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Badger-human conflict: an overlooked historical context for bovine TB debates in the UK

By Angela Cassidy

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In Britain, the question of whether to cull wild badgers (Meles meles) in order to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in domestic cattle herds has been the source of scientific, public and policy controversy for over 40 years and still shows no sign of resolution. This chapter takes a step back from questions of animal health policy to focus instead on the wild animals at the centre of this debate, to ask why proposals to cull this particular wildlife species have provoked such intense and sustained controversy in this place and time. It will examine how badgers have been represented in British cultural sources as far back as the 10th century AD, and will compare these representations with the strategic framing of badgers in contemporary debates over bTB in the UK national press. Such framings take two opposing forms: the ‘good badger’ as epitomised in Kenneth Grahame’s children’s novel ‘The Wind in the Willows’; and the less familiar ‘bad badger’: carnivore, digger, and carrier of disease, and have strong commonalities with human representations of many other contested 'pest' species. Long term continuities between historical and contemporary representations of badgers suggest that underlying today's public controversy over managing bTB is an older ‘badger debate’ about the proper relationship between these wild animals and humans. The implications of this finding for current debates over bTB policy will be explored, including the potential to reframe the question away from reductive 'yes/no' debates over culling, and the potential of applying human/wildlife conflict frameworks to mitigate at least one factor driving today's highly polarised controversy.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2017
Publication Title Understanding Conflicts About Wildlife: A Biosocial Approach Read more at
Pages 30
Publisher Berghahn Books
Language English
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal science
  3. Animal welfare
  4. Badgers
  5. Conservation
  6. Environment
  7. History
  8. human-animal conflict
  9. human-wildlife interactions
  10. open access
  11. Tuberculosis
  1. open access