Category Archives: Badgers

Badger protest song by Brian May reaches charts

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From the Guardian : The Queen guitarist Brian May is heading for an unlikely hit after his protest song inspired by the badger cull reached the charts.

The song, Save the Badger, Badger, Badger, was recorded by May and the internet entertainer Weebl and features the vocals of Brian Blessed.

It has made the top 40 in the iTunes download chart and is the most popular track in the iTunes store top 10 rock chart.

Blessed, who played Prince Vultan in the 1980 film Flash Gordon, which featured a soundtrack by Queen, said: “Brian May is absolutely inspirational and together we will beat the dark forces and save the badgers.”

Around 5,000 of the animals are expected to be killed in controlled shootings over six weeks in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Supporters say the cull is needed to tackle bovine TB, which can be spread from infected badgers. Those against the cull, including the RSPCA and wildlife organisations, say it is ineffective and inhumane.

May said: “The British people are speaking in their many thousands, and yet the government is refusing to listen.

“We thank them for buying this track and giving the badgers a voice. Let’s get this to number one so [David] Cameron cannot avoid it. This cull is unscientific, unethical and won’t work.

“The government is set to murder 5,000 badgers and yet all the peer-reviewed scientific evidence shows that the answer to the problem of bovine TB in cattle does not lie in this slaughter and that this action will be ineffective and potentially damaging to the welfare of both farm animals and wildlife.

“It is shocking that the NFU and the government have been allowed to continue with a politically led policy with no basis in science against the will of the people.”

BADGER CULL : Activists set sights on ‘landed gentry’

The Independent reports on a class war! 

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John Yorke can trace his family’s roots back to the Normans. Like his ancestors, 74-year-old Mr Yorke farms the 3,000 acres of prime Gloucestershire agricultural land that forms the Forthampton Court estate. An Old Etonian and former High Sheriff of Herefordshire, Mr Yorke reluctantly finds himself and his lands at the epicentre of the Government’s highly controversial badger cull.

Opponents of the plan to use licensed marksmen to shoot badgers are focusing on the Yorkes. Killing the largely nocturnal mammals will help curb the spread of tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, some experts argue. Badgers, they say, spread the disease from beast to beast and herd to herd. Opponents dispute this and are intent on derailing a pilot cull that has been approved in Gloucestershire and is expected to start within the next 10 days. Their aim seems to be to intimidate Mr Yorke into withdrawing his support for the pilot, which, they say, is crucial to it going ahead.

Until now, Mr Yorke has refused to speak publicly about the cull. He remains reluctant to talk, but in his first comments, made to The Independent on Sunday, he threw his support wholeheartedly behind the scheme.

“I don’t wish to make any points through the newspaper, except to say that 38,000 cattle are killed every year because of bovine TB. If each one is 8ft long, nose to tail, they would stretch from Piccadilly Circus in London to Radcliffe Square in Oxford,” he said. “That represents 50 miles of dead bodies and so I have given my approval to the cull,” he said.

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.

“What kind of criticism are we going to get for targeting someone who has 3,000 acres, whose heritage is a part of who he is, someone who went to Eton and then Trinity College? Who has sympathy for someone like that?”

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.

There are around 700 saboteurs fighting the badger cull, 500 of whom are willing to trespass on property to disrupt the cull, according to Mr Tiernan. Some plan to patrol Forthampton, using LED flashing lights, loudhailers, vuvuzelas and flash cameras to scare away the badgers; many are prepared to put themselves between the badgers and the marksmen.

They are also keeping those involved in the cull under surveillance and have put marksmen’s car details online. Mr Tiernan denied that this amounted to intimidation. “If something happens, bad luck,” he said. “If you are involved in the badger cull, you are going to be exposed.”

Drew Pratten, 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.

The Yorkes take an active role in village life and are well liked locally, but views on the cull are mixed. Tim Danter, 41, bar manager at the Lower Lode Inn, near the estate, said: “I couldn’t say I was for or against it. The way it affects us is the police presence.” Michael Barrett, 77, said he was “sympathetic to farmers” but also wary of “unnecessary harm to the animal population”. He thought the “verdict was still out” in terms of the science.

But 88-year-old Fred Remmer, whose wife’s family has lived on the estate since 1841, was more resolute. Protesters are “pests” who “do not know what they are on about”, he said. His son, Fred, 63, a semi-retired deputy head, said something has to be done to stop cows being “decimated”.

The proposed cull has similarly split politicians, scientists, vets and the general public. Some argue that culling badgers, which are known to spread TB among cattle, will reduce the problem. Their opponents say this will make matters worse, as fleeing badgers spread the disease to new areas.

TB: The science behind the decisions

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From Farmers Guardian 2009

The head researcher 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. Joanne Pugh went to meet him.

 

More than three decades ago ecologists started monitoring badgers in an area of farm and parkland, near Stonehouse, Gloucestershire.

The vicinity was considered to be a ‘hotspot’ at a time when the incidence of bTB had been greatly reduced in the UK cattle population and prevalence in wildlife was reasonably unknown – but little did scientists know how important their work at Woodchester Park would become in later years, when the disease in both cattle and badgers exploded.

The tracking and testing of badgers has continued since the mid-1970s, making the park a completely unique scientific resource. The experts working there are regularly asked to provide Defra with information to aid bTB policy decisions.

Fera (the Food and Environment Research Agency, part of Defra) oversees Woodchester Park and the man running Fera’s wildlife and emerging diseases programme is Robbie McDonald.

Public perception

He is quick to point out he is not emotionally attached to the badgers he and his colleagues observe, saying the creators of Wind in the Willows and similar books and films ‘have a lot of answer for’ in terms of the general public’s perception of cuddly, friendly creatures.

“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.

Researchers have access to 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.

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’ 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.

Radio tracking

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.

Good practice

“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.

Woodchester Park

  • 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

Question & Answer : The badger cull

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From BBC News 

Farmers in two areas of England will be permitted to shoot badgers from 1 June, in an attempt to control TB in cattle.

Under the proposals, about 5,000 badgers will be culled in two pilot zones in the south west.

The government says the action is needed to help tackle bovine TB, a disease of cattle that has been steadily rising since the 1980s.

Campaigners against the cull say it will have no impact on bovine TB, and could lead to local populations of badgers being wiped out.

Q: What is taking place?

A: The trials are taking place in areas where there are a high number of TB infections in cattle to assess whether badgers can be culled humanely, safely and effectively.

The precise areas where badgers will be shot by trained marksmen have not been revealed.

The pilot areas

  • West Gloucestershire pilot area description:mainly in the county of Gloucestershire, predominantly within the council districts of the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury; and parts lie within the districts of Wychavon, Malvern Hills and the south east part of the county of Herefordshire. The area does not include the public forest estate in the Forest of Dean.
  • West Somerset pilot area description: located in the county of Somerset. The application area predominantly lies within the council district of West Somerset and part lies within the district of Taunton Deane.
  • Source: Natural England

One area is in West Somerset and the other is in and around West Gloucestershire.

A third area – Dorset – is being considered for a cull, but a licence is not yet in place.

The cull will aim to kill at least 70% of badgers across areas about the size of the Isle of Wight in each zone.

Q: When will the cull start?

A: Shooting badgers is not permitted between 1 February and 31 May, to protect the badger’s young. So the cull could take place anytime from 1 June onwards, depending on weather conditions, coverage of vegetation on the ground, and police advice.

Details of precisely when shooting will begin is not being revealed. The timetable is being set by the contractors behind the cull in each area, in collaboration with the police.

The cull is designed to run for six weeks, in order to kill at least 70% of badgers in each area.

Q: How will the success of the pilot culls be measured?

A: The pilots will not look at scientific data. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will review:

  • How humane the cull is. A government agency will carry out sample post mortems to see if the badgers have been shot humanely. The carcasses will not be tested for signs of TB infection.
  • How effective (in terms of badger removal) the two badger pilots are. In West Gloucestershire, a target has been set for killing between 2,856 and 2,932 badgers over the six-week period – around 70 badgers a day. The target in West Somerset is between 2,081 and 2,162 badgers – around 50 badgers a day.
  • How safe the two badger culling pilots are.

On the basis of this evidence, ministers will make a decision about whether or not to extend the pilots to other areas in England.

Q: What is the scientific evidence for and against a cull?

Randomised badger culling trial

  • A £50m study in England on whether culling badgers reduces bovine TB
  • Carried out between 1998 and 2007, with culling for 5 years, and follow-up studies for 4 years
  • 30 areas of the country selected, each 100 square km in size
  • 10 culled proactively, 10 reactively (in response to outbreaks), 10 not culled
  • Badgers culled through being caught in cages and then shot
  • Incidence of bovine TB measured on farms inside and outside study areas
  • Reactive culling suspended early after significant rise in infection
  • More than 11,000 badgers killed

A: Scientific evidence suggests sustained culls of badgers under controlled conditions could reduce TB in local cattle by 12-16% after four years of annual culls, and five years of follow-up, although it could be lower and it could be higher.

The randomised badger culling trial in England found that killing badgers disrupted their social groups, with surviving animals moving out to establish new groups, taking TB with them. This perturbation effect led to an increase in cases of bovine TB outside of the cull zone, although the impact diminished over time.

The pilot culls are attempting to use borders such as rivers and motorways to reduce the risk of badgers spreading TB to neighbouring areas, but this approach has not been fully tested.

The trial trapped badgers in cages for the cull, while the main method planned for Gloucestershire and Somerset is free shooting. Any deviation from methods used in the original trial will decrease or increase the expected impact on bovine TB, according to scientists.

Q: What is cattle TB?

A: Bovine tuberculosis (TB) is an infectious disease of cattle. It presents a serious problem for the cattle industry, causing financial and personal hardship for farmers.

The disease is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis), which can also infect and cause TB in badgers, deer and other mammals.

Cattle are regularly tested for TB and destroyed if they test positive.

Q: Why are badgers implicated in spreading TB?

A: Scientific evidence has shown that bovine TB can be transmitted from cattle to cattle; from badgers to cattle and cattle to badgers; and from badger to badger.

Badgers are thought to pass on the disease to cattle through their urine, faeces or through droplet infection, in the farmyard or in cattle pastures.

However, it is not clear how big a role badgers play in the spread of bovine TB since the cows can also pass the disease on to other members of the herd.

Data from the randomised badger culling trials found that 16% of badgers were infected.

According to one estimate, in areas where TB cattle infections are high, about 50% of infections in cattle are from badgers, although this figure is disputed.

Q: What are the costs of TB?

A: TB has cost the taxpayer in England £500m to control the disease in the last 10 years.

According to Defra, each pilot cull will cost about £100,000 a year, with these costs met by farmers who want badgers killed on their land.

This figure does not include policing costs, which have been estimated at £0.5m per area per year, according to a written answer to parliament.

The cost of a new survey of badger numbers in England and Walesis £871,000.

Q: What is happening in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

A: Scotland is classified as free of TB. The Welsh Assembly Government has chosen to vaccinate badgers, with trials underway in North Pembrokeshire.

Northern Ireland is conducting research into an eradication programme involving vaccination and selected culling of badgers with signs of TB infection.

The Republic of Ireland has been culling badgers since the 1980s.

Q: Can badgers or cows be vaccinated?

A: There is a vaccine for badgers – the BCG jab, which has been used by a number of wildlife and conservation bodies in England, including the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the National Trust.

Badger vaccination is also underway in Wales, and there are plans to introduce it in Northern Ireland.

Cattle can also be vaccinated with the BCG vaccine. Vaccination of cattle against TB is currently prohibited by EU legislation, mainly because BCG vaccination of cattle can interfere with the tuberculin skin test, the main diagnostic test for TB.

Vaccination is not effective in badgers or cattle that are infected with TB.

Badger cull pilot due to start in England

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“Thirty of this country’s leading scientists have given their opinion on this cull and they oppose it.

Sad indeed and pointless in my view, the cull goes ahead. BBC website reports 

Up to 5,094 badgers can be culled in the two pilot cull zones in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire

Culling of badgers as part of plans to tackle TB in cattle is set to get under way in the face of opposition.

Groups of farmers have been given licences to conduct culls under conditions which include having trained marksmen to shoot free-running badgers.

The cull can take place over any continuous six-week period until 1 February next year.

Opponents have said the cull will not make a “meaningful difference” in reducing TB levels in cattle.

‘Terrible price’

Gavin Grant, from the RSPCA, said: “Thirty of this country’s leading scientists have given their opinion on this cull and they oppose it.

“They oppose it because it doesn’t make a meaningful difference to bovine TB in cattle. You may get a minor improvement but at a terrible price of the slaughter of thousands of badgers.”

The government said the cull was necessary as part of efforts to stop spiralling numbers of outbreaks of TB in dairy and beef herds, which saw 28,000 cattle slaughtered in England last year.

Without action, infection and costs would continue to soar, officials said.

In west Gloucestershire the aim is to shoot up to 2,932 badgers in the first year of the cull.

In west Somerset, the target is 2,162 badgers, bringing the total number to 5,094 in this period.

This will equate to about 70 badgers being killed every night in west Gloucestershire and about 50 a night in west Somerset.

Farming minister David Heath said: “What we’re trying to see in these pilot culls is whether it can be done humanely, safely and efficiently.”

The farming minister has added that these culls were part of a wider strategy to improve bio-security and that vaccines – suggested by opponents of the cull – were not ready yet and could not be used effectively.

He added other countries such as Ireland and New Zealand had adopted “similar policies” successfully to deal with the issue.

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