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Impact of localized badger culling on tuberculosis incidence in British cattle

Nature volume 426, pages 834837 (18 December 2003) | Download Citation



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.

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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.

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  1. Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, c/o Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, 1A Page Street, London SW1P 4PQ, UK

    • Christl A. Donnelly
    • , Rosie Woodroffe
    • , D. R. Cox
    • , John Bourne
    • , George Gettinby
    • , John P. McInerney
    •  & W. Ivan Morrison
  2. Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, St Mary's Campus, Norfolk Place, London W2 1PG, UK

    • Christl A. Donnelly
    •  & Andrea M. Le Fevre
  3. Department of Wildlife, Fish & Conservation Biology, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, California 95616, USA

    • Rosie Woodroffe
  4. Nuffield College, New Road, Oxford OX1 1NF, UK

    • D. R. Cox
  5. Department of Statistics and Modelling Science, University of Strathclyde, George Street, Glasgow G1 1XH, UK

    • George Gettinby
  6. Centre for Rural Research, University of Exeter, Lafrowda House, St German's Road, Exeter EX4 6TL, UK

    • John P. McInerney
  7. The Centre for Tropical Veterinary Medicine, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, University of Edinburgh, Easter Bush, Roslin, Midlothian EH25 9RG, UK

    • W. Ivan Morrison


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Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christl A. Donnelly.

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