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Wildlife Reservoirs, is the badger a costly distraction, a scapegoat ...?

 Added by  Thomas (Guest)
 22 Jul 2010, 6:43 PM

Prof John Bourne, who conducted the infamous ten year, government-funded study which showed that badger killing is a waste of time and money, recalled what he was told by a senior politician:
"Fine, John, we accept your science, but we have to offer farmers a carrot. And the only carrot we can possibly give them is culling badgers."
This strand on the forum deals mainly with the wildlife reservoirs involved in the bovine TB saga. In the UK this is, as we are probably all aware by now, believed to be mainly the badger. No other mammal has been studied in the UK as intensely as the badger so actually we don't really know just how other animals are implicated. In other countries different species are implicated. There are some anomalies too, including the example below.
Has anyone an explanation for the following!
According to last issue of Gwlad, Australia is now bTB free after 27 years of trying. We are told it has no wildlife reservoir. New Zealand is still aiming for eradication. It has a wildlife reservoir - possums - which are considered a pest species as not indigenous so are being culled - and vaccinated!
HOWEVER - possums ARE native to Australia and bTB was rife in country for years so - why are the Australian possums not a reservoir?

Former Deputy Chief Vet Alick Simmons has said:
Spent my career controlling livestock disease. Eradication of the bTB organism is impossible in the UK. The public health risk is under control - and has been since around c.1960. Why waste £millions and kill our native wildlife on a hopeless cause.

Speaking on the current proposals to extend badger culling to many other areas of England, George Bennett, who runs Sandy Lane Farm near Blackbird Leys, Oxford, with his wife Kate, said he knew dairy farmers hit by 'devastating' TB, but said he still had not seen conclusive evidence that killing badgers would help tackle the disease.
He said: "The spread of TB does not affect us because we don't have cattle, but I think the badger cull is unnecessary.
"Everything I have heard about badger culling has been inconclusive.
"The way we managed pests and diseases is having a balance ecosystem, and if you take any one species out of the ecosystem then something will get out of control."
In 2017, a total of 19,274 badgers were culled across eight counties.
See the consultation online at consult.defra.gov.uk/natural-england/8899f8e7
Info from: http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/yourtown/oxford/16073053.__39_Please_comment_on_badger_cull_plan_for_Oxfordshire__39_/
As Tories set to roll out futile, needless cruel and expensive badger cull to even more areas, there are concerns there will be local extinction of our iconic mammal.
In the three months running up to December 2017, over 20,000 of our largest native omnivores have fallen foul of the Tory piecemeal cull – a band aid move to appease the National Farmers Union in the fight to combat bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
In the three months running up to December 2017, over 20,000 of our largest native omnivores have fallen foul of the Tory piecemeal cull – a band aid move to appease the National Farmers Union in the fight to combat bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
Badger cull protestors gathered outside Defra in London this week.
The environmental impact of what could now very easily become local extinction is devastating. Known as trophic cascade, it catalogues the impact of the removal of just one species on the surrounding environment. In the case of badgers, that number of negatively impacted British species is estimated to be 20,000. If we lose our badgers, the British countryside will be forever adversely affected, and the stain on this government will be a long-lasting legacy.
Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/opinion/badger-cull-senseless-expensive-violence-stain-theresa-mays-government/
So badger culling is NOT working?
The number of TB-infected cattle slaughtered in Britain last year breached the 40,000 barrier, according to new statistics from Defra.
The figures, released on Wednesday (14 February), recorded 43,590 animals were killed in England, Wales and Scotland between November 2016 and 2017, up nearly 10% from the previous year.
New herd incidents increased to 3,878 in England, 3,326 of which were in the high risk area. Incidents went up by 7% in the edge area to 421.
Wales saw the biggest change for new herd incidents with a year-on-year increase of 16%.
The next monthly notice will be published on Wednesday 14 April.
The next quarterly statistical notice, which includes headline measures and charts, will be published on Wednesday 14 March.
Michael Gove accused of betrayal over badger cull review
Having promised to review the government’s controversial badger cull policy on being appointed as Secretary of State for the Environment last year, the government has finally announced a review [1] of it’s TB eradication strategy that specifically excludes any examination of badger culling.
“This is political mendacity at its very worst,” says Badger Trust Chairman, Peter Martin. “Not only has Michael Gove gone back on his word on badger culling but the scope of the review [2] states that it will not look at the rationale for any past interventions and will be ‘prospective’ as opposed to ‘retrospective’. It is therefore hard to see how this can even be described as a ‘review’ as that would necessarily entail an examination of past performance.”
The Badger Trust will by holding a peaceful protest outside the Headquarters of Defra at 17 Smith Square, Westminster, London, SW1P 3JR on Thursday 22nd February between 12 and 2pm.
The protest will call on the Environment Secretary Michael Gove to include the badger cull as a key part of the bovine TB policy review to be undertaken by Professor Charles Godfray and to withdraw any plans to extend the badger cull into Low Risk TB areas of England.
Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, who will speak at the protest said:
“We believe the government and farming industry are on a mission to eradicate badgers from all areas of the country based on nothing more than anecdote and opinion, which defies all scientific and expert advice. To extend badger culling into low risk TB areas will effectively remove all protection from badgers on farmland in England. Michael Gove has proved he is prepared to betray not only his own words but also the principles of governing for the public good and that of our environment for which he has been given responsibility”
“He has already signed the death warrant of 20,000 badgers since taking office and is setting about the process of killing tens of thousand more, which could lead to local extinction of badgers from areas of the country where they have lived since the Ice Age. All at the behest of a powerful farming and landowning lobby that supports his government”.
Peter Martin, Chair of the Badger Trust, who will also speak at the protest said:
“Michael Gove is simply caving into pressure from the farming lobby who have publicly stated that any review of culling would put them in an extremely difficult position. The reason for this is that there is no conclusive evidence of how - or even if - badgers infect cattle with TB to any meaningful extent. Add to this the fact that there is no evidence that five years of culling has had any effect on levels of TB in cattle and you can see why they are scared of a review.”
“We put this to Michael Gove at a meeting in his office before Christmas when he asked why we thought that culling was taking place. We told him it was mostly because the farming lobby is using badgers to deflect attention away from their own serious shortcomings in handling TB but also because no government minister had ever had the courage to stand up to them and tell them the hard scientific facts.”
“This was a deliberate challenge to Michael Gove, we wanted to see if all his public posturing over the environment and animal welfare had any substance. Well now we know.”
Tom Langton, who has successfully taken Natural England to court over their failure to release the Ecological Impact Assessment for the badger cull, will also speak at the protest.
For details on the protest contact Dominic Dyer CEO Badger Trust on 07876 596233
Michael Gove accused of betrayal over badger cull review
Having promised to review the government’s controversial badger cull policy on being appointed as Secretary of State for the Environment last year, the government has finally announced a review [1] of it’s TB eradication strategy that specifically excludes any examination of badger culling.
“This is political mendacity at its very worst,” says Badger Trust Chairman, Peter Martin. “Not only has Michael Gove gone back on his word on badger culling but the scope of the review [2] states that it will not look at the rationale for any past interventions and will be ‘prospective’ as opposed to ‘retrospective’. It is therefore hard to see how this can even be described as a ‘review’ as that would necessarily entail an examination of past performance.”
“Michael Gove has simply given in to pressure from the farming lobby who have stated publicly that a review of culling would put them in an extremely difficult position [3],” continues Peter Martin. “The reason for this is that there is no conclusive evidence of how - or even if - badgers infect cattle with TB to any meaningful extent. Add to this the fact that there is no evidence that five years of culling has had any effect on levels of TB in cattle and you can see why they are scared of a review.”
“We put this to Michael Gove at a meeting in his office before Christmas when he asked why we thought that culling was taking place,” continues Peter Martin. “We told him it was mostly because the farming lobby is using badgers to deflect attention away from their own serious shortcomings in handling TB but also because no government minister had ever had the courage to stand up to them and tell them the hard scientific facts.”
“This was a deliberate challenge to Michael Gove,” says Peter Martin, “we wanted to see if all his public posturing over the environment and animal welfare had any substance. Well now we know.”
“The situation is even worse” says Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust. “At the same time as announcing this ‘non-review’ Defra have started consulting on extending the badger culls to the areas of the country which have little or no bovine TB [4]. There can be no rational explanation for this in terms of controlling the disease. Recently revealed data on levels of TB in badgers from the existing cull zones [5] shows that even in the high risk HRA only around 3% of badgers are infected enough to present a risk even to themselves let alone cattle. Badger infection rates will be much lower in the low risk LRA areas of the country.”
“It simply doesn’t make sense,” continues Dominic Dyer, “especially as the government has also just announced a significant expansion and investment in the badger vaccination scheme for the TB Edge Areas and Low Risk areas. They cannot credibly do both. Equally, vaccination has reduced TB levels in badgers to around 1% in the Welsh IAA TB hotspot, which shows how well it works for badgers although there has been no decrease in cattle infections. Overall cattle TB incidents have halved in Wales over five years without any culling of badgers to date. Culling badgers doesn’t work.”
“We can only conclude that the government and farming industry are on a mission to eradicate badgers from all areas of the country based on nothing more than anecdote and opinion, which defies all scientific and expert advice,” continues Dominic Dyer. “This latest series of announcements has effectively removed all protection from badgers on farmland in England. Michael Gove has proved he is prepared to betray not only his own words but also the principles of governing for the public good and that of our environment for which he has been given responsibility. He has already signed the death warrant of 20,000 badgers since taking office and is setting about the process of killing tens of thousand more at the behest of a powerful minority lobby that supports his government. We urge everyone who opposes this to email Michael Gove directly at michael.gove.mp@parliament.uk. ”
[2]Section 3: Scope - The review will not re-visit the rationale for current interventions in the Strategy. It will take a prospective and not a retrospective view. It is not a review of badger culling.
[3]https://www.fginsight.com/news/news/nfu-leadership-hopefuls-question-goves-commitment-to-badger-cull--51421 Quote - Current livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe, who is standing for both vice and deputy president, said: “We have got to work our backsides off to make sure Gove does not change his position, because at the minute he is on the edge.
“We do not want any reviews, because if we get to that stage, we will struggle.”
Presidential hopeful Minette Batters shared Mr Sercombe’s concerns.
“Michael Gove is going to call a review of all TB policy, so the culling is in a very difficult place”, she said.
See also: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/681386/tb-surveillance-wildlife-england-2017.pdf

Are badgers in danger of being wiped out in the UK? Those of us who care thought the appointment of Michael Gove as Environment Minister may stop the futile culling of badgers but it would seem we were misled. The latest announcement says the government will not be reviewing the badger cull but they are to 'consult' on rolling it out to the low risk areas. Most of us know that 'consulting' usually means they just carry on how they want regardless of the comments received from consultation.
Dear Michael,
I write for the second time to express my disgust at the expansion of the appalling
bloodbath that is the badger cull, the destruction of an important part of our British heritage. Your education obviously didn't include any explanation of the interdependency of both plants and animals, the big picture, the detrimental effects of species removal.
Not only have the culls of the last 5 years yielded no positive results for the reduction of tb in cattle, they have caused distress to public and industry alike. Introducing culling into Low Risk Areas would be unthinkable to any normal well informed member of society, particularly as it is a precautionary measure to prevent ingress of disease.
This could be likened to killing all carnivorous mammals carrying rabies as a precautionary measure, but wait, don't we vaccinate and in so doing have eradicated this fatal disease.
I am amazed that someone with political will,who listens, questions, researches and has the wisdom, or maybe not, of political experience can condone such a policy. Your green credentials have faded into insignificance together with a total loss of credibility.
The blinkered obsession with killing badgers has been designed with one objective only, that of destroying the Badger Protection Act. Badger persecution has escalated during the last 5 years with very few if prosecutions. The supplementary licences of Somerset and Gloucestershire have enabled industry and others to kill protected wildlife under the radar, without scrutiny, until infinity. Again the introduction of culling into LRA's is a policy without substance, it's an embarrassment to yourself and your department and can only serve as encouragement for further criminal activity.
Who are the beneficiaries of badger culling, certainly not farming businesses ?
Large landowners, shooting estates, developers, Conservative supporters and donors.
Badgers are a distraction and hindrance to their activities, remove the protection act and make life easier, wildlife taking the hit for their greed.
Conservative legacies are now firmly established-
1. Brexit
2. Badger cull
both of which have destroyed the Best of British, and both attributed to yourself.
For 8 years Defra have hidden behind a smokescreen of lies and deceit, but not for much longer Brand Badger is already geared up to welcome the comprehensive animal welfare plans of the incoming Government. Your days of aspirations for Downing Street are numbered.
One very angry, frustrated, heartbroken individual.

The government’s new ‘Green’ offensive aimed at young voters has today faltered as one of Michael Gove’s DEFRA Agencies has lost an appeal against a Freedom of Information ruling in a decision by the Greater Regulatory Council on 24th January 2018; EA/2017/0160.
• Natural England are now directed to release details on environmental decisions and safeguards from the Government’s badger killing policy roll-out in 2016. Release of such information may inform the recent Judicial Review Applications concerning badger cull licences that wildlife campaigners have objected to for four years.
• Concerns have been raised by campaigners that NE had repeatedly failed in their duty to demonstrate safeguards from a widespread natural ecological process known as carnivore release effect. This is the change in number and behaviour of wild animals that occur when for example badgers are culled in large numbers in an attempt to influence bovine TB rates in beef and dairy herds – the government policy that has been failing to stop the spread of the disease in England since 2011.
• Such ‘ecosystem disruption’ can have significant impacts both on and off nature reserves. By law such disruption must be assessed in detail and where possible avoided. Otherwise, specialist and expensive monitoring and mitigation measures must be undertaken. Natural England had however withheld the locations and species that they assessed. Natural England routinely requires such measures of developers e.g. home and road builders before projects and plans are approved.
• Badger culling has taken place in and around some of the most strictly protected beauty spots and nature areas in western England, guarded for their internationally acclaimed rare wildlife interest. Natural England are responsible for properly assessing all potentially damaging activities before licences are issued. Failure to do this assessment correctly might make the issue of badger culling licences unlawful.
• Barrister Tim Nesbitt QC representing Tom Langton pointed out that behind release of the information were details of how well Natural England had assessed ecological impacts of badger culling and ‘the evils’ of environmental damage that may have gone unscrutinised.
Judgement Conclusions:
• The Information Commissioners original judgement in July 2017 had been that it was “not satisfied that release of the withheld information would cause direct or actual harm to public safety or increase the risk of harm to a degree which could be said adversely to affect public safety.” They concluded that the exception (12) (5) (a) relied upon was not engaged, so did not need to consider the balance of public interest. “evidence of damage to badger traps was not what Parliament intended to be covered by public safety because such activity, whilst unlawful, had “no impact on the wider community”.
• The ICO legal representative pointed out that the NE witness “had repeatedly referred in her statement to whether disclosure “would be likely to…”, rather than the test in the EIRs of whether it “would” have the required adverse effect. Furthermore, she had relied on examples of harassment which pre-dated the disclosures directed by the Tribunal in Dale without pointing to any later adverse consequences of that disclosure. Finally, her evidence as to more recent events was unsatisfactory in failing to link the isolated incidents she described to organised protest, and she had not provided equivalent data about the number of arrests which had been presented to the Tribunal in Dale.”
• In conclusion, the Tribunal were not persuaded by Natural England’s approach. “We note that she [NE staff witness] relied on incidences of lawful protest as supporting Natural England’s case, some of which was at some distance in time from the date of the information request and Natural England’s reply, and we regret that her evidence to the Tribunal failed to distinguish in a number of important respects between instances of lawful protest and criminal activity. On balance, we preferred Mr Puttock’s evidence (for Mr Langton) on contention that “Stop the Cull” is a minority group and not representative of the anti-cull movement and that the local groups which comprise the movement have their own boundary maps and are not reliant on “Stop the Cull” for information.” For these reasons, the Tribunal was not satisfied that Natural England proved its case on contention or persuaded on the evidence that the disclosure of the withheld information would have any more than a minor impact of the refinement of cull zone boundaries.
• Natural England’s evidence about the scale and impact of badger cull protestor behaviour “was confused and largely related to the wrong period. We received no witness evidence from the owner of a damaged trap, no evidence from the police about patterns of such behaviour, and found it difficult to rely on witness A’s confused and confusing data.
• The Tribunal found “Natural England offered us no evidential connection between witness C and D’s experiences and the behaviour of the wider anti-cull movement which would suggest that such behaviour would be repeated, let alone increased, for any reason. On the contrary, we accept Mr Puttock’s evidence that the number of protestors has decreased, the number of cull areas has increased and that in consequence the behaviour of the grass roots movement has changed, to focus on the protection by local groups of viable badger clans. This evidence was, in our view, consistent with his uncontradicted evidence about the scaling down of the police operation, witness A’s own evidence of an almost complete absence of criminal charges and convictions of protestors in recent years, and the reported decision of NFU not to apply for a new injunction.
• In reaching their conclusions the Tribunal took “into account our finding above that the evidence indicates a low-level risk to public safety from disclosure, consisting of a low risk of incidences of harassment and the higher risk of damage to badger traps, the consequences of which are unclear. Weighed against that risk is the importance of public access to environmental information, and the public interest in holding an informed debate about a matter of considerable public interest and national environmental significance. We reach no conclusions about the theories advanced by Mr Langton and Mr Woodfield, but we do find that there is a public interest in them being published and debated by the scientific community, and considered by the wider public, with the benefit of the information contained in the withheld material. For all these reasons, Natural England’s appeal is dismissed. The Decision Notice is upheld and Natural England is directed to disclose the withheld information.”
Tom Langton who brought the FOI request and opposed Natural England’s appeal at the Tribunal welcomed the decision;
“After five years this is a huge victory for the environment against successive governments that appear not to want to listen or share in aspects of protection of our countryside. The information released is vital to help check the level of potential impacts on declining habitats and species following badger culling.
We can confirm that High Court Judicial Review Applications have been lodged to challenge licences issued on the back of recently released information on the 2017 Habitat Regulation Assessments. These show exactly how our request for these details in 2016 was a vital part of access to information that is made possible by the Aarhus Convention. Access was unfairly denied.
The ‘badger crowd’ cannot be thanked enough for support, funding and advice needed to help bring about this breakthrough. Badger Groups from across the U.K. including the Badger Trust charities and hundreds of individuals have joined together to help bring justice for badgers and other wildlife just a little bit closer.
There are surely no prospects of further appeal to this crushing judgement via a Second Tier Appeal. We need to understand the potential unmitigated damage done to wildlife in 2016 and back as far as 2013 let alone that under scrutiny now for the 2017 badger cull licences. It is surely time to review the important legal and technical matters that have been overlooked for so long.
We thank Tim Nesbitt QC of Outer Temple Chambers, Expert witnesses Dominic Woodfield (Bioscan UK Ltd.) and Ray Puttock (Gloucestershire) for their dedicated efforts. Anna Dale and John Leston provided valuable advice and support.”
Natural England (The Appellant) have lost their Appeal against the Information Commissioners ruling on 4th July 2017. They were instructed to release unredacted information to Tom Langton on seven 2016 Habit Regulations Assessments relating to the impact of badger culling on wider wildlife interests in English badger culling areas.
The case was heard in the first tier tribunal General Regulatory Chamber (information Rights) on 12-13 December 2017,Field House, Bream’s Buildings, London.
Respondents were The Information Commissioner and Tom Langton.
The case was brought by Tom Langton a consultant conservation biologist who had requested copies of environmental impact assessments (known as “Habitats Regulations Assessments” HRA’s) in relation to the areas of the badger cull that include or are near to designated areas such as Special Areas of Conservation (“SAC’s”), Special Protection Areas (“SPA’s) and ‘RAMSAR” sites of designated international wetland importance. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramsar_Convention
In responding to the request Natural England had released extensively redacted copies of the assessments, on the purported basis that the information engages the “public safety” exception in the Environmental Information Regulations (“EIR”). EIR exception12(5)(a), which states that information may be withheld if: ‘… disclosure would adversely affect international relations, defence, national security or public safety; or the protection of the environment to which the information relates.’
This issue had been subject to detailed consideration by another Tribunal in late 2015 in the case of Natural England v Information Commissioner & Dale (EA/2014/0094) when the Tribunal rejected the contentions advanced by Natural England. The Information Commissioners Office had in our case similarly rejected the Natural England claim that the exception is engaged (i.e. following the approach in Dale.)
The case focussed upon the exemptions to the Environmental Information Regulations regarding public safety versus public interest in release of environmental information.
Would release of the information lead to an increased threat of intimidation, harassment and criminal activity to landowners and farmers involved in badger culling such that it outweighed the public interest value in making such information available for independent scrutiny
Release of the HRAs will allow independent experts to assess their adequacy and if found wanting could lead to further legal action to challenge the legality of the 2016 badger cull licences. Many 2017 licences are already under challenge as are badger culling methods approved in 2017.
Further Links and Sources
Link to preliminary Judgement.
Link to Dale Judgement http://informationrights.decisions.tribunals.gov.uk/DBFiles/Decision/i2034/Natural%20England,%20EA-2014-0094,%200160,%200234,0311.pdf
Natural England Standard Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) Standard
Legal Team
Barrister Tim Nesbitt: Outer Temple Chambers
Dominic Woodfield
Links to fundraising appeals:
Natural England has lost its appeal against handing over badger cull information. They have been directed by the ICO to disclose the withheld information.
The two outstanding Judicial Review Applications are to be joined together.
What if we were targeting the wrong species to control Bovine TB?
"Animals—and thus both cattle and badgers—are made susceptible to TB if they carry a parasite burden. Examination of TB-infected and uninfected badgers showed that only those harbouring parasites were TB-infected."
We know that liver fluke affects over 70% of UK dairy farms (McCann et al, 2010). And we know that infection with liver fluke can reduce SICCT test sensitivity (Donnelly et al, 2013).
If badger immunity is similarly compromised by concurrent infection with parasites, perhaps we need to look into ways to reduce that burden?
House of Commons - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs - Written Evidence
10 Lagrange P H and Hurtrel B in Mycobacterium Tuberculosis Eds. M Bendinelli and H Friedman. Plenum Press 1998 pp 171-193. Back
On the afternoon of December 21, when many people had left for the Christmas break and the parliamentary recess was just a few hours away, the government quietly announced that 19,274 badgers had been killed across 17 areas in seven weeks, with two cull areas still to announce their totals.
To give that number some meaning, 19,274 badgers would weigh about the same as two and a half space shuttles. If you laid all those badgers nose to tail, it would take you three hours to walk from one end of the line to the other. The cull is likely to have cost taxpayers in the region of £10 million
The report, in full, which includes a damming criticism of current policy is at:
Government urged to remove hurdles to trialling Suffolk-made bovine TB test
Suffolk consultant biologist and farmer Tom Langton is calling on the government to adopt a bovine TB blood test because of the lack of reliability of the current test.
Consultant biologist Tom Langton, of Dews Farm, Bramfield, near Halesworth, said the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs’ (DEFRA) approach to the cattle disease, affecting herds in the west of the country, was “a national scandal”.
He claimed government efforts to combat it weren’t working, and risked bringing it closer to East Anglia. He called on the department to take the necessary steps to adopt a blood (or milk) test developed by a Suffolk firm.
Officials currently rely on a skin test to detect the symptoms of bovine TB but this was unreliable, he argued.
Dr Clarke said he was making progress in introducing the test, which has been developed from an approved human test, in Canada, France and the USA - but not in the UK.
“If you want to have a licensed, registered test you have to have approval from the government, but the government won’t allow us to test our system,” he said. “It’s actually very difficult for any new technology to be adopted in the UK because of the reluctance of DEFRA to allow new technologies to be explored.”
Ireland moving away from culling - one does wonder if there are any badgers left in Ireland though..
For info - 6,000 badgers are culled annually in 30% of the agricultural land in Ireland. All indications are that, even if vaccination is introduced, they intend to use culling to maintain a lower badger density in intervention areas. Simon More says in his recent vaccination paper (https://ac.els-cdn.com/S0167587717303380/1-s2.0-S0167587717303380-main.pdf?_tid=0de1bb52-f90c-11e7-abbd-00000aacb362&acdnat=1515921763_0a899aa455a9982df3aecfc08f38c683).

Interview about the awful endless badger saga and the republication of Fate of the Badger after 30+ years.
The YouTube video is just over 15 minutes long and can be seen via my website (www.richardmeyer.co.uk). Also through Twitter (https://twitter.com/DrRichardMeyer) and Facebook https://www.facebook.com/richard.m.meyer.5.
If you can find the time and can bear it please have a look.
Emerging from meeting at DEFRA !
Brian May and Anne Brummer have sat with top-level experts including 10 professors - discussing how government policy on bovine TB can be optimised in the coming years. According to Brian, Michael Gove (Sec of State) listened, took notes and seemed to grasp all the issues. He said that no matter what comes of this, it's refreshing to have a Secretary of State who actually takes the time to listen to all points of view and makes his own decision. This is the man who right now has the future of cows, farmers and badgers in his hands.
Are hunting dogs a risk? Make your own mind up after reading the article at https://www.league.org.uk/news/hunting-hounds-pose-a-significant-risk
It’s a tradition for the government to bury bad news on the last day of Parliament before the Christmas recess, and 2017 was no exception.
As the Environment Secretary disappeared down to Devon on Thursday 21 December to celebrate the reintroduction of beavers to our rivers, Defra announced that it had licensed the killing of 19,274 badgers in England, the most significant destruction of a protected species in living memory.
The final death rate for 2017 is likely to exceed 20,000 badgers since Defra has yet to release the kill rates for pilot cull zones in Gloucestershire and Somerset, which are now subject to five-year supplementary cull licences, whereby farmers can effectively kill badgers as they please with neither monitoring nor controls.
To put this hideous and pointless slaughter of a protected species into context, the total badger population of Scotland is estimated to be in the region of 34,000. This effectively means that within a six-week period between September and October this year the government allowed cull contractors, funded mainly by the taxpayer, to wipe out the equivalent of 50% of the Scottish badger population.
Since the badger cull started in 2013 the government has killed almost 45,000 badgers. The vast majority of these animals have not been tested for TB and most are likely to be completely free of the disease. More than 25,000 have been killed by a controlled shooting method that has resulted in many badgers taking more than 5 minutes to die of multiple bullet wounds, blood loss and organ failure, which is condemned as inhumane by the British Veterinary Association.
Defra is believed to have taken around 900 badgers from across the cull zones in 2016 to carry out post-mortems and test for TB, but none of the data from this publicly funded research has been released, which is a clear indication that most of these dead badgers were TB free.
The total cost of the badger-cull policy to date for the taxpayer is believed to be in the region of £50 million, i.e. £1100 per badger killed. What the government promoted as a farmer-led and paid-for policy in 2013 has now become the most expensive publicly funded wildlife cull in history, with bills stacking up in Whitehall for equipment, training and monitoring, policing costs and legal challenges to the policy.
As the cost of killing badgers has risen to tens of millions of pounds, the cost of vaccinating them against TB has fallen rapidly. It now costs the taxpayer around £1100 to cage-trap and shoot a badger, but it costs the Wildlife Trusts and other volunteer badger-vaccination groups only around £200 to trap and vaccinate a badger against the disease. Badger culling is hugely complicated, controversial and costly, but badger vaccination has strong public backing, is far cheaper and, as I recently said on BBC Countryfile, brings farmers and conservationists together in a spirit of mutual respect and trust.
The badger cull is probably one the worst examples of incompetence, negligence and deceit at the heart of the government. To spend more than £50 million of public funds killing tens of thousands of badgers without any reliable evidence that it will lower TB rates in cattle is a national disgrace.
Since the culls started in 2013 the government, with the support of the farming and livestock veterinary industry, has run a propaganda campaign demonising the badger and presenting politicians, public and the media with a continuous stream of false justifications, cherry-picked data and anecdotal evidence dressed up as scientific fact in a desperate attempt to prove that the badger cull is working.
Very little evidence exists to prove that badgers can easily pass TB to cattle. In fact, after 40 years of targeting the badger, which has resulted in more than 60,000 of this protected species being slaughtered by gassing, snaring or shooting, the only justification for pushing it to the verge of local extinction rests on a single poorly run experiment undertaken by Central Veterinary Laboratory in Weybridge in 1975.
This field research was designed to prove the cross-transmission of TB from badgers to cattle under controlled conditions. It involved confining TB-diseased badgers in a yard with a concrete floor and a steel roof measuring 12 metres by 8.5 metres. Over time three calves were introduced into this confined space with the diseased badgers. Despite being in such close proximity to badgers who were believed to be excreting TB through their urine and faeces, it took six months for the first calf to react positively to a TB test. The second calf responded positively at eight months, whilst the third took ten months.
The government vets who undertook the experiment accepted it was not fit for purpose and did not replicate what was likely to happen in terms of badger and cattle interaction in pasture areas or farmyards. However it did show that even in very artificial confined conditions, where highly diseases badgers were in constant close contact with cattle, it was difficult for TB to spread between the species.
Despite these findings, no other field research looking at cattle and badgers and how the disease spreads between the species has been undertaken in mainland Britain in the past 40 years.
However today we know far more than ever before about how badgers and cattle interact in the countryside, as a result of studying the movements of satellite-collared badgers in England and Ireland.
What we have learned from these studies is that badgers largely avoid any contact with cattle in pasture areas and farmyards, which further weakens the argument that they are passing TB to cattle. When we stop playing the badger blame game, we can soon focus on the real culprit for the spread of bovine TB and that's cattle.
In recent months we have seen new outbreaks of bovine TB in cattle in Cumbria and even in the Isle of Skye.
Defra and the NFU accept that these outbreaks were not down to badgers but were due to cattle movements on the back of lorries.
In January 2018 the Bureau of Investigative Journalism will release a damning report showing huge failures in biosecurity and cattle-movement controls aimed at reducing bovine TB, which could have led to the recent outbreaks of the disease in Cumbria and the Isle of Skye.
It will show that, whilst the government has been wasting tens of millions of public funds slaughtering mostly TB-free badgers, it has been failing to get farmers to implement basic biosecurity and movement controls to help control the spread of bovine TB in cattle.
This negligence is not letting down just farmers but also taxpayers and ultimately badgers, who are being wiped out for nothing.
This clearly shows that the badger cull is not a disease-control strategy: it's a politically motivated publicly funded wildlife-eradication policy, which is pushing badgers to the verge of extinction in parts of England where they have lived since the last Ice Age.
The Welsh government has shown what can be achieved in reducing bovine TB by focusing on cattle-based measures. Through a combination of improved TB-testing regimes, tighter cattle control and biosecurity measures the spread of the disease in cattle has been significantly reduced without any indiscriminate cull of badgers.
I can only hope that in 2018 we all wake up to what we are now facing when it comes to protecting our wildlife. They come for our badgers today, but it will be our otters, raptors, beavers and seals next.
The battle to protect the badger is far more than just a fight to protect a shy nocturnal mammal most of us never see: it's a fight for the very future of our countryside and the wildlife that inhabits it.
Let's hope we all realise this before it's too late.
Dominic Dyer
CEO Badger Trust & Policy Adviser Born Free Foundation
Badger Trust challenges government’s lack of evidence after 19,000 more badgers culled in 2017 and calls for a full policy review
The Badger Trust has called on the government to provide conclusive evidence that their cull policy is reducing levels of TB in cattle following the announcement that a further 19,000 badgers were culled in 2017.
“After four years spending over £50 million in taxpayer’s money and the deaths of over 40,000 badgers, the government has never been able to demonstrate any conclusive evidence that the policy is working or that it ever will,” says Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust. “The latest statement from Farming Minister George Eustice [1] relies entirely on one piece of research [2] which clearly states that there is ‘no association between culling and TB incidence for Somerset, or for either of the buffer areas for the first 2 years since culling began. A weak association was observed in Gloucestershire’. The paper then goes on to state unequivocally that ‘it would be unwise to use these findings to develop generalizable inferences about the effectiveness of the policy at present.’”
“This piece of research is simply a statistical modelling exercise using carefully chosen assumptions to create an impression that the culls are working whilst directly admitting that the raw data says nothing of the sort,’ continues Dominic Dyer. “The rest of the government’s analysis and reporting [3] relies heavily on caveats and words such as ’should’ and ‘could’ instead of ‘will’ and ‘does’. The truth is that for the last five years the government and pro-cull lobby have presented us with a continuous stream of false justifications, cherry picked data and anecdote masquerading as scientific fact, all in the absence of any conclusive improvement in levels of bovine TB.”
“The vast majority of badgers killed have been free of the disease,” continues Dominic Dyer, “very few were ever tested and for those that were the government refused to release any figures showing how many had TB. The whole process is not just cruel and inhumane, it is completely indiscriminate. It doesn’t take much imagination to realise that culling healthy badgers is never going to help farmers rid their herds of this disease. There has, in any case, never been any conclusive scientific proof of how or to what extent badgers can pass on TB to cattle in the first place.”
“The government and pro-cull lobby’s position has now become completely untenable,” says Badger Trust Chairman, Peter Martin. “It is clear from Westminster insiders that there is a growing tension between the pro-cull people and those that realise the public cannot be fooled by a lack of evidence for much longer. Animal welfare has become a massive public concern that is really threatening the short and long term survival of the government. People are seeing the culls for what they are, a mass slaughter of a much loved and protected British wildlife species for no apparent gain in TB eradication. The new Environment Minister Michael Gove has promised a full review of the policy and we expect him to be true to his word.”
“In fact we think the government needs to radically rethink the whole policy from top to bottom,” continues Peter Martin, “as the current twenty-five year strategy is way too long for farmers to wait for a result and is highly unlikely to succeed in any case. A full independent review of the scientific, animal welfare, ecological impact, costs and public safety aspects of the badger cull policy must now be undertaken as a matter of urgency. This review should not only involve the farming and veterinary industry but the Badger Trust and other leading wildlife protection organisations.”
“The Welsh government have led the way in cattle TB reduction and Westminster now needs to follow suit,” concludes Peter Martin. “They have achieved this through tighter cattle controls, better biosecurity measures and improved TB testing systems, and all without culling badgers. This has to be the starting point for any future policy and it must also include a system of risk-based trading that does not bankrupt farmers if they do get a TB breakdown. But whatever happens we can never go back to the mass slaughter of our wildlife to satisfy political agendas or as a cover for landowners to reduce numbers of an animal they traditionally do not like. The culls must end now.”
[1] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2017-12-21/HCWS383...
[2] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ece3.3254/full
[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/670230/bovine-tb-cvo-2017-culls.pdf
A summary of badger control. What a waste of money and yet another once common, well loved, iconic species probably doomed.
Dear Drs. Boyd, Gibbens, Hewinson , Walport / Glossop / More, Corner, Gormley /
Skuce , Allen .. and many others, 5th December 2017.
Alas, with 20:20 hindsight, TB only occurs in a tiny number of badgers at the epicentre of previous bad herd breakdowns, so a spillover from cattle to a temporary transient micro-pocket of TB, and badgers are merely a dead-end spillover host, which by definition are never going to become infectious enough to pass a respiratory bronchopneumonia back to cattle.
So I would hope the your advice to Agriculture Ministers ( amounting to a long overdue U-turn) is that any further badger cull or vaccination schemes in England, Wales, Eire, or Ulster are utterly meaningless... they do not stop the spread of TB by local cattle movements !
Badger blame as "The main cause of the spread of TB" goes back to the mid-1970s, with the Zuckerman 1980, Dunnet 1986 and Wilesmith 1983 reports. In a very costly absurdly simple mistake, they wrongly assumed that NVL/Unconfirmed reactors were "false positive", did NOT have TB, so had not caught TB in the preceding herd breakdown, so with half the new breakdowns NVL, they must be "due to badgers . Progression of lung TB takes c. 1 year to metastasise to the more infectious VL reactor stage.
No-one seems to have realised (apart from M'Fadyean 1910 !), but the newly infected reactors which hence lack "visible" lung tubercle lesions, are merely the precursor of Confirmed cases with VL lesions & detectable M. bovis. So with c. 3 reactors / breakdown, cattle-to-cattle spread has been happening all along, with dispersal of new cases to cause a scatter of new NVL/Unconfirmed breakdowns (which DO have TB; test specificity 99.99 % so only 1 in 5000 truly false positive). NEW breakdowns in herds with no TB in either badgers or cattle in the previous 18-36 months, can only be due to bought-in reactors, which caught TB in the normal way in the preceding herd breakdown. Skin test 49 % accurate (Godfray 2013), misses half the problem each time; and 20 million cattle movements per year.
So this scatter of New NVL/Unconfirmed breakdowns are NOT after all "due to badgers". And the Skin test has always missed early and late cases, which are the usual cause of recrudescence in herds supposedly tested clear of TB (fig.). So in fact it was a small number of problem herds with recurrent or chronic TB which was the engine driving the production of new breakdowns in the last 1970s intractable hotspots (Richards 1972).
And a critical reappraisal of the epidemiological patterns of TB in both cattle and badgers since then , emphatically dispels these myths :-
CATTLE TB has spread from the last southwest intractable islets of TB to an area now of half of GB , entirely within the cattle population :-
ANGLESEY ............................CHESHIRE ..............DERBYSHIRE
CORNWALL................................... ......................HAMPSHIRE
BADGER TB , no-one seems to have noticed but there was never any self-sustaining reservoir of badger TB in those 1970s southwest islands of intractable TB . In fact embedded like sparse twinkling stars in this ocean of cattle TB , the few and only TB badgers "out there" have occurred as tiny micro-pockets of TB , a spillover from bad herd breakdowns. Just 1-2 TB badgers/ clan, in 1-2 clans at the epicentre of the herd breakdown .. as in North Woodchester map shown above, 2 contiguous 1978-9 herd breakdowns. Just 14 TB badgers out of 65 culled, in 6 of the 14 clans there. So few infectious "superexcretor" badgers , 105 out of 1800 Woodchester badgers over 24 years, see Delahay 2000 "spatiotemporal TB" (just google it ) who found that even these micropockets were not self-sustaining but died out quite rapidly. N.B. Since 1975, not even 1 herd breakdown attributable to this textbook high density Badger "endemic" TB population.
WALES shows this re-colonisation of cattle TB from a near clean late 1970s to the 3 Maps in the Goodchild PDF .The 1934 Pembroke hotspot, a few big dairy herds with chronic TB, split off 2 new west kernel hotspots (fig. above), all Spoligotype 9;b. The 3 Welsh Marches new hotspots came from the english edge area, and were type 9;c, 17;a and 22;a. Secondary 17;a overlap hotspots in 2 west kernals; and 9;c in Gwent. And only 55 TB badgers out of 457 sampled, but exactly proportional to the donor cattle spoligotypes . Although MAFF claimed most of the 700 brief unconfirmed breakdowns 1971-1997 must be due to badgers .. there were only 46 TB badgers out of 2363 sampled.. and by 2016 a mere 154 TB badgers out of 3504 sampled .. a dead-end spillover host, which by definition are never going to return a respiratory broncho-pneumonia to cattle in the first place.
BADGER CULLS DO NOT WORK . Because badgers are not after all the cause of these new and chronic breakdowns.
1. The APHA 2017 assessment of the 2013-2016 Pilot culls of c. 4000 badgers found no effect on cattle TB ( via www.gov.uk/government/publications);
2. The true effect of the £50 million RBCT Actual cull of 11,000 badgers, only 1515 TB spillover badgers, from 1900 sq.km., under 200 infectious ones, was in fact ZERO . ISG own Report 2007 ; no effect on unconfirmed breakdowns which ironically are the ones supposed to be caused by badgers, and no difference in accumulated breakdowns eg. (Lefevre 2005) reactive cull versus no cull areas :- 356 vs 358 Confirmed breakdowns, 175 vs 172 unconfirmeds, and 58 vs 59 recurrent breakdowns.
3. Eire. There were big decreases in cattle TB in the 3 main culls, due to cattle controls, but nothing to do with the removal of tiny numbers of TB badgers ; Offaly 141 from 560 sq.km. ; Four Areas 286 from 960 sq.km.; and Laois 172 from 1780 sq.km.
As Darwin's bulldog the great Thomas Henry Huxley once remarked, "The great tragedy of science is the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact ". No-one in 50 years has explained how badgers are supposed to give cows a respiratory lung infection , TB is a bronchopneumonia , lesions in the lungs or pulmonary lymph nodes (bronchials & mediastinals see REFS *). Cattle TB is spread readily by prolonged close aerosol contact within enclosed shared airspaces such as barns or milking parlours. Badger visits to English barns, of brief duration for a drink , mostly in summer when cattle out at pasture anyway, so won't create the highly infective aerosol droplet atmospheric "mist"... sharing an office with someone coughing and spluttering flu bugs around WILL pass it to fellow co-workers ! So it has never been caught from badgers.. just 1 proven case in 50 years in the very artificial yard experiment, which mimicked lengthy barn "contact" .
Seven badger-cattle data recorder "Contact studies" found that badgers avoid cattle at pasture, in farmyards and barns, just 4 contacts within 1.4 m sneezing distance out of over a million "contacts" , SO Badgers CANNOT be the main cause of the spread of TB to cows after all :- Bohm 2009, Drewe 2012, Woodroffe 2016 (SEE PDF) & Ireland Sleeman 1993, O'Mahony 2014 *, 2 Mullens 2013 + 2015* .
URINE ? a recurrent myth is that transmission is via "ingested" badger urine, but a dose of 3 cc of badger urine needed to achieve the minimum needed of 1 million bacilli by Ingestion, at 350,000 bacilli/ ml, Corners studies of 105 badger pathology found only 5 with kidney TB and under 100 cfu / ml . Sheep, 1 bacillus by aerosol, but 11 million needed by ingestion . Ironically , similarly to human TB from unpasteurised milk "scrofula" , lesions in badgers are in throat (submandibular) lymph nodes .. badgers sadly are bound to catch TB turning over cow pats and eating worms and the big Geotrupes Dor beetles.. a recent French study found worms to be the perfect vector of TB from cow pats. Cattle + deer ingest avian TB from pasture so throat/gut lesions.
* http://www.daera-ni-gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/dard/badger-cattle-proximity-report.pdf
sincerely, Martin Hancox MA Oxon, ex-government TB Panel
* REFERENCES are given in Death of Debate WWW.BADGERSANDTB.COM & http://Bit.ly/20JSGpR
Cattle lesions McIlroy 1986 & Neil 1988 Vet.Rec ; Liebana 2009, Jubb Pathology of domestic animals . Little 1982 Vet. Rec. yard experiment. M'Fadyean 1910 dose needed via inhalation or ingestion. Barbier 2016 worms decompose cow pats. Corner 2011, 2012 badger lesions. Woodchester TB clans given in Krebs 1997 report p. 48, map above from Richard Meyer 2016 Fate of the badger. Woodroffe papers with RBCT Spillover cattle to badgers, 2005, 2006 PNAS, and 2006 TB and clan size , just 1-2 TB badgers /clan ; also Donnelly & Nouvellet 2013 badger contribution to cattle TB , Ploscurrrents... 3.7 %, but a generous C. I . of 0 to 100 .. ie. the problem is entirely badgers , or they are completely irrelevant !!!
Bovine Tuberculosis: Disease Control:Written question - 107782
Asked by Dr David Drew
Asked on: 16 October 2017
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Bovine Tuberculosis: Disease Control
To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what plans he has to examine the effectiveness of the Phage and PCR tests for the testing of cattle for bovine TB.
Answered by: George Eustice
Answered on: 26 October 2017
Defra has provided financial and other support for research on a number of candidate diagnostic tests for M. bovis, the causative agent of tuberculosis in cattle, and continues to do so.
Neither the Phage nor PCR tests are currently validated to OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) level for use in diagnosing TB in bovine species. If and when the manufacturers validate their tests we would consider their official use in TB control.
In exceptional circumstances, non-validated tests may be carried out on bovine species under strict criteria with the approval of the Secretary of State. This allows diagnostic companies to undertake the work required to validate the test.
The PCR test used in this instance is the same as that previously used to detect M. bovis in badger faeces and a comprehensive assessment of the PCR test (Defra study SE3289) indicated that this PCR test was not suitable for use in TB surveillance activities in wildlife. Until the PCR test is validated for use in cattle it is difficult to determine the percentages of truly TB-infected and TB-free animals that are correctly identified by this method.
Badger Trust meets with Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
Badger Trust Chairman Peter Martin and CEO Dominic Dyer met with Environment Secretary Michael Gove on Tuesday 24th October to discuss a range of serious concerns with the current badger culling policy. The meeting follows a number of previous meetings with MP's and advisers to the Prime Minister, to see if a better way forward can be reached over a TB policy that is clearly failing in England compared, to the much more effective strategy employed in Wales.
“The meeting was good natured and constructive,” says Dominic Dyer. “We covered a wide range of topics from the origins of the policy to it’s basic failure to address the spread of bovine TB. On taking office, Michael Gove publicly announced that he intended to review the science around badger culling and he seemed genuinely engaged and interested in what we had to say.”
“We had a number of specific requests for immediate action,” continues Dominic Dyer. “The first was that we are aware a large number of badgers from last year’s culls were tested for TB but that Defra had so far refused to release figures on how many were infected. We urged him to make this information public for the benefit of all. We also asked that Defra be far more open to contact and discussion with wildlife NGOs and other stakeholders with an interest in badger culling and the wider TB eradication policy. We pointed out that we have excellent access to the Welsh government’s TB team at the highest level and that they seemed far more open and accountable.”
“Whilst we reiterated all the standard concerns about inhumaneness and the danger of rapid extinction of the badgers population,” comments Peter Martin, “we also impressed on the Secretary of State that the whole TB eradication policy was both flawed and completely inadequate. Farmers simply cannot wait twenty five years to resolve this problem and that a fundamental rethink of the policy was needed. We highlighted the complete inadequacy of the cattle testing regime, the lack of proper risk based trading for farmers and bio-security advice that was too little, too late and not enforceable by Defra.”
“We asked the Minister to address the failure of Defra to employ the more effective Gamma Interferon test in the High Risk Area of the South West and to fast track development of even more effective tests such as Phage PCR,” continues Peter Martin. “We pointed out that there was no hard scientific evidence of how or to what extent badgers can infect cattle with TB, while the latest studies showed that badgers actively avoid contact with cattle. We pointed our that the government had already spent nearly £40 million pounds of taxpayers’ money on culling badgers with no evidence that it was having any effect or would have in the future.”
“When asked our opinion on the origins of the culls and why they had been started,” continues Peter Martin, “we said the idea was based on a deep seated and misinformed opinion among many farmers and landowners that badgers were to blame for bovine TB and that killing them was the only solution. We pointed out that TB is a complex epidemiological problem and that a crude, indiscriminate cull was a rather grotesque, medieval solution that had somehow survived into the 21st century. The culls are in fact a costly and dangerous distraction from getting on with the real business of eradicating TB.”
“These meetings never last long enough,” concludes Dominic Dyer, “but we left Michael Gove with a lot to think about. We had the distinct impression he really wants to get to grips with the issue and make a difference rather than just stick to a failing policy that is causing more problems than it is solving. We ended by expressing serious concerns about how the culls were being handled on the ground with little or no supervision by the NFU or Police regarding firearms safety, the number of badgers actually being killed and some very worrying reports of violence by cull supporters.”
Bovine TB: There is no single solution, but the problem can be solved
Following the article by Patrick Barkham published in the Observer on Sunday 15th October, Brian May’s Save Me Trust has been swamped with enquiries.
We can confirm that the Save Me Trust is collaborating on a project on a Devonshire dairy farm, run by a dedicated vet, that many people now think could eventually bring about the end of the badger cull.
Dick Sibley already has high credentials in the successful eradication of Johnes Disease in cattle, and has now turned his talents to help a South Devon farmer who has lived with the frustration and heartbreak of successive breakdowns in his herd for many years. With an open-minded common sense approach - including enhanced testing and the systematic tracing of every source of infection, plus vaccination of the local badger population - Sibley is convinced that his regime will conquer bovine TB and already has results that indicate he is delivering.
This work was initiated after many meetings with the NFU. It has the support of DEFRA's Chief Vet Nigel Gibbens and Chief Scientist Ian Boyd, and Environment Minister Michael Gove. In addition, the project has approval from a number of top scientists in the field, including Lord John Krebs, and has found a key champion in Parliament in Bill Wiggins, MP.
With no improvement in sight for farmers after four brutal years of badger culling, this initiative has to give new hope for the future for any farmer facing chronic bTB infection in his herd.
The Save Me Trust is proud to work with farmers who are affected by this devastating disease. It has been a vertical learning curve for both sides. It shows that with common sense and commitment to the real enemy of bovine TB, both wildlife and farming groups can work together to solve a problem that affects them both. The badger cull has been a pointless exercise with zero impact on bTB seen or indicated after 4 long years. The badger cull is a financial failure that has divided the two sides that should be working together. This program is scientific, affordable, sustainable and humane.
Anne Brummer
CEO Save Me Trust
As an expanded badger cull gets under way this autumn, in which 33,500 animals will be killed, a leading vet, Dick Sibley, believes a Devon farm demonstrates a way to eradicate the disease in cattle – without slaughtering any badgers.
Sibley’s trial, at a secret location, was halted earlier this year when two new tests to better identify bTB in cattle were deemed illegal. But government regulators have now given the vet permission to continue. His work is backed by rock star-turned-activist Brian May, whose Save Me Trust last week began a four-year programme of vaccinating badgers at the farm against bTB.
The family that owns the farm, which has 300 milking cows, turned to Sibley in despair after being virtually shut down with bTB for five years. Because of the disease, their cattle cannot be sold on the open market.
Despite four years of badger culling, bTB continues to rise in England, and 30,980 cows were slaughtered in the year up to June in attempts to control it, an increase of 4%. Farmers, as well as wildlife campaigners, are increasingly critical of the cattle test for bTB, which misses many cases, leaving undiagnosed cows to spread the disease within herds. In 2015, 16% of English bTB “breakdowns” were only detected in abattoirs, after supposedly healthy cows had been slaughtered.
Sibley is pioneering two new tests. The phage test, developed by microbiologist Cath Rees of Nottingham University, uses a bTB-invading virus to “hunt” for the live bacterium. It is detecting bTB in cows on the Devon farm months before they test positive with the traditional “skin test”: 85 cows have tested positive with the phage test despite all being found disease-free by the conventional test.
Farmers then need to know if infected cows are infectious. For this, Sibley uses a second test, qPCR, developed by Liz Wellington, life sciences professor at Warwick University. It detects bTB in dung, showing if a cow is “shedding” – spreading – the disease. If it is, the cow is slaughtered even though the conventional test suggests it is healthy.
Both professors have given Sibley free use of their new technologies, and the tests have shown that supposedly healthy cows are the “hidden reservoir” of bTB on the farm. But Sibley said what farms need as well as better testing is better risk management and more resilient cows. “I’ve never cured a cow with a test,” he said.
The farm is an intensive dairy operation that keeps its cattle indoors once they are fully grown and milks them robotically – some cows produce 15,000 litres of milk each year. “If you don’t give that cow everything she needs, and keep the disease away from her, she will crash and burn,” said Sibley. “It’s just like athletes: if there’s a bit of E coli in the Olympic village, they all go down.”
TB – in cows as well as humans – is traditionally a disease of bad living conditions, so the farm’s barns are airy. There are fewer cows in each barn compared with a typical dairy farm, walkways are cleaned three times a day, and regularly changed drinking water is held in “tipping troughs” that are kept scrubbed clean. Dung falling into troughs is likely to be a key transmitter of the disease.
After studying each cow’s history, Sibley believes mothers often spread the disease to their calves at birth. The farm is combatting this by building a new maternity unit with rubber floors that will be disinfected after every delivery. Colostrum – the crucial first milk that boosts a calf’s immune system – is harvested from each mother but pasteurised before it is fed to each calf, so it won’t spread disease.
The Devon farmer admits he has been surprised by his success. “This test is showing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m excited that it could help us get clear of the disease and help other farmers in the future.”
Five Years On...The Pointless Killing Continues by Philip Mansbridge
It’s with an unpleasant sense of déjà vu that I write this, but for the fifth year running the time has come round again when the Government allows the killing of thousands of badgers, despite the fact that they’re supposedly a protected species.
The badger cull policy was designed as part of the Government’s strategy to combat bovine TB (bTB) - an issue that is leading to the slaughter of around 2500 cattle per month in England according to Defra. What the Government seems to have continually failed to comprehend, though, is that you could kill every single badger in the land and you would still have bTB. In honesty, with this year’s maximum badger kill target set at 33,000 badgers, as part of a cull which the Government’s own independent expert panel deemed inhumane, it makes you wonder if total badger eradication is actually their true aim?
Bovine TB is undeniably a complex issue. It causes devastation to farmers and is something that needs to be resolved. Aside from thinking about the way we farm and the way consumers ‘demand’ a high volume of dairy products at low prices, there are many many other issues over and above badgers in the bTB debate. Stricter control of animals’ movements and a better, and more accurate, testing regime are just some. Cattle vaccination is another.
What’s perplexing about this policy of killing pretty much as many badgers as physically possible with no end result, is that everyone knows this policy is not only cruel, barbaric and expensive (c£5000 of your lovely tax payer money per badger killed), but it is also pointless. The infamous Randomised Badger Cull Trial (RBCT) showed that, after 10 years, £50 million spent and over 10,000 badgers killed in far more controlled conditions those of the current cull, “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.”
So why oh why is this cull continuing? And why on earth has it been expanded so widely this year when previous years of killing have resulted in nothing but badger deaths, high cost and extreme levels of public anger. This year the cull expanded into Devon, Wiltshire, Dorset and Cheshire as well as the original zones in Somerset and Gloucestershire. As taxpayers, we’ve already funded the killing of around 15,000 badgers since this cull began and really we don’t want any more. No one does. This is just culling for culling’s sake. What’s more, this year’s target is measured solely on the number of badgers killed (a truly bizarre indicator from a scientific point of view) and no badgers are tested to see whether they even had bTB!
This cull is not only unbelievable, it’s unscientific, illogical and unnecessary. It’s also inhumane. Recent reports, highlighted on the front page of The Mirror, showed a badger left to bleed to death overnight in Devon. It had been cage trapped, ‘dispatched’ (aka shot at point blank) but hadn’t died. Instead it almost certainly suffered a slow and painful death. The badger was found at 1.20pm the following day, still warm, likely having very recently died and soaked in blood.
We must wake up to what’s happening here. This policy is politically motivated and brought about by key farming lobbying groups. It’s embarrassing for the Government to pull the plug now, but it’s more embarrassing for them to keep on killing.
If, like pretty much everyone in the UK, you don’t think pointlessly killing badgers at high cost with low welfare considerations is a good policy, then you can help. The good news is it doesn’t matter where you are - urban or rural. If you are in a badger cull zone then regular wounded badger patrols operate each night, looking for badgers injured in the cull and they desperately need your help. You can find out how to volunteer here.
Alternatively write to your MP and tell them that enough is enough and it’s time to back off our badgers and end this pointless slaughter, once and for all. Instead, we can focus on solutions that will work and actually help our farmers and our wildlife.

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