Wildlife Reservoirs, is the badger a costly distraction, a scapegoat ...?
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?
13 Aug 2014, 1:30 PM
Copy of letter sent to DEFRA Secretary of State Elizabeth Truss
The following letter has been sent on behalf of Badger Trust, to the Secretary of State.
Dear Secretary of State
SUNDAY TIMES ARTICLE 9 AUGUST 2014: AHVLA CULL MONITOR REPORT
Thank you for your letter of 6 August, kindly confirming that you would be happy to meet with the Badger Trust to discuss our concerns about the need for independent monitoring of the pilot badger culls after the Judicial Review hearing on this issue on 21 August.
We look forward to such a meeting, but note that we consider the on-going proceedings to be one of the many reasons to have a meeting, and we do not see why the hearing should be an impediment. If it would allow for a meeting to happen sooner, we would, of course, be happy to meet on a without prejudice basis, at least in respect of discussions relating to the judicial review.
Otherwise, as there have been unconfirmed reports that the pilot culls could commence within a matter of weeks, we would urgently draw your attention to our serious concerns arising from the article in the Sunday Times on the 9 August by Kevin Dowling.
As you will be aware, this article was based on information provided by a whistle blower who worked as a cull monitor for AHVLA during the 2013 pilot culls. It raises serious concerns about the behaviour of both badger cullers and AHVLA contractors, which call into question the safety of the cull as well as the monitoring of its effectiveness.
We would be grateful if you could confirm if you were aware of these allegations and identify what step Defra took at the time this information was provided to investigate, including whether it was passed to the Independent Expert Panel for consideration? Please also confirm what measures have been put in place to prevent any such occurrences happening again?
Dominic Dyer CEO Badger Trust
13 Aug 2014, 1:27 PM
Nigel Gibbens, Chief Veterinary Officer, Defra, "The recent positive statistics, showing a fall om bTB outbreaks in cattle, could not be attributed either to last year's pilot culls or - in Wales - to their badger vaccination programme. It is to do with continued strengthening of the cattle measures".
So, why, we ask, are the costly, unpopular, badger culls set to continue in Glos and Somerset?
12 Aug 2014, 3:27 PM
Last week the Upper Tribunal of the Royal Courts of Justice ordered Defra to release key information about the badger cull based on a 'public interest' argument, writes Lesley Docksey. Could this judgment open a new era of transparent and accountable government? Thought provoking article at: http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2507964/can_public_interest_protect_britains_wildlife.html?dm_i=1NFN,2PG5L,906L7E,9VJ0C,1
Public interest found to be in favour of disclosure of secret badger cull policy documents
On 31st July 2014 the Upper Tribunal held that it was “not persuaded” by DEFRA’s justifications for withholding key badger culling policy documents.
In May 2012, the Badger Trust requested documents relating to the controversial development of the Government’s badger cull policy in 2010. Unknown to the Badger Trust, these documents related to the involvement of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) on a secret project board set up to explore essential aspects of the Government’s policy. DEFRA refused to disclose the Risk and Issue Logs (RILs), which demonstrate the project board’s hidden assessment of the risks associated with developing a farmer-led badger cull prior to the Minister’s decision on introducing the policy.
In June 2013, the Information Commissioner ordered DEFRA to disclose the RILs, finding that the public interest test favoured disclosure. DEFRA appealed to the First-tier Tribunal. The case was exceptionally transferred directly to the Upper Tribunal where it was vigorously defended by the Information Commissioner together with the Badger Trust.
Following two days of evidence and submissions at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Tribunal indicated that it was unconvinced by any of DEFRA’s public interest arguments to justify withholding the RILs. Full judgment will be handed down in due course. There will also be a further hearing around late October 2014 to address important wider issues to clarify the legal exceptions relied on by DEFRA to keep the Board’s assessment of the risks under wraps.
This places the Badger Trust at the forefront of potentially ground-breaking developments in environmental information law, which will assist other NGOs like themselves to ensure greater transparency and scrutiny of controversial environmental decision-making within Government.
Jeff Hayden, Financial Director and the Trust’s lead on judicial challenge, who attended the two-day hearing, said: “The Badger Trust was unremitting and determined in challenging DEFRA’s refusal and today’s finding is a complete vindication for all its hard-work. Our legal advisors, Bindmans LLP, have again proved an invaluable partner in our battle to protect badgers. We deeply regret that we have been unable to save the 1,861 that were slaughtered in the 2013 trials.”
Dominic Dyer, CEO of Badger Trust and Policy Adviser Care For The Wild, said: “This is another important step forward in the Badger Trust’s on-going legal challenge to show that it is cattle, not badgers, that are at the root of the spread of bovine TB. Although the written judgment is awaited, the Tribunal Chairman, Mr Justice Charles, made it quite clear that DEFRA had not been justified in withholding these documents from the Badger Trust in 2012
1 Aug 2014, 4:19 PM
I think to be honest, we're not being told all of what is likely a fairly complex story here. Of some interest to myself at least is a finding in 2010, which is that Bovine TB of the BCG variant can under certain circumstances form spores.
What I think may be going on with TB and badgers is this: most of the time, most badgers are completely healthy and free of TB. The spoligotype maps demonstrate clearly that whatever the TB reservoir is, it is very, very geographically static and the geographic pattern of spoligotypes of TB changes only very slowly indeed.
Therefore TB isn't being spread cow to cow in cattle markets, nor is it being spread around very much by infected cows being traded; we'd see much more variety of spoligotypes in that case, and we simply do not see this pattern.
No, what I think is going on is that bovine TB spends most of its time as patches of endospores in badger setts, from where a sick badger has crawled down a hole to die. Most of the time badgers in the UK aren't infected; they only become infected when they accidentally disturb the long-decomposed remains of a dead badger down a hole.
When that happens, the badger will go from infected to latent to super-excretor in a few months, and will at that point infect most if not all of its group in the sett. An animal which rests and socialises in a deep, damp hole is surely going to be pretty much the best TB-spreader possible, yes?
At this point most of the badgers in a sett are going to get infected, and die of TB. This is the only point in the TB disease cycle where you'll actually find infected badgers around the place, and this phase won't last long. These badgers will die over the course of months, many of them underground. These unfortunates will likely be avoided as new, uninfected animals move in from surrounding setts; badgers probably even have an instinct to block off burrows where a dead animal is decomposing.
This sort of pattern would explain why Mr Patterson made his ludicrous statement about the badgers having moved the goal-posts; the recent culls were in response to TB outbreaks. Presumably the population estimates were made before the TB outbreak flared up; the cull was done after the unfortunates had died off, hence the actual population would have been much lower than the original estimates. These things happen when you have greenie activists busy disrupting information gathering.
This also explains why the original "brute force and ignorance" gassing programme worked so well; if you gas all the badgers in an area, you remove all chance of a badger encountering a patch of TB spores down a sett, thus the TB infection cycle never gets a chance to get started.
Of course, I may (indeed probably am) completely wrong about spores of TB, but I rather think that we do not have a steady low level of TB in badgers, but rather a fluctuating, episodic series of mini-epidemics and a reservoir of some sort which is extremely static in nature.
30 Jul 2014, 9:57 AM
Despite the issues of inhumanness confirmed in the final report on the trial culls the British Veterinary Association (BVA) will support a second year of badger cull pilots in England
The IEP report, published in April, found that the first year of culling failed to meet criteria for effectiveness (in terms of the number of badgers removed) and that the method of controlled shooting had failed to meet the criteria for humaneness. BVA welcomed the report and called on Defra to implement all of the IEP’s recommendations fully.
30 Jul 2014, 9:43 AM
Badger Trust opposes DEFRA’s attempts to avoid disclosure of key documents relating to its badger culling policy
The Badger Trust will be in the Upper Tribunal on Wednesday 30 July opposing DEFRA’s appeal against the Information Commissioner’s decision requiring DEFRA to disclose information relating to DEFRA’s Badger Control Board. That Board included a representative of the National Farmers Union at a time when the Government had not yet publicly decided to pursue its current badger cull policy.
The Badger Control Board was set up by the Coalition Government in 2010 to consider options for delivering the badger cull policy. Project Boards of this kind are usually confined to representatives within DEFRA or its Executive Agencies. However, in this case the NFU were invited onto the Board and given special status to help develop and implement a highly controversial policy away from public scrutiny.
In June 2013, the Badger Trust obtained a ruling from the Information Commissioner upholding its right to gain access to key information from the risks and issues logs prepared by the Badger Control Board, but DEFRA appealed this decision which has led to this latest hearing in the Upper Tribunal.
Commenting on this case Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild said :
"The NFU's role on a key DEFRA Project Board set up to deliver the highly controversial badger cull policy raises serious concerns about its influence within DEFRA. There is a risk that the NFU has used the Badger Control Board to push forward a policy which has proved a disastrous failure on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds, as demonstrated by the recent report of the Independent Expert Panel.
“The NFU is a lobby group and not an arm of the Government. DEFRA cannot defend its refusal to disclose information on the basis that the risk logs are internal communications or confidential. The public has a right to know how the NFU influenced the course of this disastrous policy and indeed how DEFRA itself analysed the risks involved. Complete transparency is necessary. We are confident that the Tribunal will uphold our right to obtain this information as a result of this latest hearing".
Source: Badger Trust Press Release
30 Jul 2014, 9:43 AM
'Carry on Culling - the fiasco continues' - a thought provoking article in the Ecologist by Lesley Docksey.
30 Jul 2014, 9:39 AM
BADGERS NOT TO BLAME RE RECENT Bovine TB outbreak in Cumbria which is likely to have been caused by cattle movements. An AHVLA spokesperson said: “Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) is currently investigating a bovine TB incident at a cattle holding in the north of Cumbria".
Cumbria is a low risk area for bovine TB. The low risk area covers large parts of the north and east of England which have a low incidence of bTB and no recognised reservoir of the disease in wildlife.
27 Jul 2014, 6:52 PM
Interesting letter below in Western Daily Press.
There have been around a dozen letters and articles on the “vexed badger tb problem” over the last week or so, constituting unbridled badger and bovine clap trap.
Sadly, all of them have been an Alice in Wonderland debate, based on the well “established” myth that badgers (rather than cattle) are the main obstacle to solving the cattle TB crisis; and so culls or vaccines are essential to stop the spread.
The whole badger cull saga is based on the incredibly silly idea prevalent among farmers and vets, that cattle are NOT the self-sustaining source of ongoing infectious cattle TB. Two key misunderstandings underlie this daft idea, and stem from the Zuckerman and Dunnet reviews of 1980 and 1986 respectively.
John Tuck reckons I scored an own goal in my letters (June 10 & 28), saying there is no evidence that catttle are infectious early on. Well sorry, but M’Fadyean, who pioneered cattle TB eradication back in the 1890s, was perfectly aware that cows ARE infectious before they develop visible lung lesions and before they become TB reactors to the skin test. The great 1947 classic by John Francis on bovine TB stated very clearly that cattle , unlike humans, do not form “closed tubercles” so ALL reactors are potentially infectious from the outset. And if a cow with even very slight lesions is left in a herd, then spread will be more or less rapid through the herd!
This basic fact was rediscovered by meticulous work by Irish vets McIlroy & Neill , (Vet. Rec. 1986, 1988, 1991); where they showed that 20% of cattle without lung lesions were sputum-positive infectious (references on www.badgersandtb.com).
And the second critically important mistake was the mistake made by Wilesmith and other vets back in the mid-1970s, that early TB cases which had not yet developed visible lung lesions were in fact NOT false positive, ie.TB-negative, reactors, but merely so-called “unconfirmed” early true TB cases.
So, the 85-90% of new herd breakdowns supposedly caused by badgers have ALL in fact been caused by unconfirmed cattle. And there are no TB badgers found after such “mild” breakdowns.
So, these two key mistakes have meant farmers and vets have simply misunderstood that TB has been spreading via cattle among the cattle population; which is why neither the cull of 11,000 badgers nor vaccinating some 4-5,000 badgers has had the slightest effect on stopping this spread among cattle!
As I’ve repeatedly pointed out to Dr May and Team Badger, if they really want to end culls, they ought to very publicly abandon the vaccine idea, hence sending out the clear message that badgers are not the problem!
Badger Trust calls for urgent meeting with new Defra Secretary ahead of High Court challenge over Badger cull
The Badger Trust is seeking an urgent meeting with the new DEFRA Secretary of State Elizabeth Truss ahead of its Judicial Review challenge on the badger cull, which will take place in the High Court on Thursday 21 August.
The Badger Trust is challenging the new DEFRA Secretary of State and Natural England over their failure to put in place an Independent Expert Panel for the planned culling of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2014. The Trust contends such a panel is needed to oversee the design of data collection, its analysis and interpretation. Without this, there can be no proper assessment of the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the culling operation, something that would be needed before any lawful decision to continue with further culls around the country.
Commenting on the Judicial Review hearing date and the request for an urgent meeting with Elizabeth Truss, Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild, said
“I congratulate Liz Truss on her appointment but call on her not to make the mistakes of her predecessor by attempting to push ahead with further badger culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset this summer, without any independent assessment of safety, effectiveness and humaneness.
“Rather than shut the door on any discussion of this issue ahead of the Judicial Review challenge in the High Court on the 21 August, we would like to arrange for key representatives of the Badger Trust to meet with the new DEFRA Secretary of State as soon as possible.
“We would like to use this meeting to look at the key findings of the 2013 IEP report and how its recommendations will be implemented and to reach an agreement on a new independent monitoring panel for any culling operation in 2014, which could avoid the need for the High Court challenge on 21 August.
“I hope that Elizabeth Truss will accept our meeting request and show the public that she is taking a very different approach from Owen Paterson on this highly controversial issue, by entering into dialogue with the Badger Trust, as well as the National Farmers’ Union, on bovine TB control and the badger cull policy, within weeks of taking up her new Cabinet post.
“We have made it clear that whilst we believe that any culling undertaken this year should be independently monitored, our position remains that the culling of badgers will not have a significant impact on the incidence of bovine TB in cattle. This is a completely separate discussion.”
MPs were recently informed by Professor Tim Coulson a member of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP), that the former DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson was very unhappy with the IEP report into the 2013 culls which was highly critical of their failure to meet reasonable standards of humaneness and effectiveness. Mr Paterson did not take the opportunity to meet the panel to discuss their findings.
Remarking on the meeting request Professor Tim Coulson said
“I think it was a major mistake by Owen Paterson not to meet with the IEP following the publication of our report into the 2013 pilot culls. The failure of DEFRA to continue independent oversight of data collection and analysis of the ongoing badger cull enormously compromises their ability to assess whether it achieves its critical aims.
“I fully support the Badger Trust’s call for an urgent meeting with the new DEFRA Secretary of State on this key issue ahead of the Judicial Review challenge on 21 August.”
22 Jul 2014, 8:06 AM
Rates of bovine TB (bTB) in cattle have fallen yet again according to new figures (www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/330542/bovinetb-statsnotice-16jul14.pdf?dm_i=1NFN,2NBJO, 906L7E,9OD1R,1), with the incidence of the disease reaching its lowest point since 2003.
Figures released by Defra show that, between Jan-April this year compared to the same period in 2013, the number of cattle slaughtered because of bTB is down 2.6%, and the number of new bTB incidents is down 2.3%. Most importantly, and confirmed by Defra in a tweet, the incidence rate for April is at 3.1% - the lowest single monthly incidence rate since Aug 2003.
This reduction is not due to culling of badgers!
The Badger Trust has launched a Judicial Review against the cull.
22 Jul 2014, 7:55 AM
Interesting comment in Huffington Post at www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/mark-jones/owen-paterson-liz-truss_b_5598348.html ... 'Whilst the badgers were accused of moving the goalposts last year, the Prime Minister has shown Defra's Owen Paterson a red card and moved him right off the pitch'.
16 Jul 2014, 11:53 AM
'Goalposts Moved Again as Owen Paterson Substituted from Badger Battleground' says the latest press release from the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild.
Wildlife and conservation groups opposed to the badger cull have reacted with relief at the announcement that David Cameron has sacked Owen Paterson as Environment Secretary.
The Government’s central defender of the disastrous badger culling policy, Owen Paterson is viewed by many as having overseen a disastrous term when it comes to wildlife protection in the UK. Under his brief tenure as Secretary of State, DEFRA has culled, or looked into culling, not only badgers, but also other species including buzzards, cormorants, grey squirrels and seagulls.
Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild said:
"It’s no laughing matter that since Owen Paterson has been in charge, many people now refer to Defra as Deathra, because his tenure has been a catastrophe for our wildlife. Apparently it seems that the man who claimed that badgers had moved the goalposts has scored one too many own goals and has been hauled off the pitch.
“Owen Paterson has strong links to the Countryside Alliance and landowning and hunting interests, and he stubbornly threw himself behind the badger culling policy in the face of overwhelming, expert scientific opinion that said that a cull would make no meaningful contribution to reducing bTB. So now his lasting legacy will be the badger cull which has been an utter failure on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds.
“Mr Paterson’s leadership has caused lasting damage to the reputation of DEFRA, Natural England and the farming industry, and the new DEFRA Secretary of State cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of their predecessor. They must start by bringing an immediate halt to the disastrous badger cull and reaching out to wildlife protection and conservation groups to restore confidence in the reputation of DEFRA for protecting - not destroying - wildlife.
“And it’s time for David Cameron to recognise that the compassionate British people care deeply about wildlife and will stand up to protect it. He would be wise to listen to their concerns or risk paying a heavy price at the next election.”
Culling cattle, not badgers, 'only way to stop bovine TB'. The new study suggests badger culling has 'relatively little impact' as the animals are not to blame for most cases of tuberculosis in cattle.
Badgers are not to blame for most cases of tuberculosis in cattle, a university study has found.
Culling the animals will have “little impact” on the spread of the disease in livestock, researchers from Cambridge and Warwick universities have found.
Researchers studying the spread of bovine TB over the past 15 years found that infected cows brought to a farm were the most likely cause of the disease.
They said that 10 per cent of farms were acting as “super-spreaders” because they moved animals around frequently. Academics from the universities concluded that the only way to halt the disease was through culls of entire herds of diseased animals, on the scale of those seen in the foot and mouth outbreak.
But that would mean 20 times more animals being killed than are slaughtered each year at present. They said that the best way to halt the disease is through widespread testing and vaccination programmes or culling infected herds.
Prof Matthew Keeling said: “We find only three controls have the power to reverse the current increase in cases, more frequent or more accurate testing, vaccination of cattle and culling all cattle on infected farms.”
The researchers used data from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency and government figures to study the transmission between farms and within a single farm.
The results indicate that 84 per cent of outbreaks are caused by the movement of infected cattle, by infected fields or wildlife and by the failure of tests to detect diseased cattle. Although environmental factors, including contact with badgers, caused some infections, they did not explain the rapid spread of the disease. Bovine TB costs farmers about £100 million a year. There has been a fourfold increase in the number of cattle slaughtered due to TB in the past 17 years. In 1998, about 6,000 cows were slaughtered due to TB in England. By 2013 this had risen to 26,603 cattle killed.
The co-author of the report, Dr Ellen Brooks-Pollock, a researcher at Cambridge University, said: “It is most likely both cattle movements and the local environment are driving the front of the epidemic. Imperfect cattle skin tests contribute to the spread by delaying the time until infected herds are detected and incorrectly identifying herds as clear of infection. Only a small number of farms spread the infection and they can cause the majority of new cases.” The study, published in the journal Nature, showed that the most likely cause of the disease’s spread is a small number of farms that send cows to other farms without properly testing them first.
£8m badger cull finds just ONE TB case - is the headline at www.express.co.uk/news/nature/485525/Badger-cull-8m-cull-finds-just-ONE-TB-case?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_ campaign=Feed%3A+daily-express-news-showbiz+%28Daily+Express+%3A%3A+News+%2F+Showbiz+Feed%29
Apparently JUST four of the near 2,000 badgers killed during the controversial government cull were tested for disease, with only one of the animals being found to have TB.
Despite public protests, a total of 924 badgers were killed in Gloucestershire last autumn and a further 955 in Somerset, costing taxpayers almost £8million.
The carcasses were incinerated rather than subjected to tests that could have given more insight into the way bovine TB is spread.
Four were tested, however, at the request of a landowner, according to a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
2 Jul 2014, 7:44 PM
Not Guilty – Bovine TB Epidemic Caused by Cattle, Not Badgers Groundbreaking new research shows how infected cattle missed by testing are key spreaders of the disease
New ground-breaking research by the University of Warwick into the spread of bovine TB (bTB) has confirmed claims by wildlife organisations like Care for the Wild and the Badger Trust that the disease is being spread by infected cattle – not badgers.
The paper, “A dynamic model of bovine tuberculosis spread and control in Great Britain”, demonstrated that the majority of herd outbreaks are caused by multiple transmissions routes - including failed cattle infection tests, cattle movement and reinfection from environmental reservoirs. But the model proposes that ‘whilst badgers form part of the environmental reservoir they only play a relatively minor role in the transmission of infection’.
Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said: "The research backs up what we have been saying all along and should be the final nail in the coffin of the disastrous badger cull policy.
“The government and the farming industry have focused far too much on badgers and nowhere near enough on the gaping holes in cattle management policy, which have been letting this disease through. The best scientific evidence suggests that badgers are responsible for no more than six percent of new TB outbreaks, if that. This research confirms that the vast majority of new bTB outbreaks are due to poor TB testing, biosecurity and cattle control movements, so maybe farmers will now be convinced to give badgers a break and start focussing on methods that will actually work.
“We’re already seeing good results in places where improved and more frequent testing, combined with movement controls and better ‘biosecurity’ on farms, have been used – Northern Ireland, Wales, and even England in the last year have seen substantial reductions in the number of cattle slaughtered due to bTB, without any culling of badgers. The road forward is clearly being signposted by these figures – so we need the government to stop reversing up the cul de sac of badger culling and actually deal with the disease in an effective manner.”
Care for the Wild and the Badger Trust acknowledge that the bTB is having a terrible effect on farmers and their cattle, and that tough action is required to really beat the disease.
“One fact that simply isn’t being faced up to is that the skin test to identify cows infected with TB is not fit for purpose. It misses around one in five infected cows each time – which means that many TB infected cows remain in the herds, spreading the disease, or are transported to other farms or slaughterhouses without anyone knowing that they are infected.
“This new research understands that, which is why we must consider a policy of slaughtering whole herds if there is any trace of bTB within them. This method seems extreme but it could be the only way we can be sure infected cattle aren’t slipping through. And in the long-term, it could see the end of the disease. The method has been used successfully in several European countries, and in the UK between 1935 and 1960, and must be considered again, rather than focussing ineffectually on badgers.”
Government advisors support Badger Trust High Court legal challenge
The Badger Trust has been granted permission by a judge for a Judicial Review challenge in the High Court against the DEFRA Secretary of State Owen Paterson and Natural England. The test case focuses on the Government’s highly controversial badger cull policy.
The Judicial Review will argue that Owen Paterson and Natural England have failed to put in place any Independent Expert Panel for the planned culling of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset in 2014. The Trust contends such a Panel is needed to oversee the design of data collection, its analysis and interpretation. Without this, there can be no proper assessment of the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the culling operation, something that would be needed before any lawful decision to continue with further culls around the country.
The Badger Trust legal challenge has received strong support from some members of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) set up by the Government to monitor the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of the badger culls carried out in 2013.
Commenting on the Judicial Review challenge, Ranald Munro, Chairman of the IEP said
“The Independent Expert Panel’s report states clearly the rationale for ensuring that independent monitoring and the use of the statistically robust sample sizes and analytical methods, as used in the 2013 culls, are followed in further culling exercises. If this scientific advice is ignored then the data collected during the proposed 2014 culls will be insufficiently reliable for assessment of humaneness and effectiveness. This means that farmers, veterinarians and scientists intimately involved in controlling bovine TB will be denied the information necessary to allow them to assess whether the IEP’s recommended changes to the culling process have corrected the failings identified by the pilot culls.”
Dominic Dyer CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild welcomed the judge’s decision to grant permission for the Judicial Review challenge saying
"Owen Paterson has done all he can to prevent this Judicial Review case going to the High Court and he has failed. His refusal to put in place any independent monitoring of the badger culls due to take place in Gloucestershire and Somerset over the next few months against the advice of the Independent Expert Panel he set up is a national disgrace.
“The caring compassionate British public will not remain silent, whilst poorly trained NFU contract gunmen move through our countryside at night shooting badgers with rifles and shotguns without any independent monitoring or scrutiny. We know from last year’s culls that many badgers were wounded and suffered long painful deaths in a disastrous operation, which proved a complete and utter failure on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds.
“I am very pleased to see that we have strong support from some members of the Independent Expert Panel and I look forward to joining Professor Tim Coulson in Parliament on Monday 7 July, when we will brief MP's from all parties on why we believe they should also give their support to the Badger Trust legal challenge.
“I also call again on the British Veterinary Association to show animal welfare and humaneness is their number one priority by supporting the Badger Trust in the High Court.”
Badger Trust press release dated 1 July 2014
30 Jun 2014, 6:01 PM
Badger cull claim 'seriously flawed', warn vets
Government claims that badger culling is needed to tackle tuberculosis in cattle based on successes in other countries are "seriously flawed", a group of vets has said.
Ministers warn that no country in the world with TB in wildlife has eradicated the disease in cattle without controlling it in wild species, pointing to programmes in places such as New Zealand, Ireland and the US.
But in a letter to the Veterinary Record, 19 vets raised concerns about the claims, saying that very few countries had needed to kill wildlife as part of TB control programmes.
The vets said the efficacy of "indiscriminate" culling of badgers to control TB in cattle was not supported by scientific evidence, with research showing that surviving badgers moved around more, potentially further spreading the disease.
They warned that the methods being used to kill badgers in the two pilot culls in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset were very different from those employed in the long-term trials which form the scientific basis for the Government's policy.
The "controlled shooting" of free-running badgers employed in the pilot culls was deemed to be ineffective and inhumane by an independent panel of experts which evaluated the schemes.
Info from: www.expressandstar.com/your-say/talking-points/2014/06/29/badger-cull-claim-seriously-flawed-warn-vets/
In New Zealand brush tail possums have been targeted to tackle TB, but the species is not a native breed, has caused significant problems for other wildlife and has very different habits and social structure to badgers, the vets said.
White tail deer were culled in the US, but had only become part of the TB problem when hunters started winter feeding of the animals to make them more available for hunting, which brought them into close contact with other deer and cattle, they said.
Questions have been raised about the contribution widespread killing of badgers has made in Ireland after it emerged that there were similar declines in TB in cattle in Northern Ireland, where culling has not been used.
"The premise that badger killing can be justified on the grounds that wildlife controls have been deemed necessary in other countries in order to control TB in cattle is seriously flawed," the group wrote.
25 Jun 2014, 1:53 PM
According to a Guardian report (www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/25/badger-vaccination-programmes-to-be-rolled-out-in-england) the Government-backed badger vaccination programmes aimed at tackling the spread of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle are set to be rolled out in England.
The move is seen by opponents as the “beginning of the end” of the controversial badger culls. Plans for a national cull rollout were abandoned in April, after independent scientists concluded the night-time shoots had been neither effective nor humane.
Farming minister George Eustice met wildlife and farming groups on Tuesday to discuss how they could set up the new badger vaccination programmes and offered to provide vaccines, cages, training and four years of matched funding.
The projects will target the edges of TB hotspots, such as the south-west, in order to create buffer zones of badger immunity and prevent TB from spreading. The edge areas run from Hampshire to Oxfordshire to Nottinghamshire and up to Cheshire. More than 26,000 TB-infected cattle were slaughtered in 2013.
Ministers have also been tightening restrictions on the movement of cattle since the start of 2013 and the latest data suggests TB infections in cattle are falling as a result.
Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “I think it is the beginning of the end of a national badger cull. Farmers are looking for alternatives and this means you have to put more effort into badger vaccination.”
He said: “Vaccination has huge public support and could see relations improve between farmers and wildlife groups. In contrast, the cull has little public support and is seen as wasteful, indiscriminate and cruel. This is a positive use of taxpayers' money rather than the wasteful use of it for culls.”
Prof Rosie Woodroffe, part of the team behind a decade-long badger culling trial that concluded culling could make “no meaningful contribution” to TB control, said: “It is great they are investing in badger vaccination but my concern is that they are only focusing on the edge areas. If the main transmission is cattle-to-cattle, this will have no effect.”
“If they were serious about vaccination, they would be looking at doing it in some high-risk areas,” she said. “There is every reason to expect that vaccination ought to be effective in reducing TB in badgers in hotspots. Some of the farmers we work with are desperate to vaccinate.”
In June 2013, Woodroffe told the Guardian that volunteer-led badger vaccination programme would be cheaper than a cull. The two pilot culls in 2013 in Gloucestershire and Somerset cost millions of pounds, including a large policing bill. Along with many other scientists, Woodroffe has warned that ineffective culling is likely to make TB in cattle worse.
23 Jun 2014, 4:20 PM
The BBC has reported (www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27926951) that a senior government adviser has described coalition plans to change the way the pilot badger culls are assessed as "an abuse" of the scientific method.
Prof Timothy Coulson is concerned the government is considering a less reliable way of assessing humaneness in the cull and numbers of badgers killed.
He is also concerned that it will scrap independent oversight.
It would also make it impossible to assess whether recommendations to improve the cull have worked.
The government no longer wants to know whether the pilots are effective or humane and I fear we may hear that the second year is a success once it is over”.
Prof Timothy Coulson, Government advisor, writing in Animal Ecology in Focus, Prof Coulson says that ministers must be "wilfully" ignoring the concerns of its own scientists.
"I am tempted to speculate that the government no longer wants to know whether the pilots are effective or humane," he says in his article. "They just want to cull badgers, regardless of whether the population or humaneness consequences can be assessed."
He added: "And I fear we may hear that the second year is a success once it is over."
Prof Coulson told BBC News that he considered culling to be an "easy option" to make it look as if the government was trying to solve the spread of TB in cattle when it could actually make the problem worse if it failed to kill enough badgers.
"If culling worked I'd be fully supportive of them rolling it out, but all the evidence is that it does not," he told BBC News.
Prof Coulson, from the University of Oxford, is an internationally respected population biologist and was a member of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) that assessed the effectiveness, safety and humanness of two pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire last year.
rof Coulson said that Defra ministers were not listening to the advice of their own scientists.
He told BBC News: "Government agencies are stuffed full of very competent scientists. Presumably the concerns that they must have raised are being wilfully ignored by government. I wonder why?
"I suspect the government no longer wants to know the answer to whether their ongoing pilot culls will deliver the required outcome."
Prof Rosie Woodroffe, of the Zoological Society of London, works closely with government employed scientists on the science of the badger cull. She told BBC News that she has "little doubt" that some scientists in Defra and other government agencies will be concerned that these culls will be ineffective and inhumane.
"I don't know whether policymakers are not listening to their own scientists, or simply not seeking their own scientists' views on what has become such a political issue."
22 Jun 2014, 4:07 PM
Bovine TB - biosecurity works, new Defra figures show says Lesley Docksey of the Ecologist (http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2441411/bovine_tb_biosecurity_works_new_defra_fi
The 6th International Conference on Bovine TB has now finshed and Lesley Docksey reports on Defra's latest statistics. BTB in England is falling - and it's falling fastest where the strongest biosecurity measures are in place, confirming the experience of Wales and Scotland.
Scotland has achieved official TB-free status, and Wales is on the way - both without killing badgers. On 12 June Defra released its latest bovine TB (http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2441411/bovine_tb_biosecurity_works_new_defra_figures_show.html) much to the satisfaction of those campaigning to stop any further culling - by whatever method - of badgers.
They show that yet again, even if by a small amount, the incidence of BTB in England is (www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/12/bovine-tb-badger-cull-cattle-figures).
Wales has managed to achieve a drop of nearly 50% in the number of cattle slaughtered with not a single badger killed (www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2359151/how_wales_is_defeating_bovine_tb_without_killing_badgers.html). & nbsp; Just 6,102 cattle were slaughtered in 2013, down from 9,287 in 2012, following peaks of 11,671 in 2009, and 11,401 in 2008. Annual testing was introduced in 2008, and measures were tightened in 2009. 'No other country ... '
Yet all Owen Paterson, Farming Minister George Eustice, Defra and the National Farmers' Union have done in response is to parrot the meaningless and inaccurate phrase: "No other country in the world has managed to eradicate bovine TB in cattle without addressing the reservoir of the disease in wildlife."
At a debate held at Bristol University in May on the policy of badger culling, when Adam Quinney (former NFU Vice-President) started to say "No other country ... " half the audience dropped heads into hands and groaned.
And with good reason: Scotland has achieved official TB-free status, and Wales is on the way - both without killing badgers.
Northern Ireland has also seen a welcome drop in the incidence of BTB, again without a badger cull - so far. They are now planning limited culling through a process of trapping badgers, vaccinating the healthy badgers and killing those with disease. But this plan has just received a bit of a blow.
A recently published study (www.pnas.org/content/early/2014/06/04/1401503111) - as reported in The Ecologist (www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2431542/hsi_calls_on_farmers_go_badgerfriendly_to_control_bovine_tb.html) - showed that even a small amount of badger culling could cause "perturbation" amongst the badger population (infected badgers fleeing into another area) - and a possible increase in the incidence of TB among cattle. Paterson et al have remained silent.
Good cattle management is the answer
The real proof that it is by good cattle management that farmers will defeat BTB lies within Defra's latest figures.
Although generally TB incidence and the resulting slaughter of cattle have decreased by a small amount, the drop is more noticeable for the West Country, host to the pilot culls, and a 'hot spot' for BTB. The number of 'reactor' cattle slaughtered in England between January and March this year had dropped by 5.15% compared to the same period last year. However, in the West Country the drop was 7.38%, a small but significant difference.
Defra and the NFU cannot claim this is a result of the badgers killed last autumn because all the cattle that tested positive for TB would have probably already been infected. Sadly, we are unlikely to know for three or four years whether the culls have contributed to any spread of the disease because of 'perturbation'.
But the England-wide decrease can be attributed to the stricter cattle controls that were implemented in early 2012, and which were also responsible for falling number of 'reactors' recorded in 2013.
But why should the West Country - with more incidence of BTB in herds, where "the disease is out of control" and where all badgers run around "spewing out disease" (to quote Owen Paterson), and where "50% of badgers have TB" (to quote George Eustice) - why should this hot spot show more improvement than the rest of England?
TB incidence creates the necessary controls
In Wales, since 2008, all herds undergo annual testing, and in 2009 a strict and wide-ranging regime of bio-security and control of cattle movements was put in place. As noted above, the incidence of TB has been dramatically lowered.
In Scotland too they have beaten BTB with an ongoing stringent package of measures for cattle and dairy farmers. The tiny number of recent TB cases have all been traced to cattle brought in from outside Scotland. In England any farm where BTB occurs and all surrounding farms have to undergo annual TB testing along with very strict movement controls. In the majority of cases there is a complete lockdown on cattle movements except for cattle going for slaughter.
But elsewhere herds are only tested every four years and although there is now individual testing before and after moving cattle, cattle movements are still not as controlled as they should be.
For instance, someone may hold farms in two different counties, but they can be regarded as one holding. So cattle could be moved from Devon to Lincolnshire with no testing to hinder the process. And as it is, current TB testing is not that accurate. Not a few cattle test negative for TB when the reverse is true. Other perfectly healthy cattle get slaughtered.
Then there is fraud. It is not unknown for ear tags to be swapped between an infected cow that happens to be a good milker or breeder and another, less valuable but healthy cow, which gets slaughtered in her place.
Cattle movements are still a major problem
It is hard to believe but, even with greater controls in place, there are several million cattle movements around the country every year. According to Defra's figures there were 5.3 million cattle and calves in England in 2013. Consider how much travelling a bull calf might possibly do.
Born on a dairy farm where only heifer calves are needed, he will be kept for a few weeks then go to market (journey 1) where, along with other calves he will be sold to another farm and raised for beef (journey 2). After a year he might go back to market (journey 3) and be sold again, this time to a farm to be fattened (journey 4). He might even be sold yet again to yet another farm that specialises in 'finishing' (journeys 5 and 6) before his final journey to the abattoir.
It is a lucky beast that gets to live out his life on one farm. There are times when it seems that the major part of the cattle business is simply shipping animals around the country, and where BTB is concerned it is a major problem.
In February this year a dairy herd was sold at a Cheshire market. It was thought to be TB-free, and being in a four-year testing area, pre-movement testing was not compulsory.
Infected cattle went to farms all over England, Scotland and Wales. A massive investigation was launched by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency to trace them all. Livestock auctioneers call for more TB testing BBC Radio 4's Farming Today featured the story in early April. A spokesman for the Livestock Auctioneers Association called for TB testing to be done more frequently in all areas, not just those where TB is known to exist. The auctioneers do not like being responsible for selling possibly diseased animals. He described a hypothetical example to show how lax the system could be: Just before his herd is due for its four-year TB test, a farmer takes some cattle to market. They are bought by another farmer whose herd has just had its four-year test.
It was therefore quite possible that a beast, perhaps infected, could escape any kind of testing before it was slaughtered.
Instead of wasting public money on killing badgers along with the heavy costs of policing the culls, also taxpayer-funded, Defra (and farmers) should look to Scotland and Wales.
The choice is clear - farmers put up with the increased regulations that will protect their herds and their livelihood, or they go on living with TB. At the moment, paradoxically, it looks as though England has reached the point where farmers have a better chance of beating BTB if they live in a hot-spot area.
20 Jun 2014, 12:36 PM
.... so even Tories, many of whom initially supported badger culling, are realising the futility of such mass killing as the post at www.conservativehome.com/the-deep-end/2014/06/theres-good-news-on-bovine-tb-but-the-farm-lobby-wont-like-it.html - a site purporting to be 'the home of conservatism'?! Reproduced below.
Culling badgers was never going to be popular – nor easily accomplished. So far, the pilot programmes have killed far fewer badgers than is required for the purposes of controlling the spread of bovine TB – and all at the utterly ludicrous cost of £2,200 per dead animal.
Still, it’s not all bad news. According to Farming Online, the spread of bovine TB is slowing down regardless:
“Defra’s monthly update on TB incidence rates, published on Wednesday, showed that the proportion of new outbreaks discovered through testing fell to around 3.25 percent in March, the lowest rate since 2004. This follows a similarly low rate in February of 3.5%.”
This, apparently, is the lowest figure for a decade. But if badgers are still sauntering around the countryside as if they owned the place, then how come we’re making progress against bovine TB? Weren’t we told that good ol’ brock is in fact a stripey-faced, walking bio-hazard – hence the Government’s exciting bag-a-badger campaign?
Fortunately, Defra’s been pulling on a few other levers – as farming minister George Eustice explains:
“Mr Eustice… said that the government’s zero tolerance policy on late surveillance tests (introduced in January this year), had been a success, and as a result Defra will also be consulting on extending the zero tolerance approach to cover TB tests in restricted herds.
“Under the approach, if a test is delayed by only one day farmers could have penalties applied to their CAP payment. Defra claims this has already helped achieve a 60 percent reduction in late TB surveillance tests since it came into force.
“From 1st October, partial de-restriction of TB-breakdown holdings will be disallowed. Under the new rules, any movement restrictions placed on a holding will apply to all cattle until all the animals have achieved officially TB free status.”
Well, this is quite remarkable. It turns out that we can successfully control the spread of bovine TB by controlling the movement of bovines – as opposed to taking pot-shots at passing badgers. Who knew?
However, one can hardly dispute the fact that badgers and other wild animal populations harbour the disease. So, as long as we also test for bovine TB in cattle and restrict the movement of at-risk herds, culling can’t hurt, can it?
Perhaps it can:
“[last] week, research published in the journal PNAS suggested that even small-scale badger culling might increase rather than reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis…
“The PNAS paper looked at the impact of changes in badger behaviour that result from culling-induced perturbation. It found surviving badgers are more likely to spread out into surrounding areas, and badgers from areas surrounding culling zones are more likely to move in to fill the ‘gaps’ created by culling. This increases the chances of contact between badgers from different social groups, and risks spreading infection more widely to previously uninfected badgers.”
Of course, if you wipe them all out, this wouldn’t be a problem. But as the pilots have shown, complete culling is very hard to achieve.
One might wonder why the Government is still determined to press ahead with such an unpopular, ineffective and potentially counter-productive policy. The answer, as always in these matters, is pressure from the farm lobby – which would never countenance a complex but correct plan of action, when there’s a simple but wrong solution to be had instead.
20 Jun 2014, 12:31 PM
Potential negative impacts on protected wildlife caused by the badger cull are in breach of the Bern Convention, claim a group of British wildlife protection organisations.
The Badger Trust, Humane Society International UK and Care for the Wild have launched a challenge against the decision to cull badgers in England, on the basis that officials have failed to conduct sufficient risk assessments on the possible impacts of badger culling on the wider ecosystem.
In a complaint sent to the Secretariat of the Bern Convention (Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats), to which the UK has been a signatory since 1982, the charities claim that the badger cull breaches Bern because:
It could have a negative impact on a huge range of other protected species such as ground-nesting and song birds and small mammals, caused by the removal of badgers and the subsequent knock on effects within the ecosystem, and It is in any event unnecessary since bovine TB can be controlled in cattle without resorting to badger culls. Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director for HSI/UK, said: “Thus far the government has shown a blatant disregard for the supposedly protected status of badgers under UK law, or the near unanimous opposition to a badger cull by some of our most eminent scientists. So now we are taking our challenge to the Bern Convention, with yet more evidence to illustrate how badger culling is not only ineffective, inhumane and unnecessary, but also potentially very bad news for the wider ecosystem. The cull zones and surrounding areas are home to many protected endangered species of birds and mammals, and habitats such as heathlands, grasslands, meadows and forests. Removing or displacing large numbers of badgers from nature’s delicate balance could be catastrophic for some of these species and habitats, so we’re asking Bern to intervene and protect all of our wildlife from this disastrous cull.”
Dominic Dyer, CEO of The Badger Trust and Policy Advisor to Care for the Wild, said: “We hope that this is the beginning of the end of badger culling in the UK. The UK government has cut corners and turned a blind eye to the damage this policy will do both to the badgers themselves, and the rare birds and other animals which will be affected when badgers are culled.”
“The badger cull has been a shambles from the start, but it’s so unnecessary. Improved farming controls and tightening up on cattle movements have already led to big reductions in the disease – including a 50 percent reduction last year in Somerset. If the government and the farmers focussed on what’s working, and on improving the accuracy of the bTB test, which misses large number of infected cows, they’d see they don’t need to be worrying about badgers.”
Research over many years has revealed that badger removal can lead to significant changes in the density of other predators, including in some cases a doubling of the number of foxes. This in turn can threaten other protected species such as ground nesting birds, both through direct increases in predation, and the impacts on habitats through reductions in prey species such as rabbits. A 2011 report by the Food and Environment Research Agency [PDF] found that the impacts on many species and habitats was uncertain and would require careful consideration before any badger culling licenses should be issued.
Recent information released by Natural England under Freedom of Information requests shows that its own assessments conducted as the badger cull licensing authority were limited to just one site in Somerset. This is in stark contrast to events in Wales where detailed appraisal was undertaken by the Welsh Assembly Government in 2009 recommending the need for further study and monitoring. Badger culling as a policy has been abandoned in Wales, but the rate of bTB in cattle has fallen drastically following the introduction of improved cattle testing, movement restrictions and farm biosecurity measures.