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?
5 Nov 2013, 5:27 PM
This week the secretary of state for the Environment, Owen Patterson was brought before a Parliamentary Committee to defend key policy issues - including the embarrassment of DEFRA's badger cull. The cull has now become, as predicted by every credible expert prior to commencement, a truly farcical failure and a stain on the government's already grubby British wildlife and environmental policy.
... and it is not only badgers ... read the article at:
Press release from Badger Trust today reports on the case of the two FARMERS FINED FOR GASSING BADGER SETTS.
Somerset Badger Group gave written expert witness testimony in a Yeovil case when a father and son were fined £1,370 each after pleading guilty to blocking badger setts on their farm and piping car exhaust fumes into them in an attempt to kill the animals inside. They said their actions were the result of finding a sick badger on their land and fearing the animal could pass bovine TB to their dairy herd, which had previously been affected by the disease. The 800-acre farm has more than 20 active badger setts.
Adrian Coward, chairman of the badger group said: “Cases like this are the tip of an iceberg, but at least the accused had admitted the offence. A member of the public noticed suspicious behaviour, spoke to the culprits and was prepared to stand up for badgers”. Mr Coward added that he had revisited the sett afterwards and found that the badgers had reopened two entrances. “Fortunately it appears that not all the social group were lost and it shows the futility of gassing badger setts”.
David Merton Raymond Bown, 67, of Batcombe in Shepton Mallet, and his son Philip Andrew Bown, 38, of Henley Grove, Bruton pleaded guilty at Yeovil Magistrates’ Court to offences under the Protection of Badgers Act. They had blocked the 17 entrances to a sett on Batcombe Vale Farm, before running a hosepipe from the exhaust of their Land Rover to one of the entrances in an attempt to kill the badgers.
The RSPCA was alerted in April to the men behaving suspiciously. An RSPCA inspector, police and ecological experts examined the badger sett area and found clear evidence of badgers living there.
4 Nov 2013, 10:55 AM
Pilot badger cull in Somerset ended on !st November 2013. This has been confirmed by DEFRA.
The pilot cull in the county was extended by three weeks after marksmen failed to kill enough badgers within the initial six-week period. DEFRA said 850 badgers were culled in the timeframe, which was about 60% of the revised estimated population of 1,020 badgers. As population figures seem to be plucked out of lid air and changed to suit the powers that be this is all meaningless ... DEFRA and NFU are apparently keeping quiet and it is not known of the marksmen did finally reach their target.
The infamous DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson is expected to update MPs on the results of the cull in Somerset by delivering a written statement to the House of Commons early this week.
..."Prof Rosie Woodroffe, who was involved with the RBCT already had concerns about expanding the culling period from two weeks to six. "Going from six to 14 weeks (as they have in the Gloucestershire cull area) is uncharted territory," she told BBC News.
"It is not unreasonable to expect that as you prolong the cull and you prolong increased badger movement, you increase the detrimental effects."
There is also an additional concern for Defra. A piece of research for the department carried out by Prof Christl Donnelly indicated that culling in the winter months increased infection in the badger population still further."
1 Nov 2013, 2:17 PM
A father and son have admitted to piping gas into badgers setts on their farm (press release dated Thursday October 31 2013 refers). The pair, from a farm in Somerset, one of the current trial areas for the badger cull, have been fined £1,370 each after pleading guilty to blocking badger setts on their farm and piping car exhaust fumes into the earth in an attempt to gas the animals inside. They are dairy farmers who run a 800 acre farm.
David Merton Raymond Bown, 67, of Batcombe in Shepton Mallet, and his son Philip Andrew Bown, 38, of Henley Grove, Bruton pleaded guilty to offences under the Protection of the Badgers Act at Yeovil Magistrates Court this afternoon (Thursday 31 October).
They admitted blocking the 17 entrances to a sett on Batcombe Vale Farm, before running a hose pipe from the exhaust of their Land Rover and into the earth in an attempt to kill the badgers.
RSPCA inspector Ian Burns said: “This was a very inhumane way to try and kill these poor animals. They could have been trapped underground and potentially suffered a prolonged, slow death.
“Badgers are a protected animal and, like all animals, deserve to be treated with compassion. The defendants’ actions in this case were deliberate and constituted a significant breach of the law, having the potential to kill numerous animals in an inhumane way.
“It is not only illegal – but ethically unacceptable and cruel.”
The RSPCA was alerted to the situation in April (2013) after reports from a member of the public about the men behaving suspiciously. An RSPCA inspector, police and ecological experts examined the badger sett area and found clear evidence of badgers living there.
They also discovered 17 of the sett entrances blocked, many with clear spade marks visible and visible car tracks running to and from the area.
The RSPCA will look into reports that badgers have been illegally gassed and urges anyone with any information to let us know on 0300 1234 999.
1 Nov 2013, 12:01 PM
SHUTTING THE COWSHED DOOR 23 YEARS TOO LATE says the Badger Trust in its press release today.
A long overdue Government initiative -- the national "risk-based cattle trading scheme" -- set up to give buyers more information about the dangers of bringing bTB cattle into their herds, is being launched next month in Cheshire. (HOWEVER, it is only a voluntary scheme.)
Badger Trust says it is appalling that the bovine TB (bTB) status of cattle at market is only now to be openly displayed to buyers. It is no less appalling that this scheme, announced in May, is still only voluntary with farmers being merely “invited” to use it and only so far at a single market .
Vendors attending the sale of native beef breeds at Chelford Market on November 9th will be invited to fill in a form giving information such as when their animals were last tested for bTB and whether they are from four-year or one-year testing farms
Such a policy, obligatory and nationwide, could have moderated or avoided the damaging escalation over the last 23 years through cattle-to-cattle and farm-to-farm transmission. Now, thousands of badgers could be killed as scapegoats in misguided culling operations.
David Williams, Chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “This is another glaring example of how government has failed to get a grip on this industry which blames everyone but itself for its own difficulties. Even now Ministers dare only to invite farmers to look after their own interests instead of telling them to do what they should be doing in everyone else’s interests. The necessary industry-based movement and other restrictions introduced progressively since January were at the insistence of the European Union, not at the request of the cattle industry or the Coalition”.
Badger cull exposed as a cruel and pointless fiasco (http://reelnews.co.uk/badger-cull-exposed-as-a-cruel-and-pointless-fiasco/). REEL NEWS has spent the past six weeks periodically filming the opposition to the badger cull in Gloucestershire. It is not hard to see why it is becoming an expensive PR disaster for the Government.
Many local people believe that the real reasons behind the slaughter is the thousands of votes that the Countryside Alliance can deliver for the Tories in marginal rural areas. The Hunting and Shooting set have long been in favour of the cull. Not least because of the threat that badgers pose to pheasants being reared in pens. REEL NEWS discovered during our visits that many of the setts being targeted were miles from any cattle but close to shoots. This supports the claim that this cull is really about protecting the profits of people who charge city gents up to £3,000 a day to blow overfed game birds from the sky.
30 Oct 2013, 6:04 PM
Speaking about the current badger cull trials This is Devon (www.thisisdevon.co.uk/story-20002595-detail/story.html?#!) concludes ... 'one aspect seems certain . . . the “benefits” of carrying out the culls by shooting free-running badgers would appear to be a lot less attractive an option now than they were before the pilots began'.
29 Oct 2013, 6:30 PM
The Gloucestershire badger cull may not reach a target of killing 70% of badgers even after being extended, a document seen by the BBC suggests.
The culling licence will be revoked early if badger kills fall too low, says government agency Natural England.
Ultimately, only half the badger population may be removed, meaning additional culling will be needed next year, according to the analysis.
Opponents say the cull is "a huge failure" and should be stopped now.
Officials are aware that perturbation - where badgers roam further afield and cause new outbreaks of TB in cattle - is likely to have happened in the Gloucestershire cull zone. This was a factor in the decision to extend the cull.
Central to granting an extension to the current badger culls was advice from the chief vet, Nigel Gibbens. However, 10 members of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons questioned this advice in a public letter.
They wrote: "We are concerned that the advice you are giving in relation to the results of the pilot badger culls and their extension could result in increased suffering of badgers, and place both badgers and cattle in and around the cull zones at greater risk of contracting bovine tuberculosis.
"The advice is also being issued before the independent expert panel, convened to examine the results of the pilot culls, has had any opportunity to study those results and deliver its opinion."
The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/23/badger-cull-david-attenborough) has reported that Sir David Attenborough has condemned the UK government for "ignoring" scientific evidence after the controversial badger cull in Gloucestershire was more than doubled in length on Wednesday.
The night-time shoots had killed less than half the minimum numbers required in the initial six weeks, prompting experts to warn than the failure risked increasing tuberculosis in cattle, rather than curbing it.
"Why do they spend a lot of time and money doing careful scientific studies and then simply ignore the results?" asked Sir David, the UK's best known naturalist. He told the Guardian: "They decided to have a six-week [cull] and when they don't get the result they want, they want to extend by eight weeks. It is simply not believing in the science."
The National Trust, the nation's largest private landowner is also against the culling. Dame Helen Ghosh, the trust's director general and until 2010 permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), had questioned the "scientific rigour and credibility" of the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
The lead scientist on the non-executive board of Natural England, badger expert Prof David Macdonald, said his personal decision would have been to halt the culling now. He told the Guardian: "I have little confidence this process is going to deliver the longed-for benefits for farmers in TB control. It is important people understand that NE is a statutory body working in a framework set by government. It was not asked the question: 'do you think this is a great idea'? "
Prof Rosie Woodroffe, a key member of an earlier, decade-long culling trial said: "The chief vet's advice to carry on culling is based upon a very incomplete view of the available evidence. Pushing through this cull extension before the government's own independent expert panel has had a chance to assess the pilots shows just how little Defra seems to care about scientific evidence on this matter. TB is a huge problem for cattle farmers, and they deserve better than to be left footing the bill for culling when the likely benefits are diminishing and the costs are spiralling."
25 Oct 2013, 6:12 PM
Lesley Docksey, a freelance writer, summaries, in the Ecologist, (www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/other_comments/2131617/the_badger_cull_forget_tb_and_humane_killing_the_ enemy_is_defra.html) the fiasco of the current badger culling trials and how the government is getting away with putting out misleading information as it seems intent on pursuing with badger culling in other areas before the existing trials have been properly assessed.
24 Oct 2013, 7:48 PM
I've been doing a little research into the link between badgers and game bird shooting. what I've found is that shooting is big money these days As you will no doubt know. To be able to supply birds for the shoots pheasants are pen reared and then released into the wild to be shot. A pen reared bird is not afraid of humans and is hard to get off the ground by the beaters so all in all is not such good sport. A pen reared bird as opposed to a wild bird will fly straight over the shooters as it won't see the humans as a risk , the shooters want birds that will change course in flight which makes them more challenging to shoot. If you were paying over £1000 pounds a day you would want value for money, a pen reared bird isn't that.
I've read that around 39% of wild pheasants nest are destroyed by predators, and as a pheasant can rear around 8 chicks that's a lot of wild pheasants lost to predators that could have been shot. Main predators are crows,magpies,foxes and badgers. All but the badger can be legally killed. Joe public isn't going to agree to have badgers culled so that the rich can spend thousands of pounds enjoying themselves shooting wild birds as opposed to pen reared birds so that is where btb comes in. Use btb as an excuse, the public will more than likely go with it. Cull the badgers, shoot the foxes ,crows and magpies and you get more wild pheasants, result better shoots for the clients, more money for the landowners.They don't want to vaccinate badgers because vaccinated badgers still predate pheasant nest, and the btb excuse would be lost too.
Today while I was running I had five cock pheasants on a path in front of me and none them moved off in a hurry, I was right on top of them before they moved.
I don't know how much team badger has looked into the badger and game bird shooting connection but it all falls into place when you realise what is wanted by the shooters of game birds, basically a wild bird to shoot.
24 Oct 2013, 7:39 PM
This is Gloucestershire has reported that Cheltenham Farmers have come out AGAINST the trial culls as they feel farmers are being misled and bTB, from the statistics being published by the Government, do not reveal the disease is out of control. (http://www.thisisgloucestershire.co.uk/Farmers-insist-figures-add-badger-cull-evidence/story-19972933-detail/story.html#axzz2ifM8U85G)
A FARMING couple from Cheltenham have asked MPs to look urgently at evidence they say means the county badger cull may have been set up on a false premise.
Dave and Gill Purser, of Newbridge Farm, Cheltenham, have farmed cattle in the Cotswolds since the 1980s.
Mr Purser said: "The case for the badger cull as put forward by the NFU/Defra ministers seems to rely heavily on the basis that bovine TB is 'out of control', 'increasing year on year' and is 'spreading rapidly'. "So the least you would expect to find is that Defra's own national bovine TB statistics support these claims.
But, try as we might, we cannot make the stats reflect the alarming picture painted by Government officials."
The couple have submitted a detailed document of complaint to the Commons select committee outlining the reasons for their concerns. And after taking legal advice, they have written to Defra Permanent Secretary, Bronwyn Hill, asking her to review and respond to evidence they have submitted.
The couple's concerns are shared by Gloucestershire County Councillor Paul Hodgkinson (LD, Bourton-on-the Water).
He said: "I've read through the evidence and it seems to undermine the official line being given by the Government. I would urge Defra and the MPs on the EFRA Committee to give these findings their immediate attention."
Mr Purser said: "In view of the large numbers of badgers being killed and the damaging impact this is bound to have ecologically along with the serious risk posed by badger perturbation to otherwise TB-free herds surrounding the cull zones, it is essential to ensure that the culls are indisputably justified."
A Defra spokesperson said: "The chief vet has advised that the more badgers removed in the first year the greater and quicker the disease reduction, which is why Natural England is considering an application for an extension by the cull company."
24 Oct 2013, 7:36 PM
Press release received yesterday from the Badger Trust says:
CULLING EXTENSIONS: CHIEF VET CAUGHT MAKING A U-TURN
An astonishing eight-week extension to badger culling in Gloucestershire is the latest component in the messy confusion about the “science-led” badger culling pilot trials. These have been repeatedly claimed to be a maximum of six weeks each but one in Somerset is now running for nine weeks.
Badger Trust lawyers have already sent a letter before action  to Defra as an extension of eight weeks was being considered for Gloucestershire.
Justification of the extensions is fertile ground for embarrassing U-turns. One has already happened. In an astonishing change of stance today (Oct 23rd). Defra’s Chief Veterinary Officer told the BBC’s Farming Today that six weeks had been “a good target to start with” . This contradicts at least six categorical assertions that the six weeks was the maximum. One such promise was made in the Court of Appeal when defending a challenge brought by the Badger Trust.
The fiascos in Somerset and Gloucestershire, with escalating police costs, are just the precursors to a rollout covering 40 areas up to the end of 2017. They could even involve gassing, already considered as inhumane, to wipe out a protected and iconic species.
All the failures and confusion surrounding the “pilot culls” add up to a formula for political suicide in the future.
24 Oct 2013, 7:35 PM
An article yesterday in the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/23/badger-cull-illegal-shooting-poisoning-gassing?CMP=twt_gu) says illegal shooting and gassing has been reported to police in the trial cull counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset. The police have received 27 reports of illegal activity involving badgers as doubt is cast of effectiveness of official culls.
Investigations are continuing into eight of the 27 reports, which also includes illegal interference with setts. One has been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, which will decide whether to prosecute two suspects. "We have done and will actively investigate all allegations of badger interference," said a spokesman for Gloucestershire police. The issue of possible illegal badger killing has become an important factor in the highly acrimonious debate over the culls, after the government slashed its estimates of the initial badger populations in the cull zones.
24 Oct 2013, 7:32 PM
The Badger Trust has received the following response from Natural England.
LETTER BEFORE ACTION – RESPONSE FROM NATURAL ENGLAND
The Badger Trust solicitors have today 23rd October 2013, received the following response from the solicitors acting for Natural England:
Proposed claimant: Badger Trust Proposed defendants: Natural England and Secretary of State for Defra
1. I refer to your letter dated 18th October 2013 at 18.02 which purports to be a pre-action protocol letter asserting that it would be unlawful for Natural England to grant a licence to cull badgers in Gloucestershire for a further period this year.
2. You also assume that it will be the Board of Natural England that will determine the application that has been made for this licence and you ask them to consider this letter in making their decision. In fact licensing decisions are not a matter for the Natural England Board. As an operational matter, the decision whether or not to grant a wildlife licence has been delegated to wildlife advisers. However, in accordance with our normal policy for a decision of this nature, the decision has been escalated, in this case, to the Executive Director Science Evidence and Advice. Where licences are of a controversial nature for whatever reason, however, it is normal practice for decisions to be taken by the Director Regulation in consultation with the Executive, and occasionally, the Board, as appropriate. I confirm that a copy of your letter has been shared with the relevant Director, Executive Directors, the Chief Executive and the Board and that they have been consulted on the question of whether to grant a licence to extend the badger cull in Gloucestershire.
3. Your letter does not set out any grounds of challenge to which Natural England can substantively respond. It does however rest on a fundamental confusion between (a) the purpose of the licence that has been granted in terms of disease control; and (b) its use as a pilot to consider whether controlled shooting has been safe, humane and effective in reducing the badger population by 70% in a six week period.
4. As you state in your letter, and as is expressed in Defra’s policy1, the purpose of the pilots was to consider whether controlled shooting has been safe, humane and effective in reducing the badger population by 70% in a six week period. These issues are to be considered by an independent expert panel.
5. But the purpose for which the licences were granted in Gloucestershire and West Somerset is disease control. Thus it is incorrect to characterise the cull as being for 6 weeks only. What Defra’s policy actually states (para 5.1) is:
1 The Government’s Policy on Bovine Tb and Badger Control in England – December 2011 2 The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 does not contain a power to amend licences accordingly if the period of culling in year 1 is to be extended a new licence which permits culling for a further period in year 1 only is required. “The scientific evidence for this policy shows clearly that in order to achieve a net reduction in the number of new confirmed TB herd incidents, culling must be done on a sufficient scale, in a widespread, coordinated and efficiently way, and over a sustained period of at least four years. (my emphasis)” It is the case that the period this year for undertaking the first annual cull as authorised by Natural England has expired (and that is why an application for a new licence has been made2). But it is not correct (as you state on page 5 of your letter) that the current licence has run out or expired. It has not, and culling will proceed next year under the same licence. In fact the cull must continue for at least a further 3 years, and the licences that have been granted reflect that, in order to achieve the reduction in bovine TB anticipated.
6. The question for Natural England is whether to grant a further licence to cull in Gloucestershire this year given that the cull that has taken place has not achieved a reduction of 70% of the badger population in the six period specified for the annual cull.
7. There is no reason to assume, as your letter does, that the grant of any such licence will frustrate the purpose of the pilot in determining whether or not controlled shooting has been safe, humane and effective in reducing the badger population by 70% in a six week period. The Panel will make that determination on the evidence available to it. The fact they have not reported is irrelevant. Even if the Panel had found that controlled shooting was ineffective, which it has not done, that would not make either the cull or the granting of a further licence unlawful.
8. The purpose of the requirement for a 6-week limit to the licensed period of culling was to ensure that every effort would be made to achieve the objective of reaching the minimum number to be culled within the six weeks. At no point has it been said by Defra or by the CVO that, if culling did not achieve the objective of reaching the specified minimum number within the six-week period of the annual cull, then culling would never be permitted to continue.
Indeed it would be irrational to have done so, given that the purpose of granting the licence was to reduce bovine TB, if a further licence would achieve a greater reduction in bovine TB. In fact very considerable efforts were made to ensure that, if the objective was not achieved in the six week period specified for the annual cull, the fundamental objective of securing a sufficient level of population reduction could be achieved. You are incorrect to state that the agreement with the licence holder to address any shortfall is inconsistent with the Guidance to Natural England and the policy. In fact it was written in full knowledge of the Guidance and the Policy and it was put in place to recognise that real life does not always accord with what was intended.
9. In determining the current application, Natural England, as the licensing body, will consider not only the current policy and guidance but also the scientific and policy advice it has.
10. With our letter dated October 17th 2013 we provided to you a copy of the letter written to Natural England dated 10th October 2013 setting out the Secretary of State’s views on extending the cull. That letter was not limited to the Somerset pilot. We have also received specific advice from Mr Gibbens, the Chief Vet, in relation to Gloucester. A copy of that advice is enclosed. Natural England will take account of both the Chief Vet’s advice and the Secretary of State’s views in determining whether to grant a licence to extend the cull in Gloucestershire.
Information and Documents 11. You have requested certain documentation in your letter I have set out below my response to that request using your own numbering system for ease of reference:
1. Natural England has had no dialogue with the independent monitoring panel. It is not the function of the Panel to consider whether or not a further licence to extend the cull this year should be granted. 2. Natural England has had no dialogue with either the TBSAB or the SAC. 3. I attach a copy of the invite, agenda and the documents that were provided to the Board prior to a meeting on 17th October, before your letter was received. A copy of your letter before action was provided to the Board on 21st October. A further meeting of the Board was held today. The minutes are not yet available. Natural England has not had any dialogue with its Science Advisory Council on the question of the grant of the licence. 4. Natural England is not obliged to consult the Independent Panel, the TBSAB or the Scientific Advisory Committee. It considers that it is in a position to reach a reasonable decision in the light of information and advice available to it. 5. You have already received a copy of the CVO advice relating to the Somerset pilot. A copy of the CVO advice relating to the Gloucestershire pilot is attached. 6. A copy of an email from the Director Animal Health and Welfare (Disease Control) in Defra to Natural England’s Director Regulation about the Gloucestershire pilot is enclosed. I confirm that there has been no other correspondence with Defra about this issue. 7. As mentioned in previous correspondence, cost impact assessments are not a matter for Natural England. I can confirm that the licence holders will be paying for the costs of any additional culling.
24 Oct 2013, 7:31 PM
New website at bacvi.co.uk/cattle_vaccine.html
It deals specifically with both cattle and badger vaccination, setting out timescales and a lot of other information about this method of disease control. Included are video clips showing the vaccination of badgers. It is a site that is promoting vaccination and encouraging volunteers to come forward and train to be able to vaccinate badgers.
22 Oct 2013, 5:58 PM
National Trust press office today has released a statement raising concern over the current badger culling trials.
The Trust is concerned that:
Uncertainties over, and changes in, the baseline badger population estimates. This dimension is fundamental if we are to understand whether the appropriate proportion of animals can be culled as per the criteria set following the RBCT;
The lengthening of the pilot culls, which is again at the heart of the RBCT criteria for success. The RBCT quickly realised that culling should be constrained to as short a window as possible due to the experience of their own reactive culling, in which extended and sequential culling was quickly seen to significantly increase damaging perturbation effects and led to more, not fewer, bTB breakdowns in nearby herds;
Changes to the culling methods being employed, where it is clear that free shooting by marksmen – the original preferred method and on which any financial argument was based – has been largely abandoned in favour of cage trapping and then dispatch; and;
The apparently now active discussion of other culling methods for any wider roll out, such as gassing and snaring: both have strong experimental evidence bases calling into question whether they can be humane.
The Trust has recently written to Defra asking for their assurance that they are committed to meeting the criteria set out by Professor Bourne and upholding high standards of scientific rigour in the conduct and analysis of these pilots.
A motion opposing the cull will be debated at the Trust's annual meeting on Saturday 26 October 2013 .
21 Oct 2013, 8:41 PM
The Mail online reports today (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2470188/Could-badger-cull-SPREAD-bovine-TB-Disrupted-social-structures-setts-linked-higher-rates-infection.html?login&createduser_email#readerCommentsCommand-message-field) on research at the University of Exeter which found that culling badgers may actually help spread disease because it disrupts the social links in setts.
British scientists have shown that the social lives of badgers are related to their risk of infection with bovine tuberculosis (TB). TB-infected animals were less well-connected to their own groups than uninfected badgers so disrupting badger societies could unbalance the creatures' natural way of keeping the majority of setts healthy and TB-free, the report suggests.
Researchers at the University of Exeter and the AHVLA’s National Wildlife Management Centre fitted 'electronic proximity collars' to 50 wild badgers that automatically tracked their social contacts. PhD Student Nicola Weber built a network of contacts across the population and analysed patterns of infection.
She found that TB-infected animals were less well-connected to their own groups than uninfected badgers, but infected individuals formed important links for the flow of infection between groups.
The research, which is published today in the journal Current Biology, suggests this unusual social arrangement may stabilise the spread of TB infection across the population.
Professor Robbie McDonald from the university, said: 'This study has revealed an important link between social networks and TB infection.
'Infected animals were likely to be less important for spread within groups while at the same time being more important for spread between groups.
'Social stability is thought to mitigate disease spread, perhaps by maintaining the distinctive position of these individuals. 'Culling badgers perturbs social structures and we think our findings may help understanding of so-called "perturbation," where culling has been linked to increases in TB in badgers.
He said that curbing TB infection in wildlife remains a challenge but 'vaccination has the potential to disrupt disease flow, without perturbing social network structures.
21 Oct 2013, 8:25 PM
Stop the badger cull immediately, says Natural England science expert, Prof David Macdonald. He warns extending duration 'would make the outcome even less predictable and even more unpromising'.
In a Guardian article today (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/21/stop-badger-cull-immediately-natural-england-scientist) says the intervention by David Macdonald, chair of NE's science advisory committee and one of the UK's most eminent wildlife biologists, is a heavy blow for the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, and the National Farmers' Union, who argue that killing badgers to curb tuberculosis in cattle is scientifically justified and necessary.
Macdonald, a professor at Oxford University, said: "My personal opinion as a biologist [is] not to continue the cull. One could not have significant comfort that the original proposals would deliver gains to farmers. Extending the cull would make the outcome even less predictable and even more unpromising."
The extension ruling will be taken by NE executives, who have already given a three-week extension to the badger cull in Somerset, where a higher proportion of badgers – 59%– were killed in the initial six weeks.
A second significant intervention also came on Sunday from the former environment minister Huw Irranca-Davies, who appointed the NE's chair, Poul Christensen.
Irranca-Davies, now a shadow environment minister, has written to Christensen saying that granting the Gloucester cull extension would destroy the credibility of the wildlife watchdog.
He wrote: "The hard-won reputation of Natural England for sound impartial and evidence-based advice which can support but also challenge policy makers is on the line. NE has built its reputation on scientifically robust, evidence-based and impartial advice to government, and a willingness to challenge government policy which departs from your core aim to safeguard England's natural wealth for everyone."
"This is not an attack on Natural England but an attempt to help it do the right thing, in the face of unprecedented pressure from political leaders," Irranca-Davies told the Guardian.
He said he was seeking reassurances from NE on the protection of "the integrity of the advice which government ministers rely on from NE".
He said seeking an eight-week extension "departs from any pretence whatsoever at having any scientific underpinning".
A Conservative attempt to scrap NE this year was blocked by the Liberal Democrats, according to Nick Clegg who said in September of the environment: "[It is] one area where we've had to put our foot down more than any other. It's an endless battle; we've had to fight tooth and nail."
Macdonald said: "It is tremendously important that a body like NE exists to offer independent advice – it is a jewel in the crown of the protection of nature. It is vital that the institution, which works tirelessly and diligently, is not only treasured but strengthened."
A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "Natural England is the licensing authority and any decisions on whether to extend the licences will be made by them." NE declined to comment.
21 Oct 2013, 12:38 PM
Should MP's be accusing Owen Paterson of misleading the House after agreeing to an extension to the six week trial culling of badgers' period?.
MP's were asked to vote on the badger cull after the Opposition Debate. They based their decisions on government literature which laid down specific conditions for the badger cull - a min 70% badgers were to be killed in a min of 150km2 in a MAX 6 WEEK PERIOD.
Owen Paterson's belief that he can simply change the conditions of the license on a whim shows utter contempt for MP's and the Parliamentary process. It has to be considered an abuse of the Parliamentary process for a Govt dept to issue a Policy Statement containing specific conditions and then have a Minister ignore those conditions on a whim.
Leaders of the House of Commons should mount a challenge, particularly as the Badger Trust is now embarking on legal action - yet more costs from the public purse...
20 Oct 2013, 12:53 PM
LETTER BEFORE ACTION
Bindmans LLP, the solicitors acting for Badger Trust, issued the following letter to Natural England and the Treasury Solicitor for Secretary of State of DEFRA on 18th October 2013:
**CPR 54 PRE-ACTION PROTOCOL LETTER**
Dear Sirs Proposed Claimant: Badger Trust Proposed Defendants: Natural England and Secretary of State for DEFRA We write further to our pre-action correspondence on 11 October and your response of 17 October. We understand that the Board of Natural England will shortly be considering an application to grant a licence to cull badgers for a further 8 weeks in Gloucestershire. We ask them to consider this letter when they do so. It explains why we consider it would be unlawful to grant that further licence. On that basis we ask them not to do so. Background In overall terms, as explained below: • The stated purpose of the culling was to test the effectiveness of the methods in question in reducing the badger population by 70% within 6 weeks maximum. • That period was widely consulted upon and then robustly defended by DEFRA (including in the face of certain consultees arguing that longer should be allowed for reasons of practicability) on the basis of the expert opinion of the DEFRA Science Advisory Council and TB Science Advisory Board. • DEFRA promised that the cull would be monitored by the independent expert group. The group was to evaluate and report on the outcome of its testing, including of effectiveness in reducing the badger population by 70% within 6 weeks.
That was explained in many places over a long period by DEFRA and its CVO, Mr Gibbens including as follows.
DEFRA’s policy announcement of December 2011 had explained in clear terms (in its paragraph 5.4) what was to happen:
“… culling will be piloted in two areas, to test our assumptions about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting, overseen by an independent panel of experts. If monitoring of the humaneness, effectiveness and safety indicates that controlled shooting is an acceptable culling technique, then and only then would this policy be rolled out more widely.”
As for what was meant by “effectiveness”, its paragraph 5.30 explained that:
“Culling would also need to be carried out simultaneously across the entire area, so that culling takes place on all participating land within a maximum period of six weeks.” See also paragraph 5.34: “In the first year of culling, a minimum number of badgers must be removed through an intensive cull which must be carried out throughout the land to which there is access, over a period of not more than six consecutive weeks.”
That approach was specifically defended and relied on in the Secretary of State’s defence before Ouseley J and the Court of Appeal of our client’s challenge to the legality of what was to happen.
See thus paragraph 35(b) of the Secretary of State’s Detailed Grounds of Resistance: “Culling will be allowed to take place over a maximum of 6 weeks, rather than over 8-11 nights as in the RBCT.”
See also paragraphs 38-39: “In terms of the duration of the cull and the fact that it will be allowed to take place for a maximum of 6 weeks rather than over 8-11 nights (as in the RBCT), the Secretary of State has had to take into account the practical considerations in the light of the available scientific evidence. In designing the policy it was not practical or realistic to deliver culling simultaneously (i.e. over a few days) across such a large area (150 km2). As explained by the Chief Veterinary Officer, this issue was considered by DEFRA’s Science Advisory Council and bTB Science Advisory Body … Consequently, the decision to allow culling over a maximum period of 6 weeks was taken in the light of advice from relevant scientific experts in the field.”
On behalf of DEFRA Mr Gibbens firmly explained the purpose of the pilot culls (8d in his second witness statement):
“In relation to ‘effectiveness’ specifically, the purpose is to confirm our assumption that controlled shooting will be an effective method to reduce the population of badgers by 70% within 6 weeks.” [bold added] On February 2013, in a written Ministerial Statement to Parliament that the pilot badger culls were to proceed this year, the Secretary of State restated that as being the purpose of what was to happen: “The policy is being piloted in two areas to test our assumptions about the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of controlled shooting.” [bold added] That is still explained currently as the position on the DEFRA website, as follows: “As a first step, there would be a pilot of the policy in two areas to confirm our assumptions about the effectiveness (in terms of badger removal), humaneness and safety of culling.” [bold added] The website also explains (as part of a public statement on 27 February 2013 confirming that the pilot culls would proceed in 2013, and again entirely consistently with what was set previously) that: “The pilots are being carried out to test the chosen method of culling through free shooting. The pilots will be independently assessed to check the method is both effective in removing enough badgers and humane.” [bold added] The December 2011 policy statement had promised the following (paragraph 5.42): “The design and evaluation of the pilots will be overseen by a panel of independent experts, whose role will include overseeing the design of the data collection, its analysis and interpretation. A decision on further roll-out of a policy that allows controlled shooting will be made following evaluation of results from the six weeks of culling.” Then at paragraph 6.1: “As noted at paragraph 5.3 above, controlled shooting will be piloted in two areas initially in the first year in order to test our assumptions about the humaneness, effectiveness and safety of this control method. Culling will be closely monitored in these two areas. The monitoring will be overseen by a panel of independent experts, who will advise on the appropriate methods for monitoring effectiveness and humaneness.” DEFRA’s response to our client’s judicial review challenge promised this (paragraph 40b): “The effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting will be monitored during the pilots and thus monitoring will be overseen by a panel of independent experts.” [40b] Mr Gibbens (writing jointly with DEFRA’s Chief Scientific Officer) made the same point in a public statement on 11 December 2012: “[The pilot culls] will be overseen and evaluated by an independent panel of experts who will report their findings to ministers.” As for the 6 week upper limit mentioned above, Mr Gibbens had previously explained (41 in his first witness statement) that “culling will be allowed to be carried out over a maximum of six weeks”. The six weeks was, itself, controversial. Our clients and others had argued that a cull taking that long (and so much longer than in the RBCT) could not lead even to the impacts claimed by the RBCT (the conclusions of which were relied on by DEFRA as showing the bTB control benefits of culling.
Mr Gibbens rejected that contention (8c in his second witness statement), not by reference to his own expertise or judgment, but in sole reliance on the conclusions of the experts who had advised DEFRA (as in his NG5) – the joint Science Advisory Council/BTB Science Advisory Board.
The Secretary of State’s skeleton argument also relied solely on those experts on the point. See thus paragraph 28b which explained the ‘minimum criteria’ for the cull, including thus the 6 week limit, which was specifically said to be “based on the advice of the combined DEFRA SAC and SAB” and explained that “The definition of ‘up to six weeks’ is the expert opinion of DEFRA’s SAC and SAB.”
Natural England also relied on those expert groups in supporting the 6 week limit in its own response to the consultation which proceeded adoption of the policy.
Notably, according to DEFRA’s own Summary of Responses to the consultation on the Guidance to be given to Natural England, some respondents argued at the time for a longer period precisely because of concerns about the practicability of completing the task within 6 weeks (i.e. the very thing which has now come to pass). DEFRA robustly rejected that (and other suggestions to change the proposed criteria):
“We do not propose to change fundamentally the licence criteria, as they are criteria which the evidence suggests are necessary to realise the overall reduction in TB in cattle in culled areas achieved in the RBCT. The rationale for each of the criteria is explained in the [December 2011] Policy Statement.”
In other words: what has happened now was foreseeable, and foreseen, and did not change DEFRA’s view that a 6 week limit should be set. What has happened now We understand that the licence issued under section 10(2)(a) Protection of Badgers Act 1992 to allow for the culling of badgers over the 6 week pilot period in Gloucestershire expired on 15 October 2013.
We understand from DEFRA’s news announcements yesterday that only 30% of the relevant badger population has been killed within the 6 week period in that area - well short of the 70% minimum target which had been identified as “effective”.
The cull has thus met its purpose in testing the “effectiveness” (in DEFRA’s terms) of culling. It has shown it not to be effective.
However, as far as our clients are aware, the independent expert group which was to monitor the cull and evaluate and report on its outcome has done neither of those things.
Instead, we understand that Natural England is now considering an application to grant a fresh licence (it would not be an extension given that the previous licence has run out) to allow for another 8 weeks of culling in Gloucestershire.
At 17.21 yesterday Natural England sent us:
(1) a copy of advice dated 3 October 2013 from Mr Gibbens supportive of extending the parallel cull in Somerset (after it had achieved a higher rate of killing than in Gloucestershire, but still only 58%). (2) a copy of a letter from the Secretary of State of 10 October 2013 to Natural England which seems intended to supplement the Statutory Guidance (which itself had been the subject of public consultation even following the original consultation which underpinned the culling policy itself) previously given to Natural England in which 6 weeks had been specified as the limit for the culling pilot.
We consider that the decision to extend the cull in Somerset was unlawful, particularly in the light of those documents. But given that we have only just seen them and given the relatively shorter extension there, we have advised our clients that it would not now be practicable (given the court process) to seek injunctive relief to prevent it.
But that is not the case in relation to the contemplated decision in relation to Gloucestershire not least because of the much longer extension (8 weeks) being sought (and not yet granted) and the fact that our clients have now seen the nature of the arguments being relied on to justify further culling.
In particular, we assume for this purpose that Mr Gibbens has given similar advice in relation to the Gloucestershire proposal; and that the Secretary of State has written a similar letter. We wrote to you to request these earlier today, and look forward to receiving them with your reply.
We note in that regard that neither document even addresses the actual purpose of the pilot at all: namely to test (so far as is relevant here) the effectiveness of culling (as explained) in reducing the badger population by 70% in 6 weeks. That purpose has now been met, as above, by culling being demonstrated not to be effective in that regard.
Moreover, neither document acknowledges the fact that our clients, the affected communities, and others were repeatedly promised (as above) that the cull would last no more than 6 weeks; and that its effectiveness (on that basis) would then be evaluated at that point by the independent expert group.
Neither document refers to the views of the TBSAB and SAC. We infer that neither was consulted or provided expert input into decision on the new culling period.
Importantly, Mr Gibbens identifies no new material or change of circumstance which could justify the dramatic change of stance which he advocates.
In particular, the only factual change from the position when the policy and guidance was being developed (or when the licence was granted) is the reduced badger number estimate. But that is not the issue here.
On the other hand, the possibility that it might prove practical to cull 70% of the badgers in 6 weeks (i.e. the situation now faced) was precisely contemplated and considered by DEFRA as above. In particular, it was raised by consultees (who presumably argued for a longer period or more flexibility) and – reliant on its expert advice – DEFRA nonetheless stuck with, and robustly defended, the 6 week limit. In particular, it did not then suggest that it might be necessary or appropriate to press on if the 70% target was not reached in the 6 weeks (as has happened now). Nothing has been identified to change that approach, but Mr Gibbens nonetheless appears to have changed his advice about how to respond to that entirely foreseeable and foreseen circumstance.
We note that the letter mentions a provision in the agreement entered into (pursuant to the Guidance) by Natural England and the company carrying out the culling which allowed a mechanism for them to agree extensions to the culling period. But that provision was plainly inconsistent with the Guidance and with the DEFRA’s own policy as above. In any event the fact that a contractual mechanism was put in place does not lend any weight to an argument that it should be deployed, let alone in these circumstances.
Overall, therefore, Natural England is being asked to exercise its power to grant a further 8 week licence: (1) in breach of what had repeatedly been said by DEFRA (and tested by DEFRA through wide consultation) to be a maximum or upper limit – 6 weeks - set on the basis of the best scientific opinion; (2) without the cull having been monitored or evaluated at the end of the 6 week period by the independent expert group, as had been promised. It is plainly necessary – at the very least - to take into account their views on the proposed extension before considering permitting any further culling. (3) without any relevant change of circumstance or situation which was not entirely foreseeable, and foreseen by DEFRA in previously rejecting consultee suggestions that practicality considerations might require a longer than 6 week cull; (4) on the basis of Mr Gibbens advice when he (and DEFRA more widely) had relied solely on the advice of the SAC and BTSAB in setting, and then defending against criticism, the 6 week limit; and (5) without taking into account the views of those expert bodies on the proposal to have a further 8 week cull in violation of their previous advice. It is plainly necessary – at the very least - to take into account their views on the proposed extension before considering permitting any further culling. In the light of those matters we consider it would be unlawful for Natural England to grant the new licence now being sought.
Information and Documents requested Please provide us with the following key information pursuant to your client’s duty of candour. It is in any event information to which our clients are entitled under the Environment Information Regulations 2004.
1. Any dialogue with or consideration by the independent monitoring expert panel.
2. Any dialogue with or consideration by TBSAB and SAC.
3. Any dialogue with or consideration by the Board of Natural England or its Science Advisory Council.
4. Please confirm specifically if those listed were consulted and, if not, why not.
5. All CVO advice in relation to the cull and its extension.
6. Correspondence between DEFRA to Natural England in this regard.
7. Any updated costs impact assessment and confirmation of who will pay for the cost of additional culling, and associated policing.
We look forward to hearing from you in due course.
Yours faithfully Bindmans LLP
20 Oct 2013, 12:47 PM
A report in yesterday's Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/oct/19/badger-cull-legal-challenge-paterson) states the controversial cull faces collapse after the Badger Trust formally warns of high court action over plans to more than double the shooting period.
The Badger Trust has formally warned the authorities to abandon the shooting or face a high court challenge on the grounds that a plan to more than double the killing period is illegal.
"It is extraordinary that they are pushing ahead with an extension in the face of all the things they said previously in their own policy, consultation responses and in court," said Gwendolen Morgan, a solicitor at Bindmans, the firm acting for the Badger Trust. If the cull is not halted, the trust's next step would be to start the judicial review process and seek an injunction to stop the shooting.
"There is an unbelievable lack of transparency from this government, which has a feudal attitude towards wildlife," said Jeff Hayden, a director of the Badger Trust. "We have taken this action, although it will likely prove a very expensive exercise, partly to protect the badger of course, but also in an attempt to thwart this return to the middle ages."
Natural England declined to comment on the legal letter but said it expected to decide on the extension application "shortly".
Scientists have warned that failing to kill the minimum number of badgers in a short time risks making TB worse, as fleeing badgers spread the disease further afield, an effect called perturbation. A previous landmark, 10-year trial of badger culling, in which the killing took place over just 8-11 days, found that more than 70% of badgers had to be killed to ensure TB was not made worse.
"Their justification for pouring more fuel on the fire by extending is to prevent perturbation, but they are flagrantly ignoring the advice that extending the cull further would actually make perturbation even worse," said Morgan.
The Badger Trust's legal letter quotes ministers' and officials' own words on the importance of restricting the cull to six weeks. In a statement that formed part of the government's successful defence against a Badger Trust judicial review in 2012, Paterson said: "The decision to allow culling over a maximum period of six weeks was taken in the light of advice from relevant scientific experts in the field."
The government's chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens, in another statement, addressed one of the key purposes of the current pilot culls: "In relation to 'effectiveness' specifically, the purpose is to confirm our assumption that controlled shooting will be an effective method to reduce the population of badgers by 70% within 6 weeks."
Professor David Macdonald, a badger expert at Oxford University, said the pilot culls had already been successful in testing whether shooting free-running badgers was effective. "The answer is no," he said.
Another expert, Professor Rosie Woodroffe at the Zoolological Society of London, said: "The pilots have shown very clearly that the approach is not effective and extending the culls further will not help." She added: "Extending the cull now prolongs this perturbation of badger populations. In my view it should stop now."
The Badger Trust's legal letter states: "Mr Gibbens appears to have changed his advice about how to respond to the entirely foreseeable and foreseen circumstance" that the cull would not meet its target. It notes that ministers previously rejected requests to cull for more than six weeks during its consultations, with ministers writing: "The evidence suggests [the six week limit and the 70% minimum] are necessary to realise the overall reduction in TB in cattle in culled areas."
The letter observes that, while government policy states that "a panel of independent experts [will] oversee the design of the data collection, its analysis and interpretation", this has not yet happened. "Their failure to consult the independent group is very serious," said Morgan.
The pilot cull in Somerset also failed to kill the minimum number of badgers, managing only 59%. This was despite government estimates of the initial population present being slashed by two-thirds, making the target much lower. Natural England granted a three-week extension for the Somerset cull, but the far lower kill rate in Gloucestershire means an extension there will be harder to justify.
Paterson said the missed targets were because the "badgers moved the goalposts" by crashing in population due to bad weather and disease. But the Guardian revealed on Thursday that other better monitored badger populations had seen no decline at all and that experts think that illegal culling or problems with the cull zone estimates are to blame.