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Human/wildlife conflict: an overlooked historical context for the UK’s bovine TB problem

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHuman-Wildlife 'Conflicts': New Directions
EditorsCatherine M. Hill, Nancy Priston
PublisherBerghahn Books
Accepted/In press2016

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Abstract

The question of whether to cull wild badgers (Meles meles) in order to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle has been deeply contentious since infections in the two species were first linked in the 1970s, and is now the subject of an escalating public controversy in the UK. This chapter takes a step back from questions of animal health policy to ask instead why the idea of killing this particular wild animal provokes such intense controversy in the first place. It examines the strategic framing of badgers in recent debates over bTB in the UK media, which 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. The analysis then moves beyond contemporary media coverage to uncover the deeper historical and cultural roots of these representations, which date back to at least the 19th century. Long term continuities in these representations suggest that underlying the current UK bTB controversy is an older ‘badger debate’, about the proper relationship between humans and these wild animals. To close, the broader implications of these findings for our understanding of human-wildlife conflict will be explored, alongside the implications for current debates over bTB policy.

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