test sensitivity. J. Appl. Ecol. 36, 494–501 (1999)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Mollison, D. TB in Cattle: First Report of the Statistical Auditor on the Badger Culling Trial PB5385 (MAFF Publications, London, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Cresswell, W. Report of the Independent Audit of Surveying and Badger Social Group Territory Delineation Procedures in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial and MAFF's Response PB5497 (MAFF Publications, London, 2001)

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Kirkwood, J. K. Report of the Independent Auditor on the Humaneness of the Despatch Procedures Used in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial and MAFF's Response PB5325 (MAFF Publications, London, 2000)

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Ewbank, R. Report of the Second Independent Auditor on the Humaneness of Despatch Procedures Used in the Randomised Badger Culling Trial and Defra's Response PB8253 (Defra Publications, London, 2003)

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Le Fevre, A. M. et al. Changes in Badger Setts Over the First Three Years of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial〉 (2003).

  14. 14

    Roper, T. J. & Lüps, P. Disruption of territorial behaviour in badgers Meles meles. Z. Säugetierkunde 58, 252–255 (1993)

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Cheeseman, C. L., Cresswell, W. J., Harris, S. & Mallinson, P. J. Comparison of dispersal and other movements in two badger (Meles meles) populations. Mamm. Rev. 18, 51–59 (1988)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Tuyttens, F. A. M., Macdonald, D. W., Rogers, L. M., Cheeseman, C. L. & Roddam, A. W. Comparative study on the consequences of culling badgers (Meles meles) on biometrics, population dynamics and movement. J. Anim. Ecol. 69, 567–580 (2000)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Rogers, L. M. et al. Movement of badgers (Meles meles) in a high-density population: Individual, population and disease effects. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 265, 1269–1276 (1998)

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Eves, J. A. Impact of badger removal on bovine tuberculosis in east County Offaly. Ir. Vet. J. 52, 199–203 (1999)

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Griffin, J. M. in Selected Papers 1996 6–9 (Tuberculosis Investigation Unit, University College Dublin, 1996)

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20

    King, E. J., Lovell, D. J. & Harris, S. in Advances in Vertebrate Pest Management (eds Cowan, D. P. & Feare, C. J.) 147–161 (Filander, Fürth, 1999)

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21

    Doncaster, C. P. & Woodroffe, R. Den site can determine shape and size of badger territories: implications for group-living. Oikos 66, 88–93 (1993)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This study was funded and implemented by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). We acknowledge the contribution made by staff of DEFRA and its associated agencies. We also wish to thank the many farmers and landowners in the trial areas who allowed the experimental treatments to operate on their land. W. T. Johnston helped prepare Fig. 3.Authors' contributions J.B., C.A.D., D.R.C., G.G., J.P.M., W.I.M. and R.W. constitute the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, and were jointly responsible for designing and overseeing the study. Statistical analyses were carried out by D.R.C., C.A.D. and A.M.L.F. C.A.D. and R.W. drafted the manuscript, although all authors contributed to its preparation.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christl A. Donnelly.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Donnelly, C., Woodroffe, R., Cox, D. et al. Impact of localized badger culling on tuberculosis incidence in British cattle. Nature 426, 834–837 (2003).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing