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



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


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

becky
Email from MR (Rethink bTB) email 28/6/13:
 
Projections for the governments badger culling strategy, i.e.. their claimed 16% fall in rate of TB increase, is based on a rising trend of infection rates in cattle.
 
HOWEVER, as herd TB incidence falling – how might this affect the risk factors of a cull?
 
Subjectively, it seems to me that a falling incidence is likely to reduce or nullify any of the badger cull’s claimed ‘benefits’. Also, might some risks of the badger cull adversely affect the current and very positive downward trend?
 
becky
An interesting 'thought' from MR, NI (email 25/6/13):
 
Projections for the governments badger culling strategy, i.e.. their claimed 16% fall in rate of TB increase, is based on a rising trend of infection rates in cattle.
 
HOWEVER, as herd TB incidence falling – how might this affect the risk factors of a cull?
 
Subjectively, it seems to me that a falling incidence is likely to reduce or nullify any of the badger cull’s claimed ‘benefits’. Also, might some risks of the badger cull adversely affect the current and very positive downward trend?
 
becky
Email from MH 22/6/13.
 
FARMERS BETRAYED BY VETS AND POLITICIANS
 
Great Britain is currently failing to tackle chronic TB herds, some 2000, some under restriction over 16 years .. skin test does not pick up non-reactor Anergic cows, but they everyone has ignored my repeated suggestions that they could get rapid de-restriction via :-
1. Irish routinely use ENFER Chemiluminescent Multiplex antibody test
2. OIE recently approved IDEXX M. bovis Ab test
3. a culprit active spreader cow may be shedding 38 million bacilli / day so PCR of faecal swabs would easily pick up culprits.
 
WWW.BADGERSANDTB.COM
 
becky
Zoologist and crossbench peer Lord Krebs questioned the credibility of plans for a national cull of badgers in order to reduce bovine tuberculosis (TB) in cattle.
 
On 18 June 2013 during oral questions, he argued that culling badgers would have a "modest effect" and hence "rolling out culling as a national policy to control TB in cattle is not really credible".
 
He also asked what assessment Defra had made of the reasons why 40% of farms in the highest areas of the country, don't get TB in their cattle. Clearly nothing from Baroness Northover's response - she directed him and his students to the a pot of money currently available and undersubscribed for vaccination projects...
 
Responding to a question Baroness Northover confirmed PM of shot badgers will be performed.
 
House of Lords debate: http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/house-of-lords-22955887?dm_i=1NFN,1LENZ,9LWJGT,5I7Z3,1

 
becky
Dominic Dyer, a policy adviser to Care for the Wild says the Soil Association is currently backing the highly controversial culling of badgers but should they change their stance (www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1968987/comment_why_the_organic_movements_badger_cull_stance_threatens_its_image.html)? Some organic farmers have been key payers in the National Farmers Union campaign to call for a culling of tens of thousands of badgers and to have their protected status removed in order for farmers to kill as pests in an effort to reduce the spread of bovine TB in cattle.
 
With the latest Soil Association Annual Report showing organic product sales declined by 1.5% in the UK in 2012 after a 3.7% drop in 2011, this could prove very damaging to the organic brand and lead to a further collapse in sales. This is supported by a poll which Care for the Wild International recently commissioned with You Gov, which showed that one in three organic shoppers would boycott organic dairy products, if they came from farms which participated in the badger cull.
 
It’s now time for the Soil Association to urgently review its policy on the badger cull, a good step would be to align their position with the Wildlife Trusts. Who despite being very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB causes in the farming community, believe that a badger cull is not justifiable and that efforts to tackle the disease should be centred on biosecurity and vaccination.
 
The latest national statistics from DEFRA on the incidence of bovine TB in cattle, appear to show that incidents of the disease have hit a six year low between January and March 2013, following the introduction of tighter testing and cattle control movements at the start of the year.
 
Should the Soil Association, s defenders of wildlife avoid being associated with a highly unpopular policy which has no scientific, economic or animal welfare justification?
 
As the struggling organic sector competes for sales against the rapidly increasing market for RSPCA Freedom Foods and Fair Trade products, can it cannot afford to lose public trust?
 
In an article by Helen Browning, head of the Soil Association (/www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1968934/comment_boycotting_organic_farms_over_badger_cull_is_counterproductive.html) she says; 'Buying organic food is an important choice for everyone concerned about animal welfare, wildlife and conservation. It would not make sense for consumers to stop buying organic if they disagree with badger culling.'
 
She goes on to say; 'The Soil Association's position on TB and cattle is that the top priority must be to develop vaccines that will protect cattle and wildlife from this disease. We also believe more attention must be paid to increasing the positive health of cattle, through more humane management, so they are better able to resist TB and other diseases'
 
'Bovine TB and the badger cull issue are part of a wider moral debate that needs to take place around the role of people in managing wildlife. We need to give serious consideration to how we interact with nature and how we make decisions that affect one species or another, whether intentionally or not. The way we manage and care for our farmed animals, wildlife, environment and each other is all interconnected - the debate around badgers, cows and Bovine TB highlights the challenges of taking a single species approach to conservation and animal welfare. We need to ensure as a society that we care for the welfare of all animals – domestic, farmed and in the wild.'
 
'Buying organic food is an important choice for everyone concerned about animal welfare, wildlife and conservation. It would not make sense for consumers to stop buying organic if they disagree with badger culling when independent reviews have shown that no other system of farming has higher animal welfare standards and government studies have shown that organic farms have up to 50% more wildlife. Organic farmers work with nature and employ techniques like mixed farming with better rotations, a greater number of crops, more hedgerows and avoiding pesticides, which all helps protect insects, birds and other wildlife.'
 
'The science surrounding the issue of badger culling is still contested. Farmers licensed by the Soil Association, the experts we work with and our supporters all have different views. As far as farmers licensed by the Soil Association are concerned, our standards cover all aspects of production, but not other things that happen on farms such as public access or controlling populations of animals like rats, rabbits, foxes or deer. We will not be making changes to our certification standards and decisions on whether to allow badgers to be culled on their land is something individual organic farmers will need to decide.'

 
becky
Another interesting article from the Ecologist; 'Wildlife in the firing line in global war against bovine TB' at www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1968894/wildlife_in_the_firing_line_in_global_war_against_bovine_tb.html
& nbsp;
Iinfections remain in the UK, Western Europe, North America and New Zealand.
 
Methods of control including testing, monitoring of movement, vaccination, biosecurity, wildlife surveillance and culling vary across infected zones, with some practices proving more controversial than others.
 
Wildlife has been identified as a key carrier of the disease, and is accused of infecting cattle. The wild carrier of TB in France is the red deer, whilst the African buffalo, North American cervids and Spanish wild boar are all seen to be the enemy of family farms, intensive dairy units, and national economies.
 
In New Zealand, the Australian brush tailed possum (introduced in 1837 to establish a fur trade) has been the focus of an eradication programme that involves aerial drops of Sodium fluoroacetate (1080), a poison that is lethal to mammals, birds, insects, amphibians and other wild and domestic animals. It is disguised in food paste, and dropped from helicopters into areas believed to be dense with infected possums.
 
The Republic of Ireland has beene culling badgers since 1997, and in its current form since 2004. Badgers, including lactating females with cubs, are snared and then shot at close range. Around 97,000 badgers have been culled since 1984 under the badger removal policy, with support from farmers and minimal public protest. Some believe this has attributed to the reduction in rates of TB found in cattle but others say it is due to stringent new rules and testing between 2004-2011, including more frequent and more accurate testing, with a huge increase in the amount of tests being submitted annually. Herds are smaller, and the national herd is down by 16.7%t.
 

 
becky
'To farm I have to rape the countryside. It’s got to be wrong': The true effect of the badger cull - an investigation by The Ecologist magazine and The Independent finds a growing number of farmers – including those whose own farms have been blighted by TB – are now questioning the nature of the cull and its likely effectiveness. In a recent article (http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/to-farm-i-have-to-rape-the-countryside-its-got-to-be-wrong-the-true-effect-of-the-badger-cull-8664037.html?origin=internalSearch) in the Independent (and a fuller version in the Ecologist at www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/1968821/badger_cull_a_pr_disaster_for_uk_countryside_warn_dissident_farmers.html).
& nbsp;
Some believe that administering vaccinations, either of cattle or badgers, should be used instead of “free shooting” with rifles, or “cage trapping and shooting”, the two fatal options allowed under the trials.
 
Others are warning of a consumer backlash. They fear such widespread killing of wildlife could result in a “PR disaster” for an already beleaguered industry, particularly following the fallout from the recent horsemeat scandal, and with memories of the foot and mouth debacle with its images of burning carcasses still lingering in the public’s mind.
 
What is of great concern is that such “dissident” views, according to the farmers, are common - yet many within the industry fear they could become ostracised or targeted if they speak out. In fact some of the farmers referred to have had their names changed in the articles because of such fear.
 
One farmer, who, along with his wife Gill, runs a 48-hectare beef and sheep operation near Bourton-On-The-Water, is bitterly opposed to the badger cull and believes that instead of “blasting away at thousands of badgers with high powered rifles”, the Government and farming bodies should urgently be looking towards a programme of cattle vaccine trials.
"If you look at the Defra websitewe're this far from getting a cattle vaccine,” he says, “but there needs to be political will to make it happen.
 
He’s referring to the fact that there is actually a TB cattle vaccination available – the BCG jab – but EU legislation currently prohibits its usage, largely because it interferes with skin testing, the main diagnostic for identifying TB in cattle.
 
The farmers are within a TB hotspot but outside of the initial trial zones, are also worried the cull will drive a further wedge between a sceptical public and an undeniably worn down industry.
 
“My customers, consumers, have expressed concerns [about the cull]”, says Dave. “If it goes ahead it’s another scar on the reputation of farmers, [with the] same reputational impact as with bankers [following the banking crisis].”
 
He acknowledges that some farmers favour a cull, but says many “know it’s not the answer... some understand that it’s a PR disaster. Some get it, some don’t.”
 
Similar concerns regarding the impact of culling are held by Chris Dale, based near Ross-on-Wye, at the northern edge of the Forest of Dean. The beef farmer says that the killing, from a PR point of view, “could be the final straw, will they [farmers] keep dairying? They’ll get out of dairy and [go] into another sector.”
 
Chris believes many in the industry support the cull because “it’s the only thing on the table”. But he also argues that “all farmers would vaccinate tomorrow if they could”.
 
He says: “They’re vaccinating for every other [livestock] disease, TB testing involves [such an] upheaval, is stressful – one single vaccination each year [is all it would involve].” Chris’s own cattle herd was hit by TB several years ago, and he was forced to endure his animals being carted off to be destroyed: “You lose money every time...you can’t believe the human cost of this.”
 
James Price, an organic beef farmer, has also been through a positive TB test on his 100-acre farm in north Devon. He saw a number of pedigree cattle shipped off in early 2012, an experience he describes as “devastating, stressful, [with] many sleepless nights.”
 
“I lost half my herd, 11 in total, with four cows in calf – baby calves inside – when they were killed,” he says. “But some didn’t have TB.” The farmer says a post-mortem revealed that some of the animals had been incorrectly diagnosed as TB positive.
 
He believes the impending badger culls will prove to be fruitless and wants to see a cattle vaccine trialled: “It’s not going to work, [around here] there’s 30 to 40 per cent more badgers than was estimated... high powered rifles in the dark? Why not vaccinate?”
 
becky
MG has reminded us of this paper athttp://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm199899/cmselect/cmagric/233/233app30.htm It is dated 1999 but contains a lot of interesting and useful information submitted by Hellen Fullerton PhD. '"Can optimum trace element nutrition activate resistance to tuberculosis and provide a common solution for both cattle and badgers? "
 
Sally
We have been sent the link to this interesting story from 2006 (http://www.stroudgreenparty.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1211&Itemid=2).
 
Len Ballinger is a farmer whose cattle were the first in Britain to be linked to the theory that bovine tuberculosis comes from badgers but he apparently rubbished the connection –and declared his land a "no-kill zone".
 
"I'm standing up for Brock - they've been before and wiped out every badger, yet the disease has continued. Brock's a soft target and he's clearly no more than a bystander in this growing problem of bovine TB."
 
Len grazed beef cattle on land adjoining Alderley Farm near Wotton-under-Edge in Gloucestershire when, back in 1971, Ministry of Agriculture vets investigating positive TB readings in his cattle discovered a dead badger. Subsequent tests detected TB and spawned the theory that cattle might catch the disease from badgers.
 
Len is adamant that badgers are being scapegoated: "My own suspicion even in 1971 was that intensification was to blame. My cattle grazed on land next to a highly intensive dairy unit, where the cows were kept indoors permanently and the slurry was pumped out onto surrounding fields. I was convinced my own cattle had caught the TB via that route - and in all likelihood, so had the badger - they love rooting through cattle manure for beetles and worms."
 
becky
What is really happening in Ireland? We have been sent this link http://badgersni.fii.me/tbireland.html.
 
To objectively (and fairly) assess the efficacies of culling and non-culling programmes, the respective strategies in Northern Ireland (NI) and the Republic of Ireland (RoI) need to be compared.
 
The facts contained in the article seem to make sense and there is nothing in the data to suggest that badger culling in Southern Ireland (there is no culling in Northern Ireland at the current time) has had any significant impact on cattle TB in Ireland. It would seem that the effective and sustained reduction of the post-FMD bovine TB levels in Northern Ireland was achieved solely by the introduction of enhanced testing, movement and biosecurity measures.
 
It would seem that it is cattle movement, not the absence of any badger culling programme, which is responsible for the much higher levels of bovine TB in the British herd. The role of undetected infection in herds is further evidenced by the recent increase in reported reactors in England. This reported rise is a direct result of a corresponding increase in cattle testing leading to the exposure of hitherto ‘hidden’ reactors. It is almost certainly these reservoirs of undetected TB in herds that are responsible for the local clusters of disease persistence in England, not badgers.
 
Comments welcomed.
 
becky
Recent analysis showed that rising police costs now meant the cull policy was more expensive than vaccinating badgers.
 
The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jun/13/badger-cull-activists-protests-police?dm_i=1NFN,1KQON,906LDO,5F2XS,1) has proven, in a lengthy and detailed article, just how much effort is being taken by the police to ensure safety. Police preparing for peaceful protests have carried out wargames with activists and the cullers to simulate confrontations.
 
Officers policing the imminent badger culls in England will allow protesters to "bend the rules" to ensure peaceful protests can take place, while working to enable the marksmen to carry out their task. Police have also carried out wargames with both animal rights activists and the cullers to simulate heated night-time confrontations between vuvuzela-blowing protesters and armed shooters.
 
becky
The Governemnt holds Ireland up as a good example re getting to grips with bTB. Here they cull badgers but in an article in the May edition of the Veterinary Ireland Journal (www.veterinaryirelandjournal.com/News/irish-taxpayers-and-badgers-are-taking-a-hit-for-no-benefit.html) a different picture is painted.
 
The Environmental Pillar, a coalition of 26 national environmental groups in Ireland, is calling on the Minister for Finance, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to reassess the logic behind badger culling as part of Ireland's strategy for tuberculosis (TB) control in cattle.
 
'Extensive studies have shown that badger culling isn't effective in controlling TB in cattle. It may even exacerbate the problem,' said Conn Flynn, Environmental Pillar spokesperson and Development Officer with the Irish Wildlife Trust.
"Badgers play a minor role in TB's presence in the national herd. The real issues for TB control are chronically infected herds, herd movement and issues with accuracy in TB testing," Mr Flynn said.
 
"Last year, Ä3.6m was spent directly on culling 7,000 badgers in Ireland, but had barely any impact on TB levels in cattle. The number of TB-infected cattle was only 55 fewer in 2012 than in 2011, a reduction of less than 0.3% and a spending of over €65,000 per animal. This is very bad value for money considering that the maximum compensation paid to farmers for removing an infected milk cow is €2,800."
 
becky
An interesting update regarding the vaccination of badgers in Wales can be found at: http://m.farmersguardian.com/home/hot-topics/bovine-tb/funding-issues-for-badger-vaccination-scheme-in-wales/56184.article
 
becky
http://www.hsi.org/assets/pdfs/badgers_RedactedyellowPaper4-5Humanenessresearchproposal31_5_12_FINAL.pdf
 
Here is information about the monitoring of the humaneness of shooting the badgers during the two trials.
 
becky
Really interesting comments from a farmer in the south of England. The farm is in an alleged hot spot area for bTB yet their herd has never had a breakdown.
 
We farm in South Devon, we have several badger setts on our family’s land, and we have never had a single case of TB in our herd of beef cattle.
 
This record has stood untarnished even though all the surrounding farms have continually been pulled in and out of restriction. We also know our badgers traverse our boundaries and forage on our neighbours land, yet still we went clear.
 
TB and badgers are just a symptom of a far larger problem.
 
It’s a problem perpetuated by both sides of the argument. Namely wildlife and agriculture are perceived not to mix.
 
That’s why we have either agricultural land or we have wildlife reserves. Never the twain must meet. Even on the most wildlife friendly farms you have strips set-aside for flowers and nesting birds almost mini nature reserves within the farmland and then the rest of the land is used to grow food.
 
Our farm ethos and methods somewhat differ. We don’t perceive food production and conservation as two separate entities both are one and the same to us, and if we are to be truly sustainable, inseparable. 

 
We say here that “we farm with nature’ as shorthand. What this actually means is our management doesn’t make a distinction between domestic plants and animals and wild species. Both are integrated within our land management; all have a purpose and we treat our farm, as it should be, as a healthy working ecosystem.
 
We think we here on this farm have worked out how to minimalise the risk of transmission of TB from badgers to cattle in open pasture.
 
This is not by hermetically sealing the cattle in barns or by constructing huge Berlin style walls fencing the badgers out the pasture.
 
In fact with our system the badgers can walk right past the cattle weeing and pooing all they like because there is minimal risk of cross infection.
 
The answer is so, so simple it was staring us in the face and actually it’s incredibly cheap.
 
The answer is growing your pasture grass very long. Badgers obviously wee close to the grown into the grass roots where the TB bacteria are safe from that nasty rain and UV light that kills them.
 
We stumbled across this thought by chance; we’ve been practising this form of grazing with our sheep officially known as holistic planned grazing. http://holisticmanagement.org/
 
African ecologist, Alan Savory, formulated it, where you graze your animals (cattle, sheep, goats or any herbivore) by mimicking how a wild herd grazes on natural grassland just like, say, wildebeest on the Serengeti.
 
Essentially you send your animals on a mini migration around your farmland and you don’t return to the same plot of grazing for anything up to 150 days meaning the grass has grown very high and all the animal pathogens have died.
 
Here’s a little vid so you can see it in action in the States. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I4h99OZgsIE
 
There are about 40 thousand practitioners of this grazing method currently round the world but it’s only really just taken off in the UK in the past few yrs with a few of us practising it.
 
We’ve noticed and as you can see from that video if you set your livestock into pasture that more resembles wild grassland the livestock only eat the tops of the grass and flatten the rest. Then we move them on. We only give them a few hrs in each paddock before moving them.
 
By doing so they never eat down to the grass roots and near where a badger may have defecated and as the cattle walk through that grass so they flatten it like a matt on the floor protecting the cattle from any soil bacteria.
 
The main reason UK farmers are adopting this method is because you don’t need any inputs and it saves money. No fertilizers, no dung spreaders and your cattle can stay out all winter you don’t need to house them.
 
However I don’t think anyone else has cottoned onto the fact this form of grazing highly protects the cattle from any soil pathogens including tb if grazed appropriately. When I realised this I was keen to share this fact.
 
We implemented this grazing form back last autumn and been observing it closely since. There are a couple of forward thinking dairy farmers now utilising this grazing method too.

 
becky
During the Opposition Debate on the badger cull in the Commons last week, Mary Creagh MP who was leading the debate referenced a letter she'd received from Glos farmers unhappy about the cull. This was met by boorish jeers from the other side and a haughty jibe from Lib Dem Agri Minister David Heath.
 
We understand that the farmers referred to have repeatedly written to David Heath, Lib Dem Agri Minister, asking him to meet with them and other badger friendly farmers but he has repeatedly said he does not have the time. Interestingly we we see from this story in the Somerset Standard (www.thisissomerset.co.uk/MP-enjoys-day-successful-shoot/story-19068822-detail/story.html#axzz2V3OJ3Mbs) that he managed to find the time to meet up with a local shoot.
 
becky
An article today in the Huffington Post (www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/philip-mansbridge/badgers-vaccinate-not-cull_b_3414134.html?utm_source=feedly#es_share_ended) is about the newly formed vaccination sub group, who commented: ' It's official: The government is dragging its heels re cattle and badger vaccinations, lacks strategy and needs to enforce better cattle bio security, movement controls and testing'.
 
In the report issued last week, they were also highly critical of the government's failure to communicate the complexity of the bTB problem. In a document that neither mentions or endorses a cull, so Care for the Wild suggests this is perhaps a clear swipe at Owen Paterson's 'badgers must die at all costs' bTB management position?
 
At the tail end of last year, Care for the Wild, as part of a sub group of Team Badger, developed a vaccination solution called the Badger Vaccination Initiative (BVI).
 
BVI was more than just a concept - it was a well-planned and well-resourced first stage of a detailed project which would involve mass vaccination of badgers to humanely reduce the risk of inter-species transfer of bTB. It was about government, charities, land owners and volunteers coming together to tackle an issue in a very British way. It was Cameron's Big Society in action.
 
They submitted the document to the EFRA Select Committee, costed it out, overcame the so often cited problems of 'not enough people to do it', 'it's too expensive', etc., and spoke to leading officials and stakeholders informally about the project - including the NFU.
 
As soon as the shooting starts the cull may well be deemed unviable - we know that mass protests in the cull zones are already planned, health and safety will be at risk and local people will not want to be entangled in this. Policing costs will rocket and the cull will have to move to trap and shoot - something that costs more than vaccination anyway - plus why kill a caged badger when you could just vaccinate it?
 
The cost of free shooting badgers is £200 per square km excluding police costs, but trap and shoot rockets to £2,500 per square Km. Trapping and vaccinating badgers is estimated by Defra to be £2,250 per square Km. The BVI plans showed how this figure could be brought down further.
 
Another EFRA report released last year showed that vaccination can reduce bTB within a badger sett by over 50%, the effect then spreads to the (unvaccinated) cubs. This means it can play a major part in dealing with this problem while the government, hopefully, pushes on with making a cattle vaccine viable.
 
So, the group offered the government a solution, the option to harness the passion of the welfare charities, to save money and to be popular once more. But, oddly, they got no takers.
 
Right now the government is about to embark on one of the most divisive policies of its time. The public are against it, the opposition (who conducted the original 10 year trial) are against it, as are the majority of MPs (when un-whipped). What's more, no matter how you package it, the science isn't on side either.
 
The only scientists who are pro-cull are those on the payroll of government or the farming industry. Even the British Veterinary Association's own vets openly attacked their organisation in the Independent last week, accusing them of bringing their profession into disrepute by the BVA's pro-cull stance.
 
So, forget the media friendly rhetoric of 'healthy badgers, healthy cattle'. Studies show that only one in seven badgers from bTB hotspots are actually infected with TB, and only 1% - just one in 100 during the Randomised Badger Culling Trials - had extensive, severe, signs of disease. Within this, only 2% of infected badgers have been shown to be transmitting the disease.
 
So the government aims to kill 70 out of every 100 badgers just to 'help' the one badger that's actually sick. Lucky badgers - that really is taking one for the team, Defra style.
 
What we need to be focusing on is a new rhetoric: Pull your socks up Mr Paterson, abandon this pointless cull whilst you still have a shred of integrity for your commitment to wildlife in Africa, and listen to the advice of the people who know.
 
Please, take some positive action before you devastate the good reputation of farmers, anger the masses and pointlessly kill thousands of uninfected badgers for no valid reason.
 
Interestingly the above article seems to have struck a chord with 1625 Facebook likes, 485 Facebook shares and 180 re-tweets already. It is designed to help support the work on the newly formed vaccination sub group.
 
In contrast….Adam Quinney’s – A Badger Cull Will Help Make Our Countryside TB Free (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/adam-quinney/a-badger-cull-is-essential_b_3377702.html) has only mustered 151 likes, 37 shares and 40 Tweets – and it has been on a week!
 
becky
'TB: The science behind the decisions' - the head researcher, Robbie McDonald, at the Government’s badger research centre is adamant culling badgers will make bTB worse and that farmers need to start backing the vaccination programme. This article the trial culls are not the way forward. Robbie Mcdonald runs Fera’s wildlife and emerging diseases programme.
 
There are a lot of very useful and interesting facts in the article at http://m.farmersguardian.com/27451.article?mobilesite=enabled Presumably these can be relied on as Robbie McDonald is relying on evidence gathered over more than three decades at an area of farm and parkland, near Stonehouse, Gloucestershire. The experts working there are regularly asked to provide Defra with information to aid bTB policy decisions.
 
The tracking and testing of badgers has continued since the mid-1970s, making the park a completely unique scientific resource. The area covers around 10sq.m, most of which is parkland owned by the National Trust and the rest neighbouring farmland. There are 24 established badger groups within that area and currently around 200 individuals. Mr McDonald says this is reasonably high and numbers vary considerably year-on-year depending on the amount of food available. As a general rule only one female in the social group will breed every 12 months, although two may breed in a plentiful year and none when food is hard to come by.
Litters can be up to 10 cubs but usually only two or three survive infancy. Average life expectancy for those that do reach maturity is three to four years, although five to six years is ‘not exceptional’ and 10 years possible.
 
“We have to take the emotion out of it,” he says. “Where are we now? What are the facts of the situation? What is the way forward?”
 
His answers to those questions are entirely based on the work done at Woodchester Park - and farmers keen to see a badger cull will be disappointed to learn Mr McDonald does not believe the science supports that route.
 
Because of the link between breeding and food availability there is no particular relationship between the number of badgers and sett size. Mr McDonald says they see peaks and troughs of numbers but not ‘never-ending growth’ (which is what many for culling are stating) of populations at Woodchester Park, as food does not increase. But, he argues, if there was a cull more females would breed more regularly, as there would be the same amount of feed for fewer animals.
 
Mr McDonald says social groups can vary from two to 22 animals, although six would be about the average, apart from in South West England where larger groups are more common.
 
Research at Woodchester Park has shown social groups to be fundamental to animal behaviour. A lot of badgers spend their entire life within the same group, meaning most of them will be related. When they do move they tend to go to another group, rather than establish a new sett, and so setts are often many years old. The main sett, the centre of a social group, can vary in size with smaller, outlying setts around it.
 
This means a group will not give up its home readily and is dedicated to defending the area. There are rigid boundaries around setts, which Mr McDonald says are sometimes clearly visible because badgers spend so much time ‘patrolling’ the perimeter.
 
With the use of radio tracking equipment and special collars the researchers know individuals interact a lot within their own social group but rarely with other groups. Mr McDonald says badgers will know of other nearby groups but rarely venture over boundaries, unless they became aware of a change.
 
This is one of his biggest arguments against culling, as he says the disappearance/reduction of one group will cause badgers from another group to go and ‘investigate’ the vacated area, taking their diseases with them or picking up new infections in the process.
 
“Transmission of disease reduces where there’s a stable social system,” he says, explaining that disease peaks are usually seen the year after a period of upheaval and that it takes a long time to return to a stable situation again.
 
Therefore, the benefit of culling a population is outweighed by the detrimental affect on neighbouring populations. He says a huge number of badgers would have to be killed to make a difference and while it is cheap and easy to trap and exterminate animals in the early days of a cull it gets harder and more expensive as time goes on.
 
At Woodchester Park the level of TB has gone up and down over time, and this does not appear to be linked to the number of animals. This is because some infected badgers stop and start shedding the disease (the reason/timing of this is unclear) and there is, of course, some natural movement between social groups.
 
It is mostly males that decide to try and join a new social group, usually because a nearby sett has lost numbers (for example, if some have died from disease or road kill) or food is in short supply.
 
But Mr McDonald argues in usual circumstances, when culling has not taken place, transmission between cattle and badgers is more common than between different badger groups. Currently there are setts at Woodchester Park with infected animals while neighbouring setts are TB free.
 
Some individuals are more prone than others to range further and investigate new areas (such as farm buildings). Interestingly, more badgers caught in farm buildings have bTB than those caught nearer their sett - but researchers do not know if those badgers have picked up TB because they move around more or if they move around more because they have TB.
 
“But it doesn’t really matter which one it is - don’t worry about that, just find a way to stop them getting in,” says Mr McDonald, arguing it is ‘good practice’ to keep all wildlife away from feed as much as possible for all types of bacteria, not just Mycobacterium bovis. When infected badgers excrete M.bovis in farm buildings it is unclear how long the bacteria can survive, although it is known to thrive in damp, wet, dark areas.
 
Mr McDonald says all wildlife is ‘opportunistic’ so while badgers enjoy wet pasture with lots of worms they will eat whatever is readily available, whether they stumble upon unsecured farm buildings, carrion, insects or nests of rabbits and bees; Mr McDonald will not comment on if they would take small lambs.
 
Badgers do seem to have a preference for maize, but he says he cannot recommend farmers stop growing it, as badgers will readily eat other cereal crops if they become available.
 
The badger ecology project at Woodchester Park, Stonehouse, Gloucestershire, started in mid-1970s, making it the longest running badger research programme in the UK.
 
The area monitored in the project covers 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres), a large chunk of which is owned by the National Trust
 
Work done at the park now comes under the Government’s Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), which was previously the Central Science Laboratory (CSL), Fera advises the Government on many topics, including bTB
 
Fera employs around 900 people, 25 of whom work at Woodchester Park as part of the wildlife and emerging diseases programme
Bovine TB dominates the wildlife and emerging diseases programme, although issues such as rabies and sheep scab are also included
Current work done with the badgers includes three main areas:
1. The ecology study, which has been ongoing since the 1970s
2. Vaccine work, including testing the safety of the injectable vaccine and training people to administer it; utilisation of an oral vaccine is also being considered
3. Biosecurity research looking at affordable and effective ways to keep badgers out of farmyards

 
becky
Clash over badger cull turning into 'class war': Activists set sights on 'landed gentry' says the Independent in an article today (www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/clash-over-badger-cull-turning-into-class-war-activists-set-sights-on-landed-gentry- 8650764.html) which reports on the 3,000 acre Forthampton Court estate, one of the proposed trial badger culling sites allegedly being targeted by protestors..
 
'Jay Tiernan, of Stop the Cull, said that Mr Yorke's background as a member of the "landed gentry" helped activists garner support. "We don't want to be seen to be harassing smaller farmers; it looks like a big gang of yobs against some guy struggling to make a living," he said. "We don't feel uncomfortable targeting the landed gentry.'
 
'Cull opponents believe "on good authority" that if the Yorkes were to pull out of the cull, the county's licence would be revoked. Under government rules, the cull can take place only if landowners controlling 70 per cent of the culling zone agree to the killing. If the Forthampton estate pulled out, the percentage would fall below the required level.'
 
'Drew Patten, a 45 year old management consultant who lives 20 minutes from the estate, is another cull opponent watching events closely. A member of Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting, he insists he isn't an activist. But, now, after reporting two alleged instances of blocked badger setts on the estate – which he believes could have caused the deaths of more than 40 badgers – he is seeking advice on whether he can bring a lawsuit against the estate and Natural England, the cull licence issuer, in an attempt to prevent the killing.'
 
becky
Press release from Badger Trust received today.
 
‘PRESSED MEN’ OF PARLIAMENT VOTE FOR BADGER KILLING
 
----- says the Badger Trust, fighting on against the cull
 
The Commons vote on the impending badger culling programme in England [1] was pure politics, says the Badger Trust: independent scientific consensus is overwhelmingly one of opposition; huge numbers of the public are passionately opposed; the forecast benefits over nine years are very modest; the risks to the public of shooting running badgers are obvious but underplayed; and many farmers could face a rise in bovine TB (bTB) through disturbing badgers' social groups.
 
Any objective analysis of this ill-conceived onslaught on iconic and indigenous wildlife shows it to be driven by political expediency, leaving major issues responsible for the bulk of the problem unresolved, says the Trust. “The taxpayer is entitled to know whether this Government has the will to tackle the true causes—lax controls, far too many cattle movements, an unreliable skin test—and whether it will introduce cattle-based measures with real impact, because that’s where the real problem lies”.
 
The licences authorising the pilot killing trials in Somerset and Gloucestershire apply from 1st June but nobody knows when the first bullet will be fired. It is important to note that the slaughter has not yet started - that information is still to be revealed. The pilot trials will add nothing to scientific knowledge about the control of bTB, but only attempt to show that free shooting would be effective, safe and humane. Even so, thousands of badgers are to be killed outright and any that are wounded will have their screams timed to assess how “humane” their ultimate deaths were.
 
In the debate Coalition MPs were mostly forced to vote in support of their parties’ policies, however misguided. But last October a free vote produced a significant majority against culling [2] when Government “whips” were not enforcing attendance and loyalty to party dogma.
 
The usual list of downright errors and half-truths emerged during the speeches, notably in the comparisons the Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson made with Australia, the Republic of Ireland and New Zealand where wildlife have been killed [3]. He failed to mention that the UK itself was the first to contain bTB without killing badgers, reducing cattle slaughter by 96 per cent by the early 1970s. It remained there for 20 years. Northern Ireland had already achieved the same rate of reduction without killing badgers as the Republic had with culling, showing that claims about the need to kill wildlife are ill-founded. Several Members passed on the mistaken belief that bTB was increasing in Great Britain. In fact it levelled out three years ago and has since been reduced, again without culling badgers according to the latest annual figures.
 
Wednesday’s vote, although close, failed to reflect known public opinion – 69 per cent against culling after the Coalition’s own consultation in 2010 and in many others since. The culmination last month was a disappointing result for the National Farmers’ Union when its own poll showed a majority against culling and a large proportion of don’t knows [4]. It was anything but a resounding endorsement of its policy of killing badgers.
 
To reflect public opinion the Badger Trust has just released a video and launched a social media campaign #canthecarrot. It was made specially by a top team of wildlife film-makers from Bristol with Anthony Head providing the commentary. It showed hundreds of people travelling from all over the country assembling in a Somerset field to be filmed from a helicopter as they represented the face of a badger. The video, which fades to a chilling finale, highlights the likely effect on the countryside if culling takes place. http://www.justdosomething.org.uk/?dm_i=1NFN,1JWOV,906LDO,5BG8K,1
 
In the meantime it is essential that people continue to sign the e-gov petition http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/38257?dm_i=1NFN,1JWOV,906LDO,5BG8L,1 and write to their MPs. The Badger Trust will never falter in its determination to protect badgers, by all legal means, against this unscientific and unwarranted slaughter.
 
NOTES
 
[1] 250 against culling, 299 for
[2] 147 against, 28 for.
[3]
[4] (34 per cent are against killing badgers with 29 for and 27 effectively "don't knows". Such a result is barely representative of anything. Also, there is no culling planned in Wales yet part of the sample is taken from there).
 
becky
This is Cornwall today (www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Ground-breaking-plan-vaccinate-Penwith-badgers/story-19204307-detail/story.html#axzz2VQunNwKo)
& nbsp;
'This week also provided a chance to tell Parliament that west Cornwall could be the ground-breaking focus for the first community Bovine TB project in the country, with a plan to vaccinate badgers over the 200sq km of the Penwith district between now and 2018.
 
I had proposed this initiative six months ago to a, then, sceptical audience. But support for the proposal is gathering pace.
 
I am fortunate to be strongly supported by the able and highly respected Professor Rosie Woodroffe, of the Zoological Society of London, with whom I am jointly submitting a bid to government farming ministers to part-fund our proposed community-led initiative aimed at eliminating Bovine TB from the Penwith peninsula – an area facing one of the most chronic TB problems in the country. The initiative entails a partnership between farmers, veterinarians, wildlife groups and the local community, with guidance from scientific experts.
 
The initiative involves three main components: the vaccination of badgers by trained volunteers (which we believe is likely to be more productive and less costly than culling, and with greater prospects of long-term elimination of infection); improved cattle management – through biosecurity advice and, possibly, more stringent cattle testing; and scientific monitoring – to assess and interpret impacts of the interventions for both badgers and cattle.
 
It is hoped that the lessons learned from the west Cornwall work can then be transferred to other parts of the country.'
 
becky
The professional body for vets has cast a “dark shadow” over the profession by supporting the Government’s badger cull, according to a group of veterinarians who claim its senior officials are too close to the farming industry (www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/vets-say-their-professional-body-was-wrong-to-support-government-badger-cull-8644638. html).
 
Members of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) have launched a fierce attack on their representative body for failing to consult its full membership before endorsing the cull.
 
The following letter was published in the Independent today (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/letters-badger-cull-has-no-basis-in-science-8644011.html). It is from vets who are opposed to the cull. They make some very good points.
 
The badger cull is proving to be a highly contentious issue, not least within the veterinary profession in Britain, of which we are members.
Last month, in the lead-up to “open season” for the “pilot culls” in which more than 5,000 badgers could be shot in Gloucestershire and Somerset, both the president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and the Government’s Chief Veterinary Officer came out in support of the Government’s plans. Their support comes in spite of the overwhelming scientific opinion that culling badgers will not help to reduce TB in cattle, and amidst grave concerns over the impact that culling will have on the welfare of badgers and the future of many populations.
 
In The Independent on 30 May the Chief Veterinary Officer made a startling assertion: that culling badgers will somehow protect human health, in spite of his department’s description of the risk to human health in the UK as being “negligible” in an article in the Financial Times on March 31. Such irresponsible scaremongering smacks of a CVO desperately clutching at straws to justify a policy that has no basis in science.
 
The British Veterinary Association reached its position of support for the Government’s pilot culls without consulting its full membership, and has ignored subsequent calls from veterinarians and one of its own member societies for it to reconsider. The public needs to understand that the BVA’s position is not necessarily representative of majority veterinary opinion, and that many vets oppose or have serious reservations about the policy.
 
Rather, it represents the position of an organisation that, in our view, has lost touch with its key purpose of providing leadership and guidance on animal welfare on this issue and whose judgment is being influenced by a close historic alignment with the farming industry. Their failure to respond to very serious concerns raised over the humaneness assessment is damning.
 
We are saddened that this episode brings shame upon the profession we studied so hard to join. That some vets in positions of influence appear to have abandoned precaution for the sake of what appears to be political and perceived economic expedience, casts a dark shadow over our profession. In our opinion these actions damage the credibility of the profession and bring it into disrepute.
 
We can only hope that its future leaders will adopt a more precautionary, independent, science-led and, most importantly, empathetic and welfare-led approach to the issues facing all of the animals with whom we share our world. Young vets have much to learn from this sorry episode and much to gain by aiming to do better than some of their predecessors.
 
Caroline Allen; Heather Bacon; Fiona Dalzell; Bronwen Eastwood; Richard Edwards; Mark Jones; Andrew Knight; J Lewis; Alastair MacMillan; Iain McGill; Andre Menache; Paul Torgerson

 
becky
Emailed comments received today re The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on vaccination.
 
From MR: 'Interestingly, I don’t see anything in the EFRACOM document that adds significantly to the case for a badger cull. What it does highlight are shortcomings of cattle testing regimens.'
 
From P: '... much criticism of Defra - page 34, Conclusions and Recommendations - including the line:
"It is perplexing that the Government has maintained that field trials were prohibited under EU law when, as recent events have shown, this is not the case."
 
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmenvfru/258/258.pdf
 
becky
Emailed comment received today re The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee report on vaccination.
 
From MR: 'Interestingly, I don’t see anything in the EFRACOM document that adds significantly to the case for a badger cull. What it does highlight are shortcomings of cattle testing regimens.'
 
becky
The Labour Party's Opposition Day debate today on the plans for a badger cull was defeated by 299 votes to 250 - there was 'intense government whipping' - it is somewhat worrying to hear David Cameron brought in a three line whip. As there is so much uncertainty regarding badger culling it is hardly democratic to find MPs being whipped into a decision, regardless of public opinion and science.
 
A three-line whip is a strict instruction to attend and vote, breach of which would normally have serious consequences. Permission not to attend may be given by the whip, but a serious reason is needed. Breach of a three-line whip can lead to expulsion from the parliamentary political group in extreme circumstances and may lead to expulsion from the party. Consequently, three-line whips are generally only issued on key issues, such as votes of confidence and supply.
 
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130605/debtext/130605-0001.htm#13060568000001
 
Update 6/6/13
 
According to the ITV (http://www.itv.com/news/meridian/update/2013-06-06/colleagues-have-barely-spoken-to-me-says-chatham-mp/?dm_i=1NFN%2C1JSQR%2C906LDO%2C5AZTI%2C1) the Chatham and Aylesford MP, Tracey Crouch, says some of her Tory party colleagues have barely spoken to her since she defied the government by voting against a mass cull of badgers.
 
She was one of six conservative party members to vote against the government amendment to the Labour motion. Last night Labour was defeated by forty nine votes.
 

 

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