As we have already explored in Chap. 1, badgers have occupied an oddly significant role in British culture and politics since the late nineteenth century at least; and appear to have been involved in wildlife conflicts (conflicts between humans and animals and conflicts between humans about animals) for even longer.Footnote 1 This chapter will pick up the story of the Great British Badger Debate in the mid-1960s, when it was reignited by animal advocates drawing media, public and policy attention to the persecution, hunting and maiming of badgers due to their social role as ‘vermin’. While campaigners made several attempts at obtaining new legal protections for the animals, it was not until after the discovery of tuberculous badgers that the Badgers Act was made law in 1973. This chapter will move the focus away from Ministry for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food’s (MAFF) scientists and veterinarians to instead address the more diffuse epistemic community of badger protection. While these campaigners were less directly connected with policy, their deep knowledge of these awkward creatures and public influence made them invaluable partners for Ministry scientists and policymakers during the 1970s. Just as we have already done with animal health and disease ecology, to understand badger protection campaigners’ responses to badger/bTB, we must place them in their broader historical contexts—this time of mid-twentieth-century natural history, environmental and animal politics. This chapter will explain how a diverse coalition of animal welfare NGOs, animal rescue activists, naturalists, field biologists, members of both Houses of Parliament, the Women’s Institute and the Daily Mirror was built in support of the cause of badger protection. It will show how the process of building this coalition brought into closer alignment the previously separated concerns of conservation and animal protection. Along the way, it will illustrate the multiple cultures of care involved in badger protection and demonstrate how shifting relationships between them have led to dramatic and sometimes unforeseen policy change.

We have already explored how the shared goals of building reliable knowledge while ‘humanely’ researching and controlling wildlife and pests created close working relationships between the Mammal Society, MAFF’s Pest Infestation Control Laboratory (PICL) and the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW). In the absence of state economic constraints and with the protection and welfare of animals as their highest priority, non-governmental cultures of care around British wildlife have been considerably more variable. Debates over who or what should be cared for and how that care should be enacted have resulted in the interests of conservationists and animal advocates moving in and out of alignment over time and according to the issue at hand. By the mid-twentieth century, these tensions had created a distanced relationship between conservation and animal protection movements in Britain. As naturalists started to follow and learn from badgers in the wild, they became increasingly aware that other people were persecuting and killing these obscure beasts. These naturalists used their skills of observation and expression to convey the situation to others, create empathy for badgers and build new alliances, generating public and political pressure for protective legislation. Along the way, they started to change what it meant for a species to be ‘threatened’, bringing previously excluded concerns about animal suffering into conservation campaigning.

This chapter will document these changes as MAFF implemented a state-led culling policy, while investigating the poorly understood connection between badgers and bTB. The early consensus over gassing as the ‘most effective and humane method of killing badgers’Footnote 2 turned out to be highly fragile and disintegrated over the 1970s. By the end of the decade, many more people were involved in badger protection, acting on the single issue but also as part of wider concerns about environmental politics. A flourishing of new badger protection groups, naturalists and animal welfare campaigners were reporting problems with gassing—which were initially dismissed and then vindicated by laboratory experiments, leading to the abandonment of the technique. These debates before and following the Zuckerman report had the effect of uniting conservation and animal welfare interests behind the cause of badger protection. During the 1980s, campaigners turned their attention back to their core concerns of badger persecution, leaving MAFF’s scientists to investigate the increasingly complex science of badger/bTB, while policymakers tinkered with bTB policy. By the time that the forming epistemic community around disease ecology had forged the 1990s consensus that government needed to conduct a controlled experiment testing the effects of culling upon bTB rates in cattle, badger advocacy coalitions had shifted once more, leaving some in favour of the idea, while others vociferously opposed it. Following from our explorations of the ‘cultures of care’ of the animal health and disease ecology epistemic communities, we will now unpick the multiple modes of caring—about animals and environments—involved in campaigning about badgers.Footnote 3

1 British Conservation and Animal Protection

Britain’s ‘badger debate’ has generally turned upon whether the animals should be regarded as dangerous and awkward vermin (to be removed or destroyed), or charismatic wildlife (to be admired and protected). Before discussing the 1960s campaigns for badger protection, I will contextualise them into the longer history of the politics of animal care in Britain, showing how interests lobbying for the conservation of wildlife and landscapes have moved in and out of alignment with concerns about cruelty to animals over the past two hundred years. The century between the 1835 Cruelty to Animals Act (which prohibited bear and badger baiting) and the Second World War saw the beginnings of change in the social role of badgers, whereby the older, verminous Bad Badger was gradually eclipsed by the heroic and mysterious Good Badger. These changing cultural ideas were part of a larger set of social changes in human–animal relations in the UK, as campaigners mobilised over the killing and exploitation of wildlife from sport-shooting, natural history collecting and wider environmental damage; as well as cruelty to animals on several fronts including sport-fighting, vivisection and the abuse of pets and livestock.Footnote 4 It was during the nineteenth century that key British organisations campaigning for the protection and preservation of animals and landscape came into being. These included the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) (1824), National Trust (1884) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) (1889), founded in a wider context of campaigning for social causes, including vegetarianism, temperance, the abolition of slavery and universal suffrage.Footnote 5 Concerns for non-humans initially centred upon cruelty to domestic animals (pets, livestock and experimental animals): it was after the RSPCA became involved in campaigns against hunting wild birds and egg collecting that attention turned to wildlife, resulting in the founding of the RSPB. The National Trust (for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty) was primarily concerned with the preservation of land, including human artefacts (such as buildings) and non-human features (landscape but also plants and animals). While the RSPCA campaigned against stag hunting and hare coursing during the 1870s, its involvement in wildlife welfare remained limited.Footnote 6

Over the decades spanning the end of the nineteenth and start of the twentieth century, significant gains were made in protecting wildlife—particularly birds—as part of the natural environment, as well as in preventing cruelty to domestic and laboratory animals. However, concerns about the suffering of wild mammals fell between the stools of these increasingly prominent lobbies. Key legislation such as the 1911 Protection of Animals Act was passed by Parliament partly because it only included ‘captive and domestic animals’, leaving hunting and cruelty to wildlife to continue unabated.Footnote 7 1920s and 1930s campaigns against fox hunting and the use of spring-loaded ‘gin traps’ were not supported by the RSPCA or National Trust.Footnote 8 However, cultural and social attitudes towards wildlife did start to change, in a society primed by the ideas of Romanticism to increasingly think of nature as a source of sublime wonder, and wild animals as figures of sympathy—it was around this time that the most famous ‘good badger’ fiction, Wind in the Willows, was published. Following the National Trust’s programmes of land acquisition, the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves (now known as the Wildlife Trusts) was founded in 1911, creating a more organised structure for the acquisition and legal protection of land.Footnote 9 Before and after the First World War, many poets and artists were inspired by British landscapes, and helped to rekindle concerns over the destructive potential of modernity to create human and animal suffering and damage wider environments.Footnote 10 While upper-class participation in fox hunting rose during the interwar years, middle- and lower-class hunting practices such as otter hunting and badger digging started to decline in popularity. Frustrated by limited progress, and by the RSPCA’s disengagement from wildlife welfare, members of the RSCPA broke away to form the League against Cruel Sports (LACS) in 1924. While no further legislation was passed at this time, LACS did succeed in politicising the issue to the extent that hunting interests founded their own organisation to counter these campaigns.Footnote 11

Following the Second World War, the parallel debates over agriculture, conservation, animal welfare and wildlife protection entered a new phase as the state took on a more prominent role in supporting scientific research and coordinating and implementing policy across the board. This shift took place alongside the post-war creation of international infrastructures for furthering social, medical, environmental and animal health policy. This included the creation of the United Nations and its agencies; and the further development of older NGOs beyond their Victorian philanthropic roots into the international, policy-facing institutions we see today.Footnote 12 In Britain, this renewed importance of the state was initially shaped by the demands of the war effort on multiple fronts, but then came to full fruition as part of post-war reconstruction, with the creation of state-led policy infrastructures, including the NHS, welfare state, state education and transport networks.Footnote 13 As we have seen in the previous chapters, veterinarians and ecologists alike benefited from wartime and post-war state agendas for boosting agricultural productivity, embedding their epistemic communities in government, gaining further resources to support their research and initiating new policies for controlling infectious diseases and agricultural pests. Ecologists deployed multiple strategies to make their research relevant to government and further their own agendas. As well as gaining support from the Ministry of Agriculture via pest control, ecologists also worked closely with conservationists to advance their shared long-term strategy of protecting wildlife and landscapes. A coalition of scientists, naturalists, journalists and civil servants worked together to convince government that conservation could help advance British interests by supporting national forestry and leisure industries.Footnote 14 The creation of the British ‘nature state’ was brought about via the creation of interconnected policy structures, new institutions and legislation, firstly regulating planning in 1947 and then protecting specific sites and landscapes (including the creation of National Parks) from development in 1949.Footnote 15 The protected land encompassed coastal, marshland, moor, meadow and forested landscapes, and brought in specific sites with unique features or rare species which had already been under the management of non-governmental bodies for some years. The legislation enabled the creation of the Nature Conservancy (renamed in the 1970s as the Nature Conservancy Council, NCC) as the world’s first statutory conservation body, charged with the multiple roles of administering and physically maintaining protected land; providing scientific advice to government; and developing new scientific research to better understand the animal and plant communities living at these sites. Between government bodies and NGOs, the Nature State created new scientific, administrative and field practice jobs, as well as national and regional policy mechanisms for lay naturalists to feed into conservation governance.Footnote 16

The previous chapter has explored how productivism supported the transformation of naturalists into professional pest control biologists. The establishment of government and non-governmental frameworks dedicated to the protection of landscape and wildlife created another route for naturalists to become professionals, this time as conservation scientists, policymakers, administrators and land managers. While historical narratives of the professionalisation of the biological sciences imply that the enthusiast-led natural history of the nineteenth century simply faded away, this was not really the case. Instead, professional conservation roles were developed and supported by ongoing working partnerships with ‘lay’ (i.e. without formal training or payment) naturalists, and a persisting blurring of the boundaries between the two.Footnote 17 As conservation campaigns gradually gained traction, natural history practices also shifted away from the catching, killing and collection of wild animals towards observation and recording in the field. In the UK, these changes in practice were further enabled first by the establishment of the National Parks and nature reserves as spaces of leisure, and second by changes in technology. The wider uptake of private motor vehicles made it possible for more people to visit and enjoy the countryside and encounter wild animals, up to and including safari parks by the 1960s.Footnote 18 This expanded ability to spend time in these ‘wilder’ spaces was further facilitated by developments in technologies of vision—binoculars and cameras—making it much easier to see and record wild animals than ever before. These changes created a new popular natural history, not only as amateur scientific practice and leisure pursuit, but also as new forms of mass media content enthusiastically consumed by naturalist audiences. This in turn drove a further wave of professionalisation of naturalists, this time into specialist natural history writers, journalists, broadcast media producers, directors, cameramen and presenters. In Britain, the creation of popular natural history in the media was initially driven by publishing, with widespread sales of field guides, semi-popular monographs and what we now call creative ‘nature writing’.Footnote 19 Broadcast media followed, with the establishment of the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol during the early 1950s and subsequent commissioning of natural history filmmaking by other channels.Footnote 20

Further gains were also made in terms of the legislation and policy around wildlife welfare. Renewed attempts to outlaw fox hunting failed in 1949, in large part due to the need for the Labour government to maintain alliances with rural and agricultural interests. However, these pressures did bring about the Scott Henderson parliamentary enquiry into ‘Cruelty to Wild Animals’, which published its report in 1951.Footnote 21 Rather than directly addressing hunting, the report was framed in terms of ‘pest control’ and comprised a detailed assessment of the welfare implications of all techniques for killing wild animals in use at the time. While it supported the continuation of hunting (with four of the seven members connected to hunting interests), the report gave impetus to further research on humane pest control and the outlawing of the gin trap in 1954.Footnote 22 The Protection of Birds Act was also passed in 1954, providing a template for protective legislation against any person who ‘kills, injures or takes’ wild animals.Footnote 23 In the early 1960s campaigners turned their attention to problems of pollution, successfully lobbying for legislation for clean rivers and clean air in the 1950s; then capitalising on wider public concerns following the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1964) to lobby for regulatory action on pesticides. ‘Controversies over pollution and pesticides continued’ persisted throughout the 1960s, contributing to widening political debates over environmental issues.Footnote 24 The co-production of state and NGO infrastructures for conservation with the creation of popular natural history in media had led to a further resurgence of lay field practice. This brought more people into contact with wildlife and wider environments, as naturalists explored field sites across the world as well in their own backyards. In turn, this increased the membership of conservation NGOs and boosted the working base of nature reserves and natural history societies with younger, newly enthusiastic volunteers, who were also becoming increasingly mobilised by new environmental social movements.Footnote 25

2 Following, Understanding and Protecting Badgers

These rapid changes in conservation encompassing popular natural history, campaigning and state activity were all in progress as campaigning for badger protection in Britain got underway. The popular outputs of Ernest Neal—most notably his widely sold monograph The Badger (1948) and contributions to BBC programming—inspired other naturalists to start following and writing about badgers, making them increasingly visible to wider audiences.Footnote 26 Neal’s career provides an excellent illustration of the interpenetrated nature of relationships between ‘amateur’ naturalists and ‘professional’ biologists in field biology and conservation, which to an extent continues into the present day.Footnote 27 Far from the elite networks of MAFF and the University of Oxford, Ernest Neal had carved out a very different space for himself in field biology. Coming from a relatively modest background, Neal supported himself by working through a zoology degree at Chelsea Polytechnic in London, and then took up a career teaching biology in the rural South West of England. He combined teaching with his passions for natural history and photography, and it was during fieldwork with students that he first encountered, photographed and then systematically studied wild badgers during the 1930s.Footnote 28 His 1948 book The Badger summarised this work and was chosen by the publisher Collins to be the first species-focused monograph to be published in its influential New Naturalist series. As the write-up of one of the first systematic field studies of any British mammal, The Badger was a significant scientific work as well as an exceptionally popular natural history book.Footnote 29 A pioneering nature photographer, Neal contributed to the early development of the BBC Natural History Unit, eventually appearing on over 100 television and radio programmes between 1952 and 1984, including Badgers (1954), in which the animals were first filmed at night, and Badger Watch (1977), a groundbreaking live broadcast.Footnote 30 He gained his PhD in 1960: a collaboration with physiologists at the London Hospital Medical School, investigating the unusual reproductive cycles of badgers, illustrating the breadth of his scientific engagements with the species.Footnote 31 By the 1970s his expert status was such that Neal was the first scientist to be consulted by MAFF about the implications of tuberculous badgers. He acted as a critical ‘knowledge broker’ between agricultural, conservation and animal protection networks, as well as between governmental, professional and lay scientific worlds.Footnote 32 As a founder member of the Mammal Society, Neal was instrumental to their decision to carry out a national survey of badger populations in 1963. The survey was implemented by a network of County Recorders (appointed by the Society) with the help of local ‘enthusiasts’ mapping out the setts in their area: this created networks fostering formation of the local groups which would eventually become today’s Badger Trust.Footnote 33

In 1955 the artist illustrator for Enid Blyton and nature writer Eileen Soper published When Badgers Wake, an evocative account of the badger families living near her home in Hertfordshire in the south of England.Footnote 34 Accompanied by a wealth of expressive and evocative drawings (Fig. 5.1), Soper wrote of her experiences of learning to follow badgers in the field, and of gaining the trust of the animals over the seasonal cycles of several years. She provided accounts of several episodes where badger groups had been harassed and killed, acts she laid at the door of neighbouring farmers. While some had been shot, Soper was adamant that people were also ‘gassing’ badgers, relating here the scene of devastation found at a sett she had been observing:

Visiting the wood one clear spring morning, I found every set stopped. Gas had been used, and there was no sign that any badgers had lived to make their way out. To complete the scene of destruction, motor-cyclist riders had held tests over the sets, cutting up the ground till the wood was a quagmire.Footnote 35

Soper’s account is significant on several fronts. The timing (early 1950s) slightly precedes MAFF badger archives drawn upon in Chap. 4, confirming that there was an intensification in wildlife conflicts with and about badgers around this time. As ICD officers had determined by this time, gassing badgers was illegal. However, they had found that it was being illicitly carried out, including on at least one occasion by their own field officers.Footnote 36 Soper also provided a measured discussion of why badger persecution was unjustified, the beneficial consequences of having the animals around and the possibility of ‘rogue’ individuals. This corresponds closely with the case being developed at this time by ICD—that badgers were not pests and should generally be left alone. Unlike government scientists she was free to empathise with ‘her’ badgers about the experience of human persecution and of being gassed: ‘My thoughts turned to the badgers lying dead beside their cubs. It is not surprising that animals go in fear when they can die choked by something unseen and unheard in the den that was their only hope of security.’Footnote 37 While Soper was clearly well informed about the developing policy consensus, she had a very different view of the ‘humaneness’ and moral implications of killing badgers by gassing.

Fig. 5.1
A pencil sketch illustrates a group of badgers in action in the field.

Typical Soper illustration of badgers in action.Footnote

Soper, Eileen Soper’s Book of Badgers, 51.

Source: Soper, Eileen Soper’s Book of Badgers (51). © ‘Courtesy of Chris Beetles Gallery on behalf of the AGBI’

Eileen Soper was the earliest member of a network of amateur naturalists working with and writing about badgers during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s (many of whom were in correspondence with each other and with Ernest Neal), inspired by and contributing to the popular natural history boom.Footnote 39 These included novelist and nature writer Norah Burke, who published King Todd in 1963: like Soper, Burke wrote about the natural history of badgers alongside a passionate denouncement of the cruelties of badger persecution.Footnote 40 Other naturalist-authors of successful badger books published during the 1970s included Jane Ratcliffe, a Cheshire housewife who started following badgers while practicing wildlife photography; journalist and BBC presenter Phil Drabble; the Labour Member of Parliament for Wentworth, Peter Hardy (sponsor of the 1973 Badgers Act); and retired navy captain Wickham Malins.Footnote 41

The badger protection campaign stepped up a gear in the 1960s when Norah Burke’s King Todd was published in 1963, attracting reviews and wider commentary, including from prominent naturalist and conservationist Richard Fitter.Footnote 42 In 1964 this debate reached a much wider audience when Devon dairy farmer Ruth Murray worked with John Pilger—an up-and-coming investigative reporter at the Daily Mirror—on a major expose about the horrors of badger digging (hunting) and baiting (fighting with dogs).Footnote 43 While Murray was often described as a naturalist, her involvement with badgers had initially come via breeding Daschund dogs, and was ‘fostered against a combined farming and sporting background’.Footnote 44 While Murray was not an author or artist, she worked adeptly with media to draw wider public attention to her wildlife rescue work, and particularly to issues of badger persecution, ably assisted by her tamed orphaned female, Tikki (Fig. 5.2). By the mid-1960s, British politics of wildlife welfare was changing once more, as the LACS remobilised, the Hunt Saboteurs Association was founded, and a still resistant RSPCA was witnessing a resurgence of internal debates over whether to campaign against hunting.Footnote 45

Fig. 5.2
A photograph of Ruth Murray with her adopted tamed orphaned female badger Tikki.

Ruth Murray and her pet badger Tikki. Source: Daily/Sunday Mirror, c. April 1970. Reproduced by permission of Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy Stock Photos

The Mirror’s expose and subsequent news campaign were excellently timed and had an immediate impact. Within two weeks the Conservative MP Frederick Burden (chair of the Parliamentary Animal Welfare Committee) had signalled his intention to draw up a Private Member’s Bill extending specific legal protections to the badger.Footnote 46 The LACS started campaigning about badgers from 1965 onwards, running advertisements and providing commentary in further stories in the national press.Footnote 47 Naturalists including Ernest Neal wrote letters to newspapers and engaged in extensive correspondence with civil servants and MPs, arguing the case for legal protection.Footnote 48 Burden’s Bill proposed outlawing badger hunting, but also creating a legal framework for the licenced control of ‘rogue’ animals, citing the 1951 Scott Henderson Committee.Footnote 49 The proposals were opposed by LACS as well as Burke, who argued that, ‘In the hands of the ignorant, gas would promptly be used to exterminate badgers everywhere.’Footnote 50 Working with Ruth Murray and the Labour MP Donald Chapman, LACS proposed an alternative bill which would extend specific legal protection to badgers, building upon the earlier Protection of Animals (1911) and Birds (1954) Acts.Footnote 51 The scientists of PICL were consulted by colleagues in the Home Office, enabling them to disseminate their position on the ‘helpfulness’ of badgers and the illegality of (illicitly conducted) gassing, although they did not recommend going ahead with the proposed legislation.Footnote 52 The Home Office also consulted other government departments, including the Forestry Commission and NCC, reaching a consensus that while persecution was happening, the evidence that it was widespread was not strong enough, and that general legislation protecting all animals ‘that are relatively harmless to economic interests’ would be a better idea.Footnote 53 While neither the Burden nor the Chapman bills reached the stage of formal Parliamentary debate, badger protection acquired further advocates in both the Commons and Lords, including the naturalist and Labour MP Peter Hardy, and the 8th Earl of Arran—now best known for his championing of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967.Footnote 54

As well as following and observing badgers, Jane Ratcliffe had considerable expertise in not only rescuing the animals, but also in successfully returning them to the wild, ‘translocating’ individuals under threat. Via lectures, letters and membership of natural history societies, Ratcliffe convinced her fellow naturalists that badger persecution was a concern for them, leading to the formation of the earliest badger protection groups. She successfully mobilised her local WI behind her cause, putting forward a resolution eventually endorsed by the WI’s AGM (representing about half a million women) in 1970. Ratcliffe lobbied civil servants and politicians via many letters, and like Murray, she took to the media, writing articles and giving interviews.Footnote 55 The campaign gathered support during 1971, as animal welfare groups and the Mammal Society organised symposia on the topic, while increasing numbers of conservation NGO’s lent their support.Footnote 56 Once the issue had been raised from so many different angles, badger protection was increasingly and prominently covered across the national press—as an aspect of the wider blood-sports debate and as an issue in its own right (see Chap. 7, Fig. 7.1). By early 1972, further attempts were made at legislation: a wide-ranging bill proposed in the House of Lords by Lord Arran, based upon the earlier Chapman proposals; and a narrower, more pragmatic Private Members bill proposed in the Commons by Peter Hardy. Following extensive negotiations, Arran revised his proposals while Hardy dropped his, presenting Arran’s Bill when it was brought to the Commons. The Badgers Act was passed in July of 1973: bringing together specific protections for badgers with a legal framework for government to licence killing the animals.Footnote 57 As already explored in Chap. 2, the Badgers Act enabled MAFF’s subsequent research and policy programmes. MAFF and Home Office officials had been opposed to the initial versions of Lord Arran’s bill, but following the discovery of tuberculous badgers, they changed their position.Footnote 58 Jane Ratcliffe later noted that during 1972 the attitude of the Home Office, who until then had showed little interest, ‘now became, at the least benevolently neutral, and almost verged on the helpful’.Footnote 59

A final, critical shift within government took place within the NCC, responsible for scientific research and expert advice on environmental issues. Naturalists had been writing to NCC officers to voice their concerns about badgers since at least 1955, but NCC officers regarded the badger to be ‘a relatively common animal’, and therefore not a conservation concern. Correspondents were referred on to the RSPCA or UFAW.Footnote 60 Responding to reports of illegal badger gassing, NCC officers referred correspondents to MAFF’s ICD. In 1965, the NCC remained unenthusiastic, replying to Norah Burke that they would only be interested in legislation to protect ‘all mammals that are relatively harmless to economic interests’, while stressing the need for ‘selective control of badgers’.Footnote 61 The NCC maintained this stance, advising Home Office colleagues that badger protection was not required, and interpreting the early findings of Ernest Neal’s badger survey to support their position, even though Neal himself disagreed.Footnote 62 However, once the NCC heard the news about bTB their attitude towards badgers changed, becoming much more protective. As well as expressing scepticism about the quality of MAFF’s evidence, NCC officers were immediately concerned about the consequences for the animals once the news became public: ‘The danger thereafter is that a widespread purge of Badgers will occur.’Footnote 63 In frequent contact with Harry Thompson of PICL, the NCC started lobbying to ‘get involved with the steering of the research’.Footnote 64 While contributing to the early collaborative investigations explored in Chap. 2, the NCC was excluded from MAFF’s formal ‘Badger and Bovine TB’ research programme. The strength of anxiety from officers about threats from farmers to form their own ‘action groups’ against badgers suggests that the NCC would by then have welcomed the proposed legislation (regulating and licencing culling).Footnote 65

Between the mid-1950s and early 1970s, campaigners brought badger persecution to wider public attention and built an unlikely coalition on the animals’ behalf, including tabloid journalists, the WI, naturalists, anti-blood-sports activists and politicians from both main parties. While the campaign initially gained ground, attempts to pass legislation foundered in a lack of cooperation from civil servants, and disagreements over whether and how government should act to control so-called ‘rogue’ badgers. The discovery of tuberculous badgers in Gloucestershire in 1971 acted as a catalyst, in which the urgent need to understand and act on a completely new problem also threatening badgers brought together wide-ranging ideals with pragmatic policy proposals, resulting in the passing of the Badgers Act in 1973. While the differences between the even wider range of actors involved with the new problem of badger/bTB did not disappear, this shared purpose created a spirit of collaboration which was to persist for the next few years. However, by the end of the 1970s, this coalition had dissolved, creating new fault lines of contention over badgers.

3 In Sickness and in Health? Caring for Tuberculous Badgers

As explored in Chap. 2, by 1975 MAFF had built a consensus around its new policy regime, in which the scientific uncertainties were investigated while the ministry implemented a ‘humane’ policy of gassing badgers in response to bTB in cattle. Naturalists and badger protection campaigners were integral to the formation of this consensus, as well as to MAFF’s ability to understand the problem. Like the scientists of PICL, they had been following and learning about badgers for many decades prior to the animals’ social transformation into disease vectors. Therefore, not only did Harry Thompson turn to his colleague Ernest Neal, but local ICD and SVS officers worked with the immediately available expertise of badger naturalists. The local ‘badger recorder’ of the Mammal Society, Arthur Killingley, helped MAFF officers with initial surveys in Gloucestershire, while the animal handling expertise of Jane Ratcliffe and Ruth Murray was drawn upon to help PICL scientists develop ethical practices for catching and killing the animals. Following the public disaster of the Scrubbet’s Farm culling demonstration, badger advocates also agreed that gassing was a more acceptably humane culling technique than the previously deployed option of snaring. In turn, as we have seen, government officials in MAFF and the Home Office finally aligned themselves with the campaign for badger protection. This resulted in the passing of the dual-purpose Badgers Act in 1973, and an amendment to Peter Hardy’s Wild Creatures and Plants Protection Bill in 1975, legalising the use of Cymag on badgers. MAFF’s new policies were initially supported by campaigners, with ‘wildlife interests’ formally contributing to the effort via the Consultative Panel, included Neal alongside representatives of bodies including the NCC, UFAW, the NFU and the Country Landowners Association. Soon after the new policy started to be implemented, this consensus started to fragment. Memories of illegal badger gassing resurfaced, alongside campaigners’ fears that government bTB control would legitimise and encourage the still present threat of badger persecution. Following the lead of Ratcliffe and Murray, more badger groups were established, often growing out of local natural history societies and Wildlife Trusts.Footnote 66 Members of these groups studied the animals closely, providing more and more data about badger traces, while keeping a close eye on the activities of MAFF officers. They increasingly reported incidents where blocked, gassed setts had been dug out from the inside, and the reappearance of disoriented animals which had not been killed. Ruth Murray became even more critical of MAFF’s policies, contesting the idea that badgers contracted bTB at all, and leading ‘sit-in’ protests against culling near her animal sanctuary on Dartmoor.Footnote 67

In Somerset, a naturalist by the name of Eunice Overend (Fig. 5.3) was becoming involved in the issue. Like Ernest Neal, Overend had gained a biology degree, then worked as a teacher while continuing her studies of the natural history and geology of her area.Footnote 68 As well as writing her own monographs, Overend published several articles in the conservation journal Oryx, while her illustrations of badgers were used in others’ publications. Her initial interventions in the debate drew upon her scientific training, whereby Overend argued that bTB in badgers was analogous to ‘consumption’ in humans, persisting in the body for many years before becoming ‘active’ and infectious, particularly when triggered by stress. Initially she supported MAFF’s gassing policy but argued against the ‘translocation’ of persecuted animals (as practised by Ratcliffe and Murray) for this reason.Footnote 69 However, as MAFF’s policy rolled out, Overend changed her mind. Having learned that this was no longer a localised problem, and observing the difficulties involved in fully clearing badgers from an area, she argued that culling policies were disrupting badger social groups. Prefiguring the ‘perturbation’ hypothesis of the ISG (see Chap. 6), she speculated that gassing was stressing the animals, making them move around more, their TB more active and spreading the disease.Footnote 70 Overend published a weekly natural history column in the Bristol-based Western Daily Press, where she found an ally in the editor, Ian Beales, who launched a major anti-gassing campaign. Both Beales and Overend submitted evidence to the Zuckerman enquiry, which included a notorious meeting with Zuckerman where Overend brought along a dead badger as evidence of the persecution problem.Footnote 71

Fig. 5.3
A photograph of Eunice Overend, who holds a bowl filled with food and bends before a badger who eats from the bowl.

Eunice Overend and unnamed badger, c. 1993. Photograph by Roger Bamber, reproduced by his permission with thanks

These badger protection campaigns took place within and contributed to a wider context of accelerating shifts in animal and environment politics in Britain during the second half of the 1970s. As discussed over the previous two chapters, these changes broadly align with Agar’s ‘sea-change’ in science–society relations, which involved increasing challenges of ‘expert’ views by ‘lay’ people and a new visibility for public controversy.Footnote 72

After fifty years of internal controversy over wildlife welfare, in 1977 the RSPCA reformed its internal governance in favour of the society’s membership, shortly afterwards adopting an anti-hunting stance and launching new campaigns.Footnote 73 Also, at the urging of members, the RSPCA conducted an internal review of the badger/bTB situation. The resulting report, published in 1979, continued to support MAFF’s policy (including the link between bTB and badgers), but raised ethical and practical concerns about Cymag.Footnote 74 The RSPCA’s lobbying of MAFF initiated the sequence of events which prompted Lord Zuckerman to recommend that the effects of cyanide on badgers be experimentally tested.Footnote 75 These changes in the RSPCA’s position were driven by the emergence of newer, more radical forms of animal politics. Frustrated with the lack of progress achieved by ‘traditional’ campaigning methods and inspired by the tactics of anti-nuclear movements, activists had started directly disrupting hunts by misleading dogs, confronting hunters and generally getting in the way. These tactics were initiated in Devon in the late 1950s: the Hunt Saboteurs Association was founded by members of LACS in 1963, becoming active across the country by the mid-1970s. It was around this time that some radical hunt saboteurs abandoned non-violence, further forming new groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, committed to freeing animals held in laboratory science, factory and fur farming facilities.Footnote 76 The South West was rapidly becoming a ‘hotspot’ not just for bTB, but also for new forms of radical animal politics.

A similar change (from expert-led, semi-institutionalised campaigning towards citizen-led activism) was also taking place in conservation. Alongside the renewed enthusiasm for popular natural history and conservation volunteering, environmental politics as we recognise it today was also emerging. While international impetus came from the publication of Silent Spring (1964), the first Earth Day (1970), the founding of the UN Environment Programme (1972) and the initiation of the European Economic Community’s (EEC) environmental policy programmes, British campaigns were also integral to this transition. The 1970s saw the founding of the British Green Party, the appearance of specialist environmental media and a plethora of ‘grassroots’ protest groups taking action on issues from nuclear energy to oil spills to mining to air pollution.Footnote 77 These changes were so profound that scholars of environmental politics refer to them as the transition between ‘first’ and ‘second’ waves of environmental protest—from conservation/protection to more radical and broader ‘ecological environmentalism’.Footnote 78 Animal and environmental politics both saw the emergence of new philosophies overturning the anthropocentric arguments of earlier generations. The post-war consensus around ‘animal welfare’—built by scientists working in laboratory biomedicine, UFAW, the RSPCA and MAFF’s pest control researchers—was now being challenged. New zoocentric philosophies of ‘animal rights’ appeared, which argued that animal lives and freedoms should be protected for their own sake, rather than in the interests of people.Footnote 79 Similarly, the post-war conservation consensus—that government should protect natural resources and wildlife for anthropocentric reasons such as tourism or food production—was challenged by new ‘ecocentric’ philosophies arguing for the intrinsic value of the environment.Footnote 80 These shifts were reflected in the emergence of specialist environmental media: in Britain these ideas and concerns were also influenced by fictional portrayals reaching much wider audiences. The BBC’s Doomwatch (1970–1972) used the device of a government science unit to explore environmental fears, while Dr Who storylines of this decade famously featured themes of environmental and nuclear destruction.Footnote 81 While these stories were primarily occupied with the disastrous consequences for humans of environmental damage, they also included themes of animal harm. Animal deaths acted as ‘sentinels’, warning of what was in store for humanity; while more complex stories critiqued traditional conservationism.Footnote 82 As British environmental and animal politics were undergoing similar processes of change, they were also converging.

The writing of Richard Adams expressed these developing concerns using children’s fiction, deploying the long-standing form of the anthropomorphic animal story.Footnote 83 Like its nineteenth-century predecessor, Black Beauty, Adams’s Watership Down (1972) used the voices of animal protagonists to draw attention to the cruelties inflicted upon animals by humans; like other, more grown-up animal tales such as Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), it introduced political elements into a dark tale of refugee rabbits. Watership Down is a long and complex book, with environmental destruction and animal persecution as central themes. Significantly for the badger/bTB debate, myxomatosis, gassing, snaring and hunting dogs all feature in the story, as agents of a uniformly hostile humanity.Footnote 84 Despite (or perhaps because of?) this grim content, Watership Down was a bestseller in the UK, and was made into a similarly popular animated film, which disturbs child and adult audiences alike to this day.Footnote 85Watership Down had the effect of creating greater empathy for animals and drawing public attention to animal politics. Like Soper, Adams was an amateur naturalist who became increasingly disgusted at animal persecution and used his creativity to express these feelings and enrol others into his cause.Footnote 86 Through the 1970s, Adams used his position as a bestselling author to boost the visibility of animal politics, taking the position of President of the RSPCA from 1980 to 1982 (then resigning due to resistance to his campaigning stance).Footnote 87 While Watership Down was about rabbit myxomatosis, it reminded readers of the contested history of gassing at exactly the time that MAFF was introducing its usage in bTB control. This was in a wider context of campaigning that was rapidly joining the dots between ‘pest control’, chemical poisons, environmental damage, warfare and genocide.Footnote 88 In the film (released in 1978), a nightmarish sequence imagines (as Eileen Soper had) what it would be like to be gassed:

‘Our warren … destroyed.’ ‘Destroyed? How?’ ‘Men came … filled in the burrows, couldn’t get out. There was a strange sound … hissing, the air turned bad, runs blocked with dead bodies … we couldn’t get out! Everything turned mad … warren, us, boots, grass … all pushed into the earth.’Footnote 89

The consensus forged around MAFF’s policy in 1975 had temporarily changed badgers’ role from vermin/charismatic victim to that of the diseased, suffering animal patient, to be ‘put out of its misery’. However, this was reliant upon an unstable congruence of the cultures of care involved with badger/bTB. As MAFF’s culling policy was implemented this consensus crumbled, while as more people became involved, the badger’s social role rapidly returned to that of victim, now additionally of ‘The Men from the Ministry’.Footnote 90 Popular representations of environmental doom and persecuted animals combined with the first-hand accounts of naturalists, in a wider context of changing political and empathic relations with non-humans, to create a rapid backlash against culling.

Such negotiations—over how best to protect environments while also attending to the suffering and death of animals—were visible across British animal politics at the time. For example, during the late 1970s there was a parallel controversy over government culling of seals in the Scottish islands, carried out due to concerns over high seal populations and their impact on fish stocks. Resistance to seal culling started with naturalists closely following the animals themselves; and was built by shocking media coverage and unusual alliances, in this case between scientists, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace, UFAW, the Seal Preservation Society and hunt saboteurs.Footnote 91 The seal culling debate rapidly shifted beyond the UK to an international focus: along the way it was mutually shaped by yet another animal controversy, about whaling. As with seals, whaling controversies involved rapidly shifting alliances between scientists, governments, food producers, and environmental and animal protection campaigners.Footnote 92 Environmental historian Robert Lambert argues that the seal protest movement would not have achieved its goals without ‘the emergence of a new coalition of middle class protestors in Britain’, comprising naturalists, animal welfare campaigners and ‘people who on a weekend walk at the beach hope to see a seal, or just want to know that seals are out there doing well’.Footnote 93 Further evidence that relationships between British conservation and animal welfare agendas were changing comes from debates about otters. Like badgers, otters have symbolic resonances for British culture and landscapes: like badgers they were assigned conflicting social roles (pest/charismatic victim), like badgers they were hunted for sport, and like badgers they are known for asserting their own agency.Footnote 94 While the British otter debate has a longer history, it was during the 1960s that the plight of otters was brought to public attention via the empathic accounts of naturalists; and during the 1970s that conservationists and anti-hunting campaigners allied to gather evidence of the problem and lobby for change.Footnote 95 The conservationist and organic farming advocate Lord Peter Melchett described these changes as follows:

The other change was global and was the gradual acceptance that they [conservationists] had to deal with animal welfare—it had been completely off-limits, they were nutcases, they were anti-hunting and shooting; they couldn’t be spoken to. Completely different planet. But things like the campaign against whaling brought together WWF and the RSPCA and other groups such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.Footnote 96

While conservation and animal politics had converged, they had not aligned, as demonstrated by episodes such as the releases of American mink (an invasive species) from fur farms by animal liberation activists, and the assiduous attempts of conservationists and ICD officers to eradicate them.Footnote 97

When Lord Zuckerman’s 1980 review supported MAFF’s position, the report provoked further public controversy and was fiercely contested by field biologists, naturalists and badger advocates. Despite dismissing campaigners’ concerns over gassing, Zuckerman commissioned further research, which in turn undermined his and MAFF’s position by finding that badgers were unusually resistant to cyanide poisoning. It was rapidly concluded that Cymag was not a humane way to cull badgers, forcing MAFF officers to rapidly explore other techniques. They drew upon early designs for a badger trap developed by Ruth Murray and previously shelved collaborative research between PICL and UFAW to develop a standardised trapping-then-shooting technique, in general use by 1982. Meanwhile, the convergence of conservation, natural history, environmental and animal protection agendas had built into significant political pressure for change. The plethora of new naturalist and environmental groups that had sprung up over the previous decade allied with older scientific societies and conservation NGOs to form a new collective representative body, Wildlife Link, in 1979. They applied pressure on government and the NCC to formulate new, wide-ranging environmental protection legislation, contributing to the passing of the Wildlife and Countryside Act in 1981.Footnote 98 The Act included specific protections for a series of rare species; outlawed the use of snares, poisons and guns to kill a further list of animals; created further protections for landscapes; and formalised legislation around public rights of way.Footnote 99 Independently of the Zuckerman review process, the Act also significantly advanced the cause of badger protection by making it possible to prosecute those killing the animals without a licence. Following these developments, while MAFF’s culling policy formally remained unchanged, the new trapping technique proved to still be more time consuming and expensive than gassing. Following the more critical Dunnett review, published in 1986, which drew MAFF’s attention to these increased costs, badger culling was scaled back considerably.Footnote 100

Following these victories, the heat went out of the public controversy, as evidenced by the decoupling of press coverage of badgers from that of bTB discussed in Chap. 7. Acknowledging the public exposure of the uncertainties around badger/bTB that the Zuckerman episode had exposed, MAFF further expanded their research programmes and the 1980s saw a fruitful period of collaborations between SVS and Agricultural Science Service researchers. Local badger groups continued to proliferate and in 1986 they formed the National Federation of Badger Groups (NFBG), broadly modelled on the organisation of the Wildlife Trusts. The NFBG refocused their attention on badger persecution, arguing that the existing legal framework still allowed for too many loopholes to prevent baiting and digging. NFBG and the Wildlife Trusts enrolled anti-hunting allies such as the LACS and Labour MPs in publicly lobbying Parliament over the need for further legal protections, adopting striking visual imagery to draw media attention (Fig. 5.4).Footnote 101 It was following the fall of Margaret Thatcher and the start of John Major’s government that these campaigns paid off, with strengthened versions of the 1973 Badgers Act passing through Parliament in 1991 and 1992. While the legislation did not formally affect bTB policy, it created a further offence of disturbing the animals or their setts, putting further barriers in the way of badger culling. In 1998, when the incoming Labour government rewarded ecologists’ lobbying for government to undertake ‘a proper experiment’ on the effects of culling, the responses of badger advocates were mixed. While some welcomed the move, arguing that better evidence was needed to support policy, others, including the NFBG, were vociferously opposed to any further killing of badgers.Footnote 102 In the 1990s, the coalitions and cultures of care around badger protection, science and policy had shifted once again.

Fig. 5.4
A photograph of the representatives of the U K wildlife trust who wear badger masks. One of them holds a placard that reads, save our setts.

Representatives of the UK Wildlife Trusts in Westminster, July 1990. Photographs supplied by Dr Gordon McGlone and reproduced with permission of the Wildlife Trusts

4 Care, Expertise and Gender in Badger Protection

The epistemic community forming around badger protection was deeply interpenetrated with animal health and particularly disease ecology, with key individuals such as Ernest Neal participating in all three and activists like Ruth Murray contributing to new knowledge about catching badgers. Despite these interconnections, badger protection campaigners came into direct conflict with MAFF officers, scientists and veterinarians. One point of difference which has not yet been discussed is that of gender. While the government, veterinary and scientific stories of badger/bTB have been mostly male, in this chapter we have met many charismatic, strong-willed and highly intelligent women. This is a point of pride for present-day campaigners, who speak of ‘three formidable ladies’ in the badger protection movements of the past—Ruth Murray, Jane Ratcliffe and Eunice Overend.Footnote 103 In 2015, environmental journalist Patrick Barkham wrote candidly about Ratcliffe (his grandmother), describing the ‘unconventional women’ who ‘changed our relationship with badgers for good’.Footnote 104 Barkham traces this lineage back to 1920s naturalist and hunter Frances Pitt, through Eileen Soper and Norah Burke, to Jane Ratcliffe and her mobilisation of the WI, Ruth Murray’s confrontations with MAFF and Eunice Overend’s questioning of culling.Footnote 105 Gender clearly played a role in these women’s participation in the debate, particularly in interactions with journalists, who called them nicknames like Badger Woman and printed images of them cuddling badgers like babies.Footnote 106 It also surfaced in Lord Zuckerman’s interactions with badger campaigners, before and after his report: as we have already seen, he had little respect for professional field biologists and ecologists, and even less for animal advocates.

In my view, to characterise this as a conflict between uncaring, patronising, male ‘experts’ and caring female lay activists (connected with animals and nature) would do all involved a considerable disservice. As we have seen, veterinarians and pest control scientists had well-developed cultures of care which helped them engage with the badger/bTB problem in a way that was consistent with their ethical working practices. Men such as Harry Thompson and Ernest Neal played significant roles in advocacy for badger welfare via their involvement in the Mammal Society and UFAW, while MPs and Lords were essential to the passing of protective legislation. While the badger protection movement was unusual in the number and prominence of women naturalists and campaigners, they were not alone. Ernest Neal’s colleagues in the BBC, including Phil Drabble and the filmmaker Eric Ashby, used their public positions to campaign passionately against badger gassing.Footnote 107 As the debate moved into the 1980s, naturalists such as Michael Clark, Martin Hancox and Richard Meyer became involved, sitting on the Consultative Panel, volunteering for the Mammal Society and writing new works of popular natural history, sharing their fascination for badgers.Footnote 108 The significance of women in the history of badger protection lies less in their presence or absence, but in their prominence—as charismatic advocates, network builders and trusted experts—and in the stories which campaigners tell now about their importance. This is part of a wider tradition of women in animal advocacy which goes back at least as far as the origins of British animal welfare societies in the 1820s and continues into the present day.Footnote 109

While a full discussion of the complexities of gender, empathy and animal politics is far beyond the scope of this book, the gender dynamics of the epistemic community around badger advocacy at this time are so different that it would be remiss to ignore them. Why did women play such prominent roles here but not in the worlds of government veterinarians or pest control science? One part of the answer is obvious and relates to the broader story of professionalisation: while veterinary, scientific and civil service careers had started to open up to women by the 1960s and 1970s and was a matter of active struggle in wider society, this does not appear to have extended to government and academic veterinary and ecological experts.Footnote 110 Eunice Overend’s biography provides a classic example of a woman struggling to access these professional networks: after gaining a biology degree from the University of Exeter, she was engaged by Sir Peter Scott to work as a curator at the pioneering Slimbridge nature reserve near Bristol. After a few years, she was forced to leave in order to help care for her sick mother in Frome, and then worked as a teacher while pursuing natural history studies in her spare time.Footnote 111 The filmmaker Maurice Tibbles described Overend admiringly as ‘one of the last Victorian style naturalists’: however, her biography suggests this may have been more through circumstance than choice.Footnote 112 There are further complexities around gender, animals and professionalisation: women’s entry into many professions has often been enabled by them taking up ‘caring’ or ‘empathic’ (but also lower-status) specialisms such as small animal practice, or famously in the case of field biology, primatology.Footnote 113 While organisations like UFAW and the Mammal Society created crossover spaces where ‘lay’ naturalists and campaigners could collaborate with MAFF ‘experts’,Footnote 114 their participation was always highly contingent.

While this explains why women were absent from professional networks, it does not necessarily explain their presence and prominence in badger protection campaigning, or animal advocacy more generally, especially prior to the women’s movements of the 1970s and 1980s. While it is tempting to reach for essentialist explanations involving women’s emotionality and ability to connect with animals (and many have), better answers can be found by examining the intersections of gender, power, expertise and empathy. Badger protection campaigning developed within a long-standing British tradition of women’s involvement in animal advocacy, whereby knowledge and networks have passed from one generation to another. As biology professionalised we can infer that, like Eunice Overend, more women were left in ‘amateur’ naturalist roles.Footnote 115 We know that the ‘cultures of care’ of animal welfare science constituted themselves as rational against the emotionality of animal advocates: it seems plausible that the same process was happening in the opposite direction.Footnote 116 Indeed, the vital skill of many of the campaigners discussed here has been their ability to mobilise their empathy for persecuted badgers, and to creatively communicate these feelings with wider audiences using writing, illustration, photography and film. While knowledge was important for badger advocates, just as it was to the pest control scientists, valid knowledge could be derived from a wider range of sources, including personal experience of working closely with animals.Footnote 117 This helps to explain the vociferous conflict between Lord Zuckerman and Ruth Murray—Murray had become an authoritative expert within the badger protection community and had argued for many years that badgers did not get bTB. Zuckerman, in his role as a government-appointed scientist and ‘medical man’, could not do otherwise than contest this and undermine the legitimacy of Murray’s claims.

This analysis of gender and professionalisation can be further applied to help us understand the changing relationships between badger advocates, scientists and MAFF officers as bTB policy developed through the 1970s. To do this, we also need to bring in an idea from policy studies—the (fuzzy and contested) distinction between lobby/interest groups able to influence government decisions (‘insiders’) and those with relatively little leverage or power (outsiders)—the NFU is considered to be a classic ‘insider’.Footnote 118 During the first few ‘crisis’ years, government knew very little about badgers and so enrolled help from people who did: naturalists and badger advocates including Neal, Murray and Ratcliffe. The partnership provided MAFF with critical scientific knowledge as well as on-the-ground experience of handling the animals; in turn the badger advocates received help in their long-term aim of passing badger protection laws. This explains how Ruth Murray was able to access the 1973 culling demonstration and obtain enough evidence to mount a legal case against MAFF. Following these events, Murray became an ‘outsider’—there is no further evidence of collaborative research and she used the legal case to draw further media attention to badgers. While MAFF’s 1975 policy programme attempted to maintain good relations with ‘wildlife interests’ via the Consultative Panel, the early consensus rapidly collapsed as problems with gassing became evident, alongside the Panel’s lack of power to shape policy. Murray contested the link between badgers and bTB, refused to allow Ministry officials access to her animal sanctuary, where over 200 animals were being kept at one point, and refused to share information with allies, as Ernest Neal put it, ‘for reasons of her own’.Footnote 119 While (Zuckerman aside) MAFF’s archival correspondence is scrupulously polite about Ruth Murray, she was clearly not easy to work with. MAFF’s epistemic communities rapidly grew ‘apart from those clustered around’ the issue of badger protection, to create the oppositional atmosphere that Zuckerman found himself mired in. Gender features in the inside–outside model for bTB precisely because the professionals dealing with the problem were mostly men, while more of the ‘lay experts’ (naturalists and badger advocates) were women. This gendered pattern of inside–outside influence (where the ‘outsider’s’ status as a woman is used to further undermine her influence) has actually been seen before—in the early period of policy formation around bTB control during the early twentieth century.Footnote 120

5 Cultures of Caring for and with Animals

In contrast to the animal health and disease ecology epistemic communities, explored in Chaps. 3 and 4, the badger protection epistemic community did not build a single culture of care around which their working practices could stabilise. Instead there were ongoing negotiations between several intersecting cultures of care, which I will now outline. First, we have conservation care, also manifested in popular natural history. Conservationists tend to be primarily concerned with care for populations, ecosystems and landscapes. Like MAFF’s pest control scientists, they were also deeply concerned with ‘good science’, but ultimately gave a higher priority to protecting environments. While post-war conservationists made their case for government support via anthropocentric ‘national interests’, by the 1960s (unlike MAFF’s ecologists or veterinarians), conservationists had become less concerned about economic or agricultural productivity—the ‘logics of cost’. Balancing and compromising between these priorities often creates what Van Dooren has termed the ‘violent care’ of conservation—the willingness and sometimes enthusiasm to sacrifice the lives of individuals for the sake of populations, particularly valued species or ecosystems.Footnote 121 Examples would include conservationist support for the Scottish seal culls discussed above, or ongoing commitments to eradicate invasive species. Field experience and observation are critical components of conservation care. It was field-based accounts of problems with gassing, often coming from ‘lay’ naturalists, which were the primary driver of the collapse of the early 1970s culling consensus, and which were roundly dismissed (but ultimately vindicated) by the Zuckerman review. Second, there is animal welfare care, which critically informs laboratory animal science, and which we have already encountered through the pest control scientists and UFAW of the previous chapter. Like veterinarians, who played key roles in the formation of this culture, animal welfare actors prioritise preventing animal suffering over preserving life, making humane killing a critical priority. As we have seen, animal welfare tends to be expert-led and made ‘good science’ a priority through which ‘skilled care’ can be delivered and vice versa.Footnote 122 The 1951 Scott Henderson Committee on wildlife welfare was framed in these terms and was mobilised by MAFF to foster the early consensus on badger gassing. From the 1970s onwards, animal welfare partly constituted itself as ‘good science’ in opposition to what participants saw as the ‘logics of the heart’ of animal rights activists.Footnote 123

This leads us to the third and most politically contentious of the cultures of care involved in badger protection—animal rights care. This decentres older anthropocentric reasons for caring about animals, meaning that logics of cost rapidly fade into the background and are sometimes actively challenged (for example when damaging property during protests). Instead, developing animal rights cultures tried to imagine, empathise with and act in the interests of animals themselves. The work of Eileen Soper and Richard Adams demonstrates attempts to make this leap: through writing and visual imagery, they invited the reader to imagine experiencing the world as an animal, albeit an anthropomorphised one, including their pain and fear. Animal rights’ empathic stance means that a key goal of advocates is to prevent animal suffering, just as animal welfare does. However, unlike the ultimately anthropocentric stance of animal welfare (which sees humans as benevolently responsible for animals), animal rights seeks to create a moral equivalence between human and animal life. Therefore animals should be granted the same fundamental rights as humans, such as the right to freedom: hence ‘animal liberation’. This equivalence extends to the right to life, as articulated in human medical ethics. It also lies at the heart of animal rights activists to move beyond non-violent protest into more radical acts such as animal releases, sabotage and at times symbolic or physical threats to their opponents.Footnote 124 During the 1970s, the broader culture of care around animal rights was constituting itself alongside the rapidly developing badger/bTB debate. While badger protection campaigners were initially focused on the suffering and killing of the animals during practices of baiting, hunting and digging, the rapid shift to anti-gassing refocused campaigns onto state-sponsored killing. As articulated by Watership Down, the cultural resonances of ‘gassing’ for a society where both World Wars and the Holocaust were still in living memory further drove resistance to MAFF’s policies. Badger campaigning also changed in line with the turn to animal rights, moving from ‘insider’ tactics (network building, lobbying and letter writing, collaborations with MAFF) towards self-consciously ‘outsider’ actions (prosecuting the Farming Minister, emotive demonstrations). While we know that Ruth Murray worked with the LACS and that there were early public protests about badger gassing on Dartmoor, the co-location of anti-hunting and badger protection campaigning in the South West of England bears much more investigation (Fig. 5.5).

Fig. 5.5
A photograph of 3 anti badger gassing activists who sit in a jungle.

Anti-badger gassing activists in the Cotswolds, 1976. Photograph by Jane Bown for The Observer, reproduced by permission of Guardian News and Media Ltd

The analysis laid out over Chaps. 3, 4 and 5—of the shifting social roles, traces and cultures of care around badger/TB—would be incomplete without a closer examination of the agency of these animals. How was the agency of badgers understood and depicted by those involved in researching, campaigning and advocating on their behalf? While conservation care, following the determined lead of Elton and the Nature State, was primarily driven by care for populations and ecosystems, it also involved a deep emotional, aesthetic and embodied interest in ‘the field’. This comprised a deep appreciation of experiential knowledge of landscapes; the belief that to properly study wildlife, the naturalist must work with the contingency, freedom and agency of animals; and a pragmatic recognition of the violent, messy, unhuman nature of animal lives and deaths. Eunice Overend provided an excellent example of this culture of care, as seen in Fig. 5.3. Unlike the more popular trope of a human cuddling a badger, often a juvenile (Fig. 5.1), this photograph shows an active negotiation between human and animal. When asked about her involvement in ‘badger protection’ in a life history interview, her response was sharp: ‘I wasn’t doing it to protect badgers as such, ’cos they can easily protect themselves, you see. Just try catching one, you’ll see! [laughs].’Footnote 125 Overend had a keen appreciation for the agency of these animals and had little patience for campaigners who sought to gain public sympathy by eliding badgers’ less appealing traits. While animal welfare care is similarly pragmatic about animal life and death, the commitment to creating ‘good science’ and strong evidence to leverage policy change meant that overt recognitions of animal agency were not possible at the time, particularly in scientific articles and other formal documents. However, in practice, good relationships and emotional connections between researchers and animal participants can often be critical to new theoretical insights and rigorous findings.Footnote 126 This sometimes led to a contradictory approach to animal agency, as evidenced in the writings and other outputs of the pest control scientists. For example, Harry Thompson (head of the PICL Mammals group and later president of UFAW) wrote, ‘The basic attraction of wild animals is the aesthetic pleasure to be derived from watching and hearing them pursuing their own affairs without interference’ (my emphasis).Footnote 127 Pest control science seemed to formally practice animal welfare care, while also informally practicing conservation care. Animal rights care, which was emerging at this time, also seems to have had a deeply contradictory approach to animal agency. On the one hand, the underlying philosophical position is all about animal agency and the political attempt to gain recognition for animal rights. Similarly, the empathic stance of animal rights requires and creatively persuades people to imagine the agency and lived experiences of other animals. Campaigning for ‘badger protection’ in a way that caught the attention of mass media and such a diverse range of allies involved positioning of the animals as powerless victims, pretty much by definition without agency. The gendered media imagery of ‘badger women’ and depictions of the animals being cuddled by humans (Fig. 5.1) was highly effective in creating public sympathy and political momentum. However, these forms of representation, in which human campaigners ‘speak for’ animal victims, came at the expense of any recognition of badger agency, as well as the authority of the women.Footnote 128 This agency, manifested in badgers’ insistence on defending themselves when attacked, eating awkward things and not staying where they were put, could therefore be easily linked to the older social role of the Bad Badger.

As we have traced through this chapter, between 1965 and 1995, the politics of care in badger advocacy has shifted back and forth, reflecting changes in what was known about badgers; in the three cultures of care explored through the middle section of this book; in relationships between science and society; and in broader political attitudes to animals and the environment. To summarise, over this period there were four key stages in the debate over badgers and bTB:

  • Stage One: Creating concern. Naturalists including Ernest Neal, Eileen Soper and Norah Burke drew media, public and political attention to badgers through their popular natural history research, writing and illustration, while campaigners Ruth Murray and Jane Ratcliffe built a diverse coalition of support for badger protection.

  • Stage Two: Tuberculous badgers. MAFF veterinarians’ unanticipated discovery of tuberculous badgers in Gloucestershire connected the previously unrelated worlds of animal health policy and badger protection. It required Ministry officials to enrol the help of naturalists and badger advocates to urgently investigate the previously unknown phenomenon of tuberculous badgers. As the scale of the problem became apparent, MAFF formed a rapid consensus with policy ‘insiders’—that rapid action was required in the form of badger culling, best delivered via gassing with Cymag.

  • Stage Three: Anti-gassing. Memories of ‘gassing’ (of people during the Holocaust, as well as of badgers being persecuted by humans) resurfaced and combined with naturalists’ accounts that Cymag was not working properly in the new badger culling policy. This led to a rapid collapse of MAFF’s policy consensus and protests, driven in part by the adjacent emergence of new social movements around environmental issues and animal rights. The controversy was then inflamed by the Zuckerman review, intended to be an ‘objective look at the problem’.

  • Stage Four: Badger protection. Badger gassing was withdrawn following the vindication of campaigners’ concerns by research at Porton Down. This victory, combined with wider wildlife protection legislation, resulted in a shift in focus in badger campaigning back to persecution and protection, with further gains during the early 1990s.

Through the 1960s and 1970s, animal advocates worked to create badger persecution as an issue of concern in the wider public sphere, building an extraordinarily diverse coalition in support of helping the animals. Considering the broader political, economic and cultural changes that Britain underwent during this period, it is now easier to see how Lord Zuckerman, product and producer of the post-war, expert-led science–state coalitions which gave rise to MAFF’s initial approach to bTB, was so surprised by the fierce contestation of his review. Not only had the sciences of mammal field biology and ecology changed as they explored the complexities of wildlife disease ecology, but British societal attitudes to non-human animals and environments were undergoing radical change. I argue that these shifts were woven into what historian Jon Agar argues was a global ‘sea-change’ in the relationship between science and society over the ‘long 1960s’. Crucial aspects of this change included the formation of the modern environmental sciences, a new public visibility for scientific disagreements, the rise of new social movements, and a change in the balance of power between ‘experts’ and ‘lay’ people.Footnote 129 This newly public iteration of Britain’s long-standing ‘badger debate’ was driven by and contributed to major changes in how people imagined and related to animals, bringing about a new era of animal politics in the process.