Wildlife Update : Let’s blame the badger, shall we… ?

Caroline Spelman says there is no alternative but to approve culls, in an attempt to reduce number of cattle contracting bovine TB. The Guardian reports | http://twitter.com/#!/LearnFromNature

Thousands of badgers will be shot in England from autumn 2012 in an attempt to reduce the numbers of cattle slaughtered after contracting bovine tuberculosis (TB), the environment secretary announced on Wednesday.

Compensation costs for slaughtered cattle would run up to £1bn in the next 10 years, Caroline Spelman said, meaning there was no alternative but to approve the culls. But opponents rejected government claims that the cull was science-led, arguing instead for vaccinations, and said it would incur policing and legal bills of millions of pounds as protesters targeted the cull sites and challenged the plans in the courts. More than 100,000 people signed petitions opposing the plans in October.

Bovine TB is a chronic and insidious disease which is having a devastating impact on farmers. Unless further action is taken now it will continue to get worse,” Spelman said. “There is great strength of feeling on this issue and no one wants to see badgers culled. But at present there is no satisfactory alternative.” She said farmers, who will pay part of the cost of the culls, would have to apply to Natural England for licences and the marksmen used would require special shooting permits.

“Badger culling has become a costly distraction from the important business of controlling cattle TB. The culling is expected to achieve, at best, a 16% reduction in cattle TB,” said Rosie Woodroffe, a badger ecologist at the Institute of Zoology in London and who worked for decade on the largest ever UK study of badger culling. “It is likely to cost farmers more than they save, and there is a serious concern that such culling will make cattle TB worse rather than better.”

Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said the government was “sleepwalking to disaster”. She said: “For a badger cull to work, it has to be cost-effective, humane and it has to reduce bovine TB. Today’s announcement is bad news for wildlife, bad news for farmers and bad news for the taxpayer.”

Most farmers and veterinary associations support the cull proposals. National Farmers Union president, Peter Kendall, said: “Today is another massive step forward in achieving our end goal of a healthy countryside – both for badgers and for cattle. The most recent science shows badger controls are absolutely necessary, together with cattle controls, to get on top of TB.”

Free-running badgers will be shot in two pilot areas, the location of which will be made public. The results will be assessed by an independent panel before deciding whether to start 10 trials a year, each of which would run for four years. Trials have found that widespread culls conducted rigorously over several years can lead to an average 16% reduction of “confirmed new incidence” of TB in cattle herds.

But the scientist who initiated a 10-year trial of badger culling, John Krebs, has said the data showed culling was ineffective. Another scientist closely involved with the scientific advice used by the government to label their culling proposals as science-led, told the Guardian: “It was a mistake to imply it was possible to have a science-led policy. The science base is relatively minimal, and essentially a political decision had to be made. The government have dug themselves into a hole. My personal opinion is not to cull.”

Jim Paice, the farming minister, said the previous trials had shown that culling badgers cut TB and that changes to how the culling was carried out would give bigger cuts in TB, in particular by using rivers and roads to prevent fleeing badgers causing new TB outbreaks elsewhere.

The problem of TB in cattle has risen rapidly. It is costly for taxpayers and traumatic for farmers who lose their herds. In 1991, 655 cattle in the UK tested positive for the disease but by 2010 more than 28,500 had the disease. About 25,000 of these were slaughtered, costing taxpayers £90m in compensation payments.

The Guardian’s estimates of the cost of the cull, based on the proposals put forward by the government in the consultation launched in July, suggest over eight years farmers will pay £56m for surveying, culling and coordination and taxpayers will pay at least £36m for licencing and monitoring, a total of £92m. This does not include legal costs if the cull is challenged in the courts, or policing costs for any protests attracted by the culling trials. The total is likely to dwarf the £20m of government money available for vaccination research over the next five years.

Guardian estimates of the maximum number of badgers killed a year were between 23,330 and 35,000, meaning that over eight years of culling, between 70,000 and 105,000 badgers will die. About 50,000 are killed on the roads annually. The English badger population was estimated to be 190,000 in 1995 and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) announced on 5 December that a new survey in England and Wales will take place, at a cost of £870,000.

Badgers have been a protected species since the 1973 Badgers Act and are also protected under European legislation. Spelman accepted that a legal challenge to culling was inevitable: “We know realistically there will be a legal challenge.” Badger culling proposals in Wales have been delayed by successful legal challenges.

“A vaccination programme, if proven effective, offers considerable potential and a much more publicly acceptable way of tackling this issue,” said Marina Pacheco, chief executive of the Mammal Society. TheNational Trust began a vaccination trial in Devon in April, and in Gloucestershire, the Food and Environment Research Agency and the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust are running separate vaccination trials.

Spelman has said previously this is the solution everyone wants, but the government has cancelled five of the six vaccination trials set up by the previous government. The last government said an oral vaccine for badgers would be available by 2015. Spelman said on Wednesday that such a vaccine was “years away” and she “could not say with any certainty when it would be ready.”

Woodroffe said: “Defra ministers rejected badger vaccination as a major component of TB control policy, partly because it was thought that this would take several years to yield benefits. However, the [full] culling policy is only expected to be rolled out in 2013, three years after the coalition government took office, during which period benefits from vaccination could have started to be felt.”

David Williams, the chairman of the Badger Trust, said: “We are clearly very disappointed by this decision but now that it has been made, we will be studying it with our legal advisers to determine what action we shall take.”

Source : http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/14/badger-culling-2012?intcmp=122

One response

  1. [...] Wildlife Update : Let’s blame the badger, shall we… ? (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com) [...]

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