From British Ecological Society : The threat of bovine TB to cattle is still as great as ever, with the latest statistics release from Defra highlighting its continued presence. The use of badger culling to attempt to reduce the incidence of disease across the country was first announced in 2011, and was set to go ahead in autumn 2012. After difficulties with the policy, and the realisation that the originally calculated badger numbers were not accurate, however, the culls were postponed. Natural Englandreissued badger cull licences last month for Gloucestershire and Somerset and culls are now set to start from June. The policy has been seen as controversial since its inception.
A meeting of the Wildlife and Conservation all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Wednesday brought together proponents both ‘for’ and ‘against’ the cull for a lively debate. On one side were Adam Quinney (Vice President, National Farmers’ Union) and Sir Jim Paice MP (former Defra minister), and on the other, Simon King (President of the Wildlife Trusts) and Dr Brian May (founder of Save Me).
Sir Jim Paice started the debate by highlighting the prevalence of bTB in cattle across the UK, emphasising that this was a huge issue that has knock-on effects for the whole country. To tackle this problem, Defra has proposed a ‘toolbox’ of measures over the years, with badger culling only forming a part of this. Sir Jim Paice recognised that the long-term, well-designedRandomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) represents the best science available to use as a base for forming policy around a badger cull. Led by Lord Krebs, the trial lasted from 1997-2007, and was overseen by an Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on bTB. As outlined in a previous blog post, proactive culling (culling across all accessible land) was seen to reduce the incidence of bTB in cattle, but this was offset by perturbation – the increased movement of badgers to other areas after their social groups are disrupted. The trial showed a net benefit of a 16% reduction in bTB incidence through badger culling over a sustained nine year period. This figure, in addition to the knowledge that cases increase after culls have stopped led the ISG to conclude that “badger culling cannot meaningfully contribute to the control of cattle TB in Britain.”
Despite these strong recommendations from an experienced body of scientists, a badger cull was scheduled to go ahead. Using the RBCT as a base, Defra altered the methods to try to reduce costs and improve efficacy. In comparison to the RBCT, the pilot culls will be industry-led, not government-led; badgers will not be cage-trapped before shooting; a wider area will be used; and culling will only be carried out in areas surrounded by hard barriers to prevent perturbation.
Adam Quinney spoke of the wildlife policies present in every country with bTB, bringing up New Zealand as a good example. The differences between both the disease and policy in the England and New Zealand are quite marked, however. In NZ, possums act as TB reservoirs. Unlike badgers, these are an invasive species and are able to be culled or even eradicated from areas. In addition to spreading bTB, they also present threats to native wildlife, justifying their control. This is not the case with badgers in England, as it is a native species. Control of possums is also carried out across the whole country. In areas where this is relaxed, opportunistic infection has been shown to enter. This is similar to the perturbation effect seen in the RBCT, and presents a problem for the pilot badger culls set to go ahead in England.
Brian May spoke of the planned cull as an “impending tragedy”, reminding all that Lord Krebs himself has called the cull “a crazy scheme.” The flaws in the interpretation of the available scientific data and the process of science by Government and others were highlighted, including Sir David King’s (the Government Chief Scientific Adviser in 2007) report from the ISG review. Here, he concluded that “a programme for the removal of badgers could make a significant contribution to the control of cattle TB…provided removal takes places alongside an effective programme of cattle controls.” Brian May noted that this was condemned by Natureand was not subject to peer-review, but still accepted by Government as an authoritative document.
May reminded all that the pilot culls are not a scientific experiment, and therefore no meaningful conclusions about the methods of culling used can be drawn from the results. Many parameters have been altered, and no control area will be used for comparison. Sir Jim did recognise this, but did not seem concerned that the pilots would simply be an isolated exercise.
May also highlighted concerns about the estimates that have been made of the sizes of badger populations. These are needed to comply with the Bern Convention, as culling activities cannot render badgers locally extinct. They also allow the total percentage of badgers culled overall to be gauged. Estimates of population sizes over the past year have varied hugely, and the lack of accurate data led the culls to be postponed last autumn. A report to Natural England at the end of February used sett surveys and hair trapping to estimate badger numbers in the pilot areas. Population estimates (with 80% confidence levels) were 2657-4079 for Gloucestershire and 1972-2973 for Somerset. These are extremely wide-ranging, and do not lead to certainty that the recommended level of 70% of badgers will be killed in culls. As Donnelly and Woodroffe highlight in a correspondence in Nature, this uncertainty could mean that 100% of badgers could be potentially removed from an area.
Simon King started by quoting the ISG report, and went on to discuss the potential for other wildlife, such as deer, to become reservoirs of bTB if badgers are culled. He highlighted the need for stricter biosecurity measures between farms to help show the effectiveness of programmes of badger vaccination carried out by regional Wildlife Trusts. The complex epidemiology of the disease was noted, and research from Lion Aid highlighted the potential need for fine-scale molecular analysis of the bacterium.
The issue of cattle vaccination was brought up throughout the debate by both panellists and questions from Parliamentarians. Currently, European legislation restricts the use of vaccines against bTB on cattle, due to the inability to differentiate between infected and vaccinated cattle. There are also concerns that the currently available vaccine (BCG) would not confer full protection. Sir Jim Paice drew attention to a letter recently received by the Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, from EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, that outlined the EU’s timescales for developing a cattle vaccine for bTB. A ‘tentative timeline’ shows that an implemented vaccine is at least 10 years away, if long-term trials are initiated this year. All on the panel felt this provided a block to the management of the disease in the UK, and were keen to try and push this timetable forward.
The debate was a good forum for those on both sides of badger culling to present their views. Brian May’s comments on the evaluation and of and use of data from the pilot culls were especially pertinent and highlighted the lack of scientific rigour throughout this policy.
- Badger culls could help songbirds (telegraph.co.uk)
- Badger cull is necessary to stop them suffering, say vets (thetimes.co.uk)
- With 3 months to start of badger cull Gloucestershire could be pulled (wildlifenews.co.uk)
- Badger cull v vaccines in TB fight (bbc.co.uk)
- Badger flash mob targets Defra in protest against cull soundtracked by Brian May (independent.co.uk)
Bad news for badgers! Two pilot badger culls will go ahead this summer, in Gloucestershire and Somerset, the environment secretary Owen Patterson has announced. The Guardian reports
A third area in Dorset is also being prepared for a possible cull, should there be problems with either of the first two. Farmers conducting the cull will have to agree to kill at least 70% of the badger population in the affected areas.
The pilot culls, in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, were postponed amid fears they could not be carried out effectively in autumn last year.
Paterson, told the National Farmers’ Union conference in Birminghamthat bovine tuberculosis was “the biggest challenge facing us at the moment”. He said the disease – which led to the slaughter of 26,000 cattle in 2011 – had cost the taxpayer £500m in the last 10 years, and that this could rise to £1bn in the next decade if the disease went unchecked.
He said: “Bovine TB is spreading at an alarming rate and causing real devastation to our beef and dairy industry. The authorisation letters issued today confirming culling can proceed this summer in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset is an important step towards taking the action we need to tackle the spread of this disease in wildlife. I am determined that there are no further delays this year.”
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: “Despite overwhelming scientific, public and parliamentary opposition the government seems hell bent on pressing forward with their senseless plans to kill badgers. All the evidence shows that the answer to the problems of bovine TB in cattle does not lie in a cull that will be an ineffective, wasteful and potentially damaging to the welfare of both farm and wild animals.”
The authorisation letters, issued by the agency Natural England, mean that culling can go ahead from 1 June, with the pilot culls lasting six weeks and to be repeated annually for four years.
Paterson said that culling was only one element of the government’s attempts to tackle the disease. “We are using everything at our disposal to get to grips with TB, including new tougher controls on moving cattle, increased herd testing and working to get effective vaccines ready as soon as possible.” But a vaccine could take more than a decade to develop, he said.
Paterson’s commitment to the cull was warmly welcomed by farmers, but protesters gathered outside the conference building in Birmingham expressed their anger at the decision. Security was heavy as police kept them in a small area by the entrance. Their chants could be heard inside the conference centre, but not in the hall where Paterson was speaking.
Badgers have been blamed for helping to spread bovine TB, but there isdisagreement over whether a cull would cut the number of cattle affected. A scientific report for the last government cast doubt on culling as an effective control, and opponents say the “free shooting” of badgers would only cause them to stray further afield, potentially spreading the disease more widely. Campaigners against the cull are urging tighter controls on the movement of cattle around the country and other “biosecurity methods”, such as better fencing. But proponents of a cull point to countries that have carried them out, such as New Zealand, where a cull combined with other methods, including strict regulations on the movement of cattle, reduced the number of infected cattle and deer herds from 1,700 in the mid-1990s to fewer than 100 in 2011.
Mary Creagh, Labour’s shadow environment secretary, said the cull was likely to be expensive and ineffective. She said: “The government is pressing ahead with a badger cull despite 150,000 people signing a petition against it and scientists warning this is an untested and risky approach.” She said Defra‘s estimates showed the policing costs would be more than £4m for the two pilots.
Paterson also disappointed green campaigners concerned about bee health, by saying that any move to phase out neonicotinoid pesticides – identified as a key threat to bees – should be taken slowly. He told the conference: “We really need to find out what is happening about bees. I’m urging some delay on this. [Officials] are working flat out [on research into the pesticides]. There may be an economic impact if yields fall.”
Friends of the Earth’s senior nature campaigner Paul de Zylva said: “We agree that a science-led approach to pesticides is needed – and scientists warn of a link between neonicotinoid chemicals and bee decline.
“The UK government should support restrictions on these insecticides until the evidence shows they are not having a devastating impact on our bees and other vital pollinators.
- Badger culls will go ahead in summer, says Government (itv.com)
- Controversial badger cull given the go-ahead despite outrage from animal welfare groups (express.co.uk)
- Pilot badger culls to go ahead (bbc.co.uk)
- Badger cull goes ahead but it will cost £4m (telegraph.co.uk)
- Britain to cull badgers to save cattle (skynews.com.au)
- 5,000 badgers to be killed as minister announces pilot culls this summer (telegraph.co.uk)
Was 2012 the year a apocolptic movie became reality? Was this year the ABC of disaster – Ash dieback, badgers, Sandy….? The Guardian reviews the top news of environment, wildlife and conservation issues… Superstorm Sandy The storm on 29 October killed more than 125 people after making landfall in America, paralysing the lower half of Manhattan, and obliterating entire neighbourhoods in New York and New Jersey. Sandy killed more than 70 on its path through the Caribbean. The storm exposed America’s weakness in the face of extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. Vital infrastructure was at risk of sea-level rise and storm surge. Its electrical grid was dangerously aging. The storm may have also reset the politics of climate change. Sandy’s brute force, in the form of a 13ft storm surge over Battery Park that shut down New York‘s stock exchange and subway system for days, forced climate change on to the political agenda after months of public silence. In Far Rockaway alone, hundreds of homes remained without heat, power, or light into mid-December, and were growing encrusted with mould. The spectacle of New Yorkers living in the dark and queueing for petrol was the backdrop of the 6 November elections. New York City’s mayor Michael Bloomberg drove the point home, when he endorsed Barack Obama specifically for his early efforts on climate change. The storm and Bloomberg’s endorsement raised expectations that Obama will use his second term to address climate change. The storm’s aftermath is already a political fixture. State governors, the White House, and Congress are locked in a three-way fight about clean-up costs. The White House has asked Congress for $60bn in recovery costs – so far, Republicans in Congress are balking at the bill. Meanwhile, New York City and other local authorities have embarked on new studies on how to protect their citizens from sea-level rise and storm surges, such as Sandy. Drought Corn plants in a drought-stricken farm field near Evansville, Indiana. Photograph: John Sommers/Reuters The worst drought in decades continues to expand across America – long after the summer’s blistering heat waves wiped out much of the corn and soybean crops in the country’s farm belt. Some economists now expect the drought could outstrip Sandy as America’s costliest extreme weather event of 2012, costing up to $100bn in lost crops with a knock-on effect on the livestock and farm equipment industries, and rural communities. The US Department of Agriculture is expected to release its estimate of the cost of the drought in February 2013. By December, about 62% of the American mainland continued under drought, with conditions intensifying across the heart of the country. The hot dry summer wiped out up to three-quarters of the crop in corn and soybean growing areas of the mid-west. The short crop put pressure on local food prices, including staples such as milk and meat, as well as on the global food supply. There is little sign of immediate relief. Mid-western states have yet to see snow this year, which means there is still no moisture to replenish the soil ahead of the 2013 growing season. Water levels in the Mississippi have dropped towards record lows, which could force a shutdown of the vital waterway, paralysing the transport of grain, coal and other commodities. Meanwhile, the drought worsened in Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Fully 100% of Kansas was now under drought, the US Drought Monitorreported this month. After the corn and soybean failures, the continued drought now threatens another important staple: wheat. Of the new winter wheat crop planted in the autumn, 63% is in states under drought conditions, the US Department of Agriculture said. That suggests another hard year ahead, much to the farmers’ dismay. “I hope 2012 is the drought year that I tell my grandkids about,” said Jack McCormick who raises beef cattle and grain on a farm in Illinois about an hours’ drive south of St Louis. His grandfather, also a farmer, always talked about the 1954 drought, how the crops melted in the summer heat. McCormick went on: “I hope this is the one, that it doesn’t get any worse than this, that we don’t repeat it next year, and that we don’t have a worse year in the future.” Heartland Institute The ultra-conservative Heartland Institute began 2012 as one of the most influential of the band of groups which work to discredit climate science, and oppose any curbs on industry. By May, the Chicago-based Heartland looked like it was collapsing after a self-inflicted wound. The group, known for its combative style, had on this occasion gone too far, using an image of the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski to advertise one of its regular conferences. The billboard went up only briefly at one Chicago expressway, with a headline beside Kaczynski reading: “I still believe in global warming. Do you?” Within days, Heartland was losing corporate donors and – perhaps more damaging – conservative allies. Virtually the entire Washington DC office, which had been focused on the insurance industry and not climate change, decamped to form a new entity. The spin-off, called R Street, promised in a statement: “There is one thing that will certainly change from ending our association with Heartland: R Street will not promote climate change skepticism.” The departure capped a turbulent few months for Heartland, after the group was the target of a sting by a noted water researcher Peter Gleick. Gleick posed as a board member to persuade Heartland to release confidential financial materials and strategic plans – which he promptly passed on to reporters. The documents, which detailed a plan to indoctrinate school children against climate science, brought notoriety to Heartland. They also revealed that Heartland for years had been punching above its weight. Heartland took in only $4.6m in 2011, according to the leaked documents. Cash infusions from the fossil fuel industry, including the oil billionaire Koch brothers, had tapered off or stopped over the years. Instead, Heartland owed its survival to a single anonymous donor who was the source of about half of its funds. Gleick came under sustained attack from Heartland for his deception, and from some fellow scientists, for his conduct. The scientist apologised for lying to Heartland, and took a leave of absence, but was later allowed to return to his job at the Pacific Institute.
Floods and droughts The UK began 2012 with far too little rain and ended it with far too much. March was the driestfor more than half a century and led to drought warnings and hosepipe bans across much of England. The Guardian revealed that more than half of water companies were not required to reduce their leakages by a single drop before 2015, despite the worst drought in 25 years. But drought rapidly turned to downpour, with the April to June period becoming the wettest on record and causing widespread flooding. This continued into July, when Croston in Lancashire rose to prominence. The river Yarrow flooded the pretty village, which was one of 293 places that had been in line for a new flood defence before the coalition government’s deep cuts to flood defence funding. The autumn brought further severe flooding and prompted a partial U-turn from David Cameron, who restored £120m of the lost funding, meaning 50 schemes could go ahead and help protect some from the harrowing experience. About 7,000 homes have been flooded, leaving insurers – who are still arguing with ministers about whether they can continue to protect flood-prone homes – with a £1bn bill. The government’s own scientists began 2012 by warning that flooding was greatest threat posed by climate change in the UK, as rain storms become more intense. The Environment Agency said one in six homes is vulnerable, but that every £1 invested in flood defences saves £8 in future damage. Badger cull Thousands of badgers across England received a last-minute stay of execution in October, after plans to cull them collapsed. The cull, aimed at curbing rising TB infections in cattle, inflamed passions on all sides. Eminent scientists dismissed the cull as “mindless” and campaigners mounted the biggest animal rights protest in a decade, ultimately earning a parliamentary debate in which the government was defeated. But environment secretary Owen Paterson and the National Farmers Union insisted a badger cull was essential in tackling bovine TB, which resulted in 26,000 cattle being slaughtered in 2011 at a cost to taxpayers of £90m. A European Commission report had found a catalogue of failures in English farmers’ biosecurity and the leader of a landmark 10-year badger culling trial said only better management of cattle could ultimately defeat bovine TB. Ministers subsequently promised to tighten farm rules. Campaigners, who had hampered the culling plans with legal action, promoted vaccination as the solution. But Paterson said immediate action was needed and vaccines were not ready, although the coalition had cancelled five of six badger vaccine trials. The culling, in two pilot areas in Gloucestershire and Somerset, was postponed after far more badgers were found than farmers expected, meaning there was not enough time left before winter to kill sufficient numbers. The controversy, like the badgers, is now lying low until the spring, but Paterson has pledged that culling will go ahead. Campaigners have pledged to do all they can to stop it. Bees For decades, the plummeting populations of bees and other pollinators have provoked serious concern: the busy insects’ work is essential to about a third of all the food we eat, including tomatoes, beans, apples and strawberries. The loss of flowery meadows, starving the bees, and the rise in parasites have long been blamed. But 2012 saw a third factor rise to prominence – neonicotinoid pesticides. In March, one of the world’s most prestigious peer-reviewed science journals published two landmark studies. One showed that bees consuming the pesticide suffered a catastrophic loss in the number of queens produced, while the other showed a doubling in “disappeared” bees – those that failed to return from food foraging trips. Furtherscientific evidence followed, but the UK government has yet to follow France, Germany, Italy and Slovenia in suspending some of the pesticides. The neonicotinoids are the most widely used insecticides in the world and are an industry worth billions of dollars a year. Serious questions are now being asked about the adequacy of Europe’s regulation of neonicotinoids which, for example, only considers the effects on honeybees, despite 90% of pollination being performed by different species, such as bumblebees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths. The regime is even being questioned by the European Commission’s own official advisers, which accepted in 2012 that current “simplistic” regulations contain “major weaknesses”. In 2013, we will see new reports from the UK parliament’s Environment Audit Committee, new scientific evidence delivered to the UK government and a new analysis from the European Commission’s advisers. Whether change follows remains to be seen.
Ice By June it was clear that Arctic sea ice was melting faster than usual. But ice scientists and environment groups were shocked when the 2007 record low extent was passed on 9 September, and a further 500,000sq km of ice was lost before it reached its lowest ever point of 3.41m sq km – 18% less than the previous record – on September 16. What worried scientists was that there had not been any major storms or oceanic events to break the ice up more than usual. The National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, along with other satellite ice monitoring organisations in Japan and Norway, attributed the record loss to rapid warming in the Arctic and a continuing loss of older, thicker ice. “We are now in uncharted territory,” said NSIDC director Mark Serreze. “While we’ve long known that as the planet warms up, changes would be seen first and be most pronounced in the Arctic, few of us were prepared for how rapidly the changes would actually occur.” The link between the loss of summer sea ice and persistent extreme weather such as droughts, heatwaves and flooding in the northern hemisphere was tentatively made by scientists, one of whom nowpredicted that the Arctic could lose almost all of its summer ice cover within four years. Ash dieback An ash tree infected with Chalara dieback near Framlingham, Suffolk. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters The most serious threat to the British landscape since the loss of millions of trees to Dutch elm disease in the 1960s was first identified in a nursery in Buckinghamshire in February. Chalara fraxinea, the fungus that causes ash trees to die back, was confirmed in the wild in October and by early Decemberalmost 300 cases had been confirmed. At a series of cabinet-level crisis meetings, government experts said that ash trees could not be vaccinated, that the airborne disease which spread on the spores of the fungus, and would be too expensive to treat chemically. They feared that it could advance by about 20 miles a year, infecting most of the Britain’s 90m ash trees within a decade. The government banned imports of ash seedlings from infected areas in Europe, but it is widely feared that many more clusters will be identified in the new year. More worryingly, tree experts warned that a tide of similar deadly plant diseases was now reaching Britain on millions of imported plants every year, and that drastic measures like long quarantine periods and passports for all plants will be needed. Population World population needs to be stabilised quickly and high consumption in rich countries rapidly reduced to avoid a downward spiral of economic and environmental ills, the Royal Society warned in April. In a gloomy but important report it said that at today’s rate of population increase, developing countries would have to build the equivalent of a city of a million people every five days from now to 2050. The study, which took 21 months to complete and was chaired by Nobel prize-winning biologist Sir John Sulston, urged that contraception be offered to all women who want it and consumption cut to reduce inequality. “The number of people living on the planet has never been higher, their levels of consumption are unprecedented and vast changes are taking place in the environment. We can choose to rebalance the use of resources to a more egalitarian pattern of consumption … or we can choose to do nothing and to drift into a downward spiral of economic and environmental ills leading to a more unequal and inhospitable future,” it said. But the sheer number of people on earth is not as important as their inequality and how much they consume, said Jules Pretty, one of the 22 who produced the report. “In material terms it will be necessary for most developed countries to abstain from certain sorts of consumption, such as CO2. We cannot conceive of a world that is going to be as unequal as it is now. We must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than a $1.25 a day out of absolute poverty. It’s critical to slow population growth in those countries which cannot keep up with services.”
Climate change Within five years, the US is likely to be the world’s biggest producer of oil, overtaking Saudi Arabia and other Opec countries,according to the International Energy Agency. That is because the massive expansion of shale gas in the US is being followed by an equally strong surge to recover shale oil deposits. The ramifications will be felt across geopolitics and industry, but one of the key areas for concern is climate change. While shale gas is credited with bringing down greenhouse gas emissions in the US, as it displaces coal for power generation, the use of coal in other parts of the world has increased as slower demand from the US has cut prices, so the overall effect has not been to make the dent needed in emissions globally. At the UN’s Doha climate talks in December, some of the effects of these shifts were apparent. China, the world’s biggest emitter and likely soon to be the biggest economy, is under increasing pressure to cut its emissions, alongside the US, which partially won its campaign to redraw the sharp divisions between developed and developing countries in the talks set in stone under the 1997 Kyoto protocol. The EU will also face tough choices. American manufacturing businesses are enjoying the effects of lower energy prices. But Europe’s shale gas resources are limited, and most of the US gas is likely to be used at home rather than exported. The EU will have to find other sources of cheap energy if it is to remain competitive and avoid a damaging over-dependence on imports. UK energy A “dash for gas” opened up deep fissures in the UK’s ruling coalition this year, pitting the right wing of the Conservative party against their junior partners, the Liberal Democrats. At stake is the energy future of the UK for decades to come, and the fate of hundreds of billions of pounds of infrastructural investment, as well as the future of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions targets. The row is set to continue, as key decisions on the forthcoming energy bill will not be made until February. Some backbench MPs are threatening a rebellion against the coalition’s bill, because it does not contain a commitment to largely decarbonise electricity generation by 2030, as the government’s Committee on Climate Change has advised. One side, led by the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, is opposed to new environmental regulations, sceptical of subsidies for renewable energy, and keen on gas, which they claim will lead to lower carbon and lower energy bills. However, that analysis is challenged by many Lib Dems, energy experts and green campaigners, who argue that an over-dependence on imported gas will raise bills and make climate change targets harder to meet, as gas-fired power stations built today will still be operating in 25 years. Another bone of contention is wind energy, which many Tories,particularly energy minister John Hayes, vociferously oppose. But the renewable energy industry says this is putting off investors who are mooting tens of billions of investment in windfarms and turbine factories. When government research earlier in the year found green jobs were one of the few bright spots in the economy, the finding was scarcely mentioned by ministers – showing the depth of the divisions over these key policies. Fish reforms Overfishing ought to be one of the more soluble of environmental problems, particularly in the developed world. Fishing less, using smaller vessels, abandoning destructive practices such as bottom trawling, and leaving fish stocks to recover are the policy measures required. But weare still failing to follow scientific advice, and continue to extract far more fish from the world’s seas than is sustainable. In the EU, an even more wasteful and destructive practice has become the norm – throwing healthy and edible fish back into the sea, dead. Fleets do this when they inadvertently catch more than their quota for a species, or land fish from species that have a low commercial value. That at least is set to change, if reforms passed this year by the European Commission are accepted by the European parliament. In the first major shake-up of the common fisheries policy for decades, discards are to be phased out and future fishing quotas will be set according to scientific advice on the “maximum sustainable yield”. The reforms were fiercely opposed by some in the fishing industry and some member states, who foresee a reduction in profits if they are not allowed to throw away lower value catches. However, public opinion seems strongly behind the discards ban, particularly in the UK where the celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has led the Fish Fight campaign against the practice. He is urging people to put pressure on their MEPs to accept the historic reforms early in 2013.
MPs have voted to abandon the controversial badger cull in England entirely, inflicting an embarrassing defeat on ministers who had already been forced to postpone the start of the killing until next summer.
The motion in parliament to stop the cull was passed by 147 votes to just 28.
However, the government is not legally bound by the vote and could still press on regardless.
The shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, said after the debate: “The government should now come clean with the public and farmers and declare that the cull will not now go ahead. It is not fair for farmers to be strung along, and the public have shown that they will not accept a badger cull.”
He said: “We cannot afford to shy away from tackling the rampant spread of TB throughout our cattle herds. None of [the opponents] – not the critics, not scientists, not politicians – have come up with a single workable alternative to the cull which would give us the positive impact we need right now.”
The debate had been granted after more than 150,000 people signed an official government e-petition – an innovation that had been launched by Heath.
The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, was present for 20 minutes of the five-hour debate. Several Labour MPs reported that he said “I can’t stand any more of this” as he walked out of the discussion.
Paterson said later: “I didn’t storm in or out anywhere. As I left I might have joked about the ill-informed comments of the other side.”
During the debate, Sir Jim Paice, who lost the farming minister’s post in September’s reshuffle, said that he and other ministers were under “special security measures due to threats from animal-rights extremists”.
He also commented on the shooting of free-running badgers. The killing method marked a key difference between the government’s proposals and the evidence arising from a landmark £50m, 10-year culling trial, in which 11,000 badgers were captured in cages then shot with pistols.
Paice said: “Nobody knows if controlled shooting will cull 70% of badgers [the minimum required] or be humane. There is no science, I readily admit that, because it has never been done.”
He said that the now-postponed pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire had to go ahead to “test free shooting”.
But other MPs quoted eminent scientists who argue that killing badgerskilling could well increase TB infections in cattle as infected animals flee the killing zone.
The lost vote means a problem for ministers if they decide to push on with the cull, as they risk being accused of ignoring the will of parliament.
On Wednesday, the attorney general, Dominic Grieve, said “parliament is sovereign” in the matter of whether the European court of human rights could force the UK to give prisoners the vote. Ministers would need to argue that parliament was not sovereign in the case of the badger cull, or possibly call another vote and whip MPs hard to ensure a victory.
Before the vote, Heath was asked by Tory MP Mark Pritchard: “Will ministers accept the will of this house?” Heath said they would “listen” to the views of the house.
Opponents of the cull welcomed the government defeat. Mark Jones at Humane Society International said: “The government has refused to listen to the majority of scientists, disease experts and the British people opposed to the cull. Surely now it must listen to the will of the parliament and abandon its policy for good … and stop wasting time and money on a politically motivated badger hunt.”
Gavin Grant, chief executive of the RSPB, said: “We stand ready to play a full part in working with farmers, land owners, the government and conservationists to move forward rapidly and constructively to tackle this dire disease in cattle and wildlife [using vaccination].”
- MPs reject badger cull pilots (bbc.co.uk)
- Who voted yesterday in the badger cull debate (retep.org)
- BADGER UPDATE : Badger cull to be delayed…? (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- BADGER UPDATE : Cull is ‘mindless’, say scientists (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger cull delayed as case not black and white, says minister (standard.co.uk)
- Cull postponed until 2013 (guardian.co.uk)
- Badger cull: MPs vote 147 to 28 for abandoning cull entirely (bfreenews.com)
- Britain puts brakes on badger culling plan (thehimalayantimes.com)
- Badger cull is shelved – to fury from farmers (telegraph.co.uk)
Environment secretary expected to announce decision amid concerns about the cost and effectiveness of the scheme. The Independent reports.
COMMENT : Is Government finally realising the badger cull is a mess – and simply wrong!?
The environment secretary, Owen Paterson, will announce on today (Tuesday) that the government is delaying its plan to cull thousands of badgers, probably until next year at the earliest, amid growing concern about the cost and effectiveness of the controversial scheme.
Paterson has been forced to return from an official trip abroad to oversee the U-turn, which represents another setback for the government. It is the latest in a string of embarrassments for No 10 which culminated in the resignation last week of the chief whip, Andrew Mitchell, for swearing at a police officer – prompting Conservative party grandee, Lord Tebbit, to lambast David Cameron’s operation as a “dog of a government”.
The decision will be welcomed by leading scientists who have expressed severe doubts about whether the cull will work and by animal rights and welfare activists who have continued protesting throughout the long process. The depth of public feeling was also highlighted by a 150,000 e-petition started by the musician Brian May.
The shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, welcomed the delay. She said: “We warned the government that this cull was bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife. The badger cull showed how out of touch the government is and this delay shows ministers are too weak and incompetent to deliver it.”
The go-ahead for the controversial badger cull was given by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) nearly a year ago. Farmers believe a cull is essential to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis which is leading to the slaughter of many of their cattle; opponents claim the main problem is transmission between cattle and that a badger cull could make matters worse because fleeing badgers spread the disease more widely.
Last year, 26,000 cattle were slaughtered and the disease cost taxpayers £90m, including compensation to farmers.
As the final preparations for the cull were made, a census showed there could be twice as many badgers as were originally thought. Farmers complained this would increase the cost of the cull and they could not afford to foot the bill if required to kill at least 70% – the proportion that scientists say must be achieved for the cull to succeed because escaping badgers would spread TB more widely and increase, not decrease, cattle infections.
Ministers will also have been aware of a tricky week ahead as the emotive issue is scheduled for its first full debate in the House of Commons on Thursday – with the strong chance of a government defeat – and a serious legal challenge has been mounted by the charity, the Badger Trust. It filed a “pre-action” letter over the weekend, the final step before seeking judicial review, citing costs, public safety around the unmarked cull zones and uncertainty over whether the cull would kill enough badgers to be effective.
After reports of tense negotiations over the weekend, Defra is thought to have decided that it could not afford such a risk of failure.
Announcing the delay is a blow to the government: ministers, led by the former environment secretary Caroline Spelman, have spent months insisting the cull could work in the face of bitter opposition.
The government and especially the prime minister’s team in Downing Street are already under fire for a series of U-turns, botched announcements and embarrassments.
Along with the drawn-out Mitchell saga, Cameron has created a mess over energy policy, plans for House of Lords reform have fallen apart, a major boundary change is in jeopardy and the chancellor, George Osborne, has had to drop a series of unpopular policies announced in his budget.
Paterson has strongly backed a badger cull since he replaced Spelman last month, but is likely to escape the worst of the embarrassment because he is new to the job and will be seen to have acted decisively when the problems emerged.
The planned cull had suffered a series of recent blows including the discovery that there were up to twice as many badgers in the culling zones as had been expected. That sharply increased the cost of hiring the marksmen required as they were to be paid a bounty per badger killed.
Whitehall sources told the Guardian that spiralling costs and other complications had left farmers wanting to pull out of the cull: “Paterson and No 10 had to persuade the National Farmers’ Union to continue with the cull to avoid another U-turn.”
On Friday, the NFU president, Peter Kendall, said: “We are working bloody hard to make sure this is deliverable. The latest numbers are making this more challenging.”
The government’s claim to a “science-led” policy was derided by Lord John Krebs, the architect of a landmark 10-year badger culling trial. He called it “mindless” and signed a letter with 31 other eminent scientists demanding the government reconsider its plan.
- BADGER CULL : Government accused of failing to properly seek alternatives (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Rising cost of badger cull fuels rumours of another U-turn (theweek.co.uk)
- Mixed messages on badger cull – what’s going on at Defra? (itv.com)
- Badger cull under threat from last-minute legal challenge (guardian.co.uk)
- Cost of badger cull may force U-turn (guardian.co.uk)
- Badger cull plans face major setback (guardian.co.uk)
- BADGER UPDATE : Cull is ‘mindless’, say scientists (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- BADGER UPDATE : Vital cull or heartless slaughter? The great debate (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger Update : Full-scale cull set to get government go-ahead (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Rescheduling of badger cull denied by Whitehall officials (independent.co.uk)