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?
15 Jun 2013, 1:53 PM
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."
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.
14 Jun 2013, 5:48 PM
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.
14 Jun 2013, 11:10 AM
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."
Here is information about the monitoring of the humaneness of shooting the badgers during the two trials.
12 Jun 2013, 5:00 PM
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.
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.
11 Jun 2013, 7:56 PM
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.
11 Jun 2013, 6:58 PM
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!
10 Jun 2013, 7:57 PM
'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
9 Jun 2013, 5:41 PM
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.'
8 Jun 2013, 5:36 PM
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  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  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 . 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 . 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.
 250 against culling, 299 for  147 against, 28 for.   (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).
6 Jun 2013, 12:10 PM
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.'
5 Jun 2013, 7:36 PM
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
5 Jun 2013, 6:50 PM
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."
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.'
5 Jun 2013, 6:46 PM
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.
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.
5 Jun 2013, 3:08 PM
The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Vaccination against bovine TB Second Report of Session 2013–14 has been published today, presumably rushed out to co-inside with the Common's debate). A significant section is dedicated to 'An injectable vaccine for badgers'. There is no reference to the present Government's preferred method - culling, presumably because the report's main focus is on vaccination
The conclusions are below:
Para 45. 'In order for vaccination to be considered part of a strategy to eradicate bovine TB we first need to establish what level of efficacy can be expected. The research undertaken by Chambers et al was vital in gathering the data required to get a badger vaccine licensed and available to use and we congratulate those involved in achieving this aim. To have another tool to use against bovine TB is valuable. However, what is also apparent is that substantial data clearly showing the effect of the vaccine in the field are lacking. Now that a vaccine is available the Government should consider addressing this evidence gap by researching the efficacy of the BadgerBCG vaccine in the field'.
Para 47 relates to the badger cull trials that were cancelled. 'Although they were not originally planned to test the effectiveness of the vaccine or the impact of its deployment on the incidence of TB in cattle, the cancellation of five of the six Badger Vaccine Deployment Projects represents a missed opportunity to collect valuable data on the effect of the badger vaccine.'
Para 48. 'The absence of empirical evidence of the impact of badger vaccination on the incidence of TB in cattle is not on its own a reason not to pursue a vaccination strategy. A vaccine that reduces the excretion of M. Bovis bacteria is a powerful tool. An effective programme of badger vaccination in areas where badgers are the suspected source of TB in cattle would be expected to reduce transmission of the disease between the species.'
Para 51. 'Although the extent of infection transmitted between badgers and cattle is subject to debate, we believe there is merit in gathering information on potential transmission pathways and we welcome FERA’s research project on badger farm visits. Developing and implementing effective badger exclusion methods may prove more cost effective than other measures aimed at addressing the impact of infected badgers on cattle.'
Para 54 - far more info on herd immunity in badgers - it was barely mentioned in the section on cattle, despite being a vital element. 'Herd immunity is a sought after outcome of any vaccination programme. It means transmission of disease is reduced and non-vaccinated animals are given a measure of protection reducing the need for further deployment of the vaccine. The identification of the indirect effect of badger vaccination on unvaccinated cubs is an important step forward in research on the effectiveness of the BadgerBCG vaccine. For herd immunity to occur, a significant proportion of the uninfected badger population must be trapped and vaccinated. The precise numbers depend not only on local factors such as badger population, density and environmental factors but, as importantly, on the efficacy of the vaccine. While herd immunity may mean that not every badger has to be vaccinated every year, we need to be confident, without testing each badger, that herd immunity has developed. Further research on the indirect effect of vaccination is therefore necessary and must be included as part of future evidence-gathering on the efficacy of the vaccine in the field. '
Para 56.' Although vaccination is costly, scope exists for economies of scale but this will need a more coordinated national approach to badger vaccination to enable equipment and information to be shared more effectively. There is great enthusiasm among voluntary organisations for deploying the badger vaccine. The Government should not miss the opportunity to use them both to gather evidence and as a resource to carry out vaccination. A first step should be to set up an advisory service to help NGOs plan and deploy a programme of vaccination and to advise what data it would be useful to obtain.'
Para 59. 'PCR testing of badger faeces has the potential to identify those setts which harbour infected badgers. Doing so will not only enable a vaccination programme to be better targeted and therefore more cost-effective but may also be able to show whether the vaccination has been successful in creating herd immunity in particular social groups. We recommend that the Government provide funding to explore how this research might be applied practically in the field.'
Para 64. 'The development of a vaccine that reduced the level of infection in badgers would be a valuable tool in the battle against bovine TB but, despite 10 years of research and £11million spent in development, it is one that Defra lack a strategy for using. A number of voluntary organisations are deploying the vaccine and, while we commend their actions, in the absence of a clear nationally coordinated strategy this work can only have a limited impact on the wider problem of bovine TB. We are particularly concerned that Defra may miss the opportunity to make use of the enthusiasm that exists in the voluntary sector for badger vaccination.'
Para 65. 'Badger vaccination is expensive and no magic bullet. We agree with the Wildlife Trusts that if it is going to make a difference, it needs to be deployed strategically in areas where it is likely to have the biggest impact. The vaccine has been available for use for more than three years. Having developed the vaccine, Defra must now produce a clear strategy for its use.'
5 Jun 2013, 1:35 PM
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has published its report today (presumably rushed out just in time for the Common's debate) on progress to develop a vaccine solution for bovine TB. In it it is scathing about the imperfect test. Bear in mind this test forms the backbone of existing policy ....
'We currently rely on a skin test that could miss one in four infected cows. Liver fluke, Johne’s disease and even pregnancy may impact on the result of the skin test. While the skin test has served us well, if other more sensitive tests exist, they should be employed alongside it. We accept that the gamma interferon blood test is expensive and not without limitations, but a test that catches infection earlier when animals are less likely to have transmitted the disease is a valuable tool and one that should be deployed as widely as possible. The Government should explore whether it is possible to improve the performance of the test and bring down its cost.'
4 Jun 2013, 5:37 PM
The NFU is claiming that since 2008, badger control measures in the Republic of Ireland have resulted in a decrease of TB in cattle by almost a third. In New Zealand, a comprehensive bTB management programme including wildlife control has reduced infected herd numbers from 1,700 in 1994 to around 70 today. However, we have heard via an email today that apart from the post F&M spike (caused by the industry), the trends in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic are remarkably similar. There has been no badger culling in Northern Ireland. The NI trend and levels have been achieved by cattle measures alone. Apparently no-one in Northern Irleland has attributed the 2011 rise in TB incidence to badgers although the cause remains unknown. We understand that NZ research ruled out INDIRECT transmission of TB from possums to cattle. Yet it is indirect transmission that is being cited by the NFU and others. Evidence shows that very little DIRECT contact takes place between badgers and cattle.
An interesting point about the 2011 rise is that it was consistent across ALL veterinary divisions in Northern Ireland. This is most unusual as individual divisional incidences normally vary, contributing to the published aggregate incidence for the whole province. This could well suggest an underlying industry or data handling cause.
A peaceful march (attended by around 2,800) was held on 1 June 2013. This clearly shows the level of public opposition to the proposed trial culls - people from all walks of lives, all ages, all united to try and halt the current government plans to kill an animal that is clearly loved by many.
(Play by clicking white arrow above small 'Audio MP3' banner part way down page)
Read too the blog by Gordon McGlone, 'The value of badgers in the full cost of a badger cull':
'I have spent my career thinking like a scientist, acting like one and making considered comment based on evidence and balanced reason...'
'... What I have not discussed before, and nor does Defra, is the cultural value of the badger. The huge number of marchers on the streets of Westminster on Saturday demonstrated to me that there is a profound respect for the badger in society. That respect lies deep in the psyche and not lodged in the wallet...'
... 'So far Badgers have only been given a negative financial valuation in a badger cull debate, on the cost side of the equation; the ecological and cultural plusses have been ignored. But even the money case is now falling apart In the argument used to justify a badger. The pilot culls will cost £6M in projected police time and sunk survey and licencing costs. That is an overall negative cost benefit. Just how much additional hard data is required before Defra, supposedly the department for all environmental issues, understands that it has got the equation badly wrong?'
4 Jun 2013, 1:50 PM
Culling badgers is not cost effective, particularly if huge sums are spent on policing culls. Culling, involving free shooting, will be particularly risky as there is so much public opposition - fueled by scientists and other experts who are speaking out against the poroposed trial culls.
The BBC today report that Cornish badgers may be vaccinated against TB' (www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cornwall-22763702).
Plans have been put forward to vaccinate badgers in west Cornwall to prevent them catching tuberculosis and passing it on to cows, says Liberal Democrat MP, Andrew George.
If approved, the £2m scheme would mean badgers being caught in traps and then vaccinated, St Ives e said.
'Cheaper than policing'. Mr George said a vaccination programme would have to be carried out until 2018 or 2019, with each dose costing about £650. He said it would cost "about £2m" in total.
The vaccine stops TB being passed from badger to badger, and scientists believed it could stop it being passed on to cattle, he said.
He added that, although it sounded like a lot of money, it would be "cheaper than policing costs" of opponents of the culls who might try and disrupt them.
Mr George said he had had "positive" talks with Minister for Agriculture and Food David Heath.
He said: "I think he can be persuaded to cooperate in a scheme such as this."
He added the National Trust was also "on board" with such a scheme locally and others "could be persuaded".
In terms of funding, Mr George said: "I don't think the government would put up the full costs, but other animal charities and bodies might be prepared to match fund what the government are prepared to stump up."
The march on Sat was well attended. Sadly I couldn't go but a friend sent me this
In a nutshell, official march, brian may et al. lots of different people from vegans to pro vaccine people, a hare krishna gave us free food, me, becky and rosie shouted the most out of anyone, went to afterpicnic in st james park and danced with reggae badgers, again we were probably some of the most enthusiastic ones there and got the other badgers in a conga line sort of accidentally, danced around a fake reporter filming for some satire show, then accidentally stumbled accross tory headquaters where a man with a megaphone was verbally abusing them from the lobby and we cheered him on outside with our placards, then about 8/10 riot vans showed up and we skidaddled, not before the those revolutionary radicals blocked up a rat trap by way of a parting blow. then we went to the tate britain for a spot of culture
31 May 2013, 7:31 PM
The Labour Party has announced it will table an Opposition Day debate on Wednesday 5th June 2013 on the plans for a badger cull. The wording for the motion reads: “This House believes the badger cull should not go ahead”. The debate will last for either 3 or 6 hours and the earliest it will start is 12.30 p.m. after Prime Minister’s Questions.
The licences to cull badgers in the two trial areas became valid from today, 1st June 2013, and many badgers in parts of Gloucestershire and West Somerset will face death from shooting while they are foraging. They will be shot by marksmen armed with high-powered rifles fitted with silencers and night sights. The shooting area will be pre-baited for a few days beforehand to encourage the badgers to forage at that point. It is not known when the culling will commence as that information has not been released, the only certain knowledge is that it can happen at any time between 1st June 2013 and 31st January 2014. The sole purpose of these two pilot trials is to test the humaneness, efficacy and safety of the free-shooting of badgers. If deemed successful, the slaughter of badgers will be rolled out in 10 further areas per year for the next four years in so-called TB hotspot areas. Most of the badgers slaughtered will be healthy and so will die an unnecessary death.
31 May 2013, 6:45 PM
The Badger Trust's press release today states the Trust is appalled at the
COALITION's PLAN TO TIME THE SCREAMS OF DYING BADGERS
The Badger Trust is appalled and disgusted that David Cameron and Nick Clegg are presiding over a plan to time the screams of wounded badgers to estimate the level of “humaneness” of shooting free running badgers at night. Worse, the noises made by shot badgers will be compared with those of harpooned whales according to a document released under freedom of information rules .
The paper, by the Coalition, also acknowledges the crucial fact that none of the shooters will have experience of killing free-running badgers, and that Defra’s requirement to target the heart and lungs is untested.
David Williams, chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “The Japanese have slaughtered whales for decades to international condemnation and now our own Government proposes to subject one of its own protected species to this gruesome torture. An injured badger is likely to flee down one of its burrows while the farmers’ shooting contractors record the time to death – officially the 'TTD'. But after its initial shrieks a wounded animal would tend to lie quietly, eventually dying a slow, lingering and silent death many hours or even days later. We have constantly reiterated the difficulty of humanely shooting badgers, this new paper does nothing to disprove our view.
“The Coalition is allowing brutal behaviour which would be criminal in abattoirs and on farms, and any vet could be struck off for timing the screams of a dying animal”.
He said politicians, at the beck and call of the cattle industry, were already facing allegations that they have no idea of the present badger population in the culling areas. Without those figures they cannot satisfy the rule that shooters must prove they had killed at least 70 per cent, or that the technique is effective and safe.
But Mr Williams said: “If free shooting is banned because it fails these tests the farmers’ culling groups are going to have to pay ten times as much for the more humane, but still pointless, cage trapping and shooting method. Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg could well come to regret their rash promise to ‘address’ wildlife”.