An action plan agreed at a meeting of the government’s emergency response committee, Cobra, will focus on harnessing the help of the public to try to slow the spread of the disease, while searching for trees that have a genetic resistance to the disease that could provide stock for a new breeding programme.
More than 100,000 newly planted and nursery trees with the disease have already been destroyed and that will continue, Paterson said. But mature trees will not be burned, because they are important for other wildlife and may help identify resistant strains. Paterson also promised a “very, very radical” overhaul of his priorities at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with much more spent on tackling the rising number of exotic diseases affecting plants and trees, and less spent in other areas.
“It won’t be possible to eradicate this disease now that we have discovered it in mature trees in Great Britain,” said Paterson. “However, that does not necessarily mean the end of the British ash. If we can slow its spread and minimise its impact, we will gain time to find those trees with genetic resistance to the disease. Wildlife and countryside groups will play a major role in minimising the impact of the disease and so will the general public, especially when it comes to spotting other areas where the disease has taken hold.”
Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, said: “The plan is a vital part of stopping the spread of this disease. However, it is essential we do not divert resources away from other vital environmental services. Money must be found from central government coffers or we will simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
The number of sites identified with ash infected with the Chalara fraxineafungus has risen from 115 on Wednesday to 129 on Thursday, after what Paterson called an “unprecedented” nationwide survey involving around 500 people. The government has already banned the import of ash trees and movement of trees around the country.
Simon Pryor, natural environment director of the National Trust, said: “We welcome the action plan but we are surprised the government is saying that it will not be possible to eradicate the disease. Given our limited understanding of this disease in this country, we believe we should keep an open mind as to whether it may be possible to eradicate it, or at least contain it within the core area in the east.”
Prof Ian Boyd, the Defra’s chief scientific adviser, said: “By next season we could potentially have resistant forms of ash growing, though as very small saplings.” Paterson cautioned against false hope, but said: “The great thing is ash reproduces quite quickly. If we know a small number of trees survived the very intense epidemic in Denmark [where 90% were infected], there must be hope here.” He added: “What is regrettable is that I don’t have a pot of magic potion to go up in a helicopter and spray on infected trees. There is no chemical we know of that kills this fungus.”
Paterson criticised current European Union trade rules: “At the moment forestry and plant products are treated by the European Union as freely tradable products – is that really appropriate? We need to have a radical rethink.” He acknowledged the growing problem of new plant diseases arriving in the UK. “There are a number of very dangerous diseases out there which pose a real threat. I am prepared to consider radical proposals to protect the woodland environment and look forward to seeing Boyd’s interim proposals at the end of November.”
Ash dieback may have arrived in Britain after spores were blown on the wind from continental Europe, or via infected trees imported by the horticultural trade, or both. But Boyd said the “balance of probabilities is swinging towards it being wind-blown”, based on the pattern of known infections in the wild, which are clustered in the south-east of England. “We can do nothing about that,” he said, noting that wind-blown spores may extend the infected area by 20-30km a year.
Ministers have been criticised for being slow to act, after the Horticultural Trade Association asked government to ban ash imports in 2009. However, at that time the fungus causing ash dieback was thought to be already endemic in the UK, meaning no ban was possible. In 2010, scientists realised that the deadly fungus was in fact a similar but distinct species. The first British case of the disease was confirmed in February 2012 in a tree imported from the Netherlands to a nursery in Buckinghamshire. In 2011, trade unions at the Forestry commission warned that its ability to tackle tree diseases would be hit by the 25% cuts to the agency.
Map – ash tree dieback in the UK, 7 November
Paterson said he had met his predecessors as environment secretary, Caroline Spelman and Hilary Benn, this week. He also appeared to rule out financial aid to affected plant businesses: “It has never been policy to pay compensation on plant losses.”
- Ash action plan to be published (bbc.co.uk)
- Ash dieback will never be completely eradicated from UK’s trees (telegraph.co.uk)
- Most UK ash trees will be diseased within 10 years, ministers told (guardian.co.uk)
- Deadly ash tree ‘dieback’ disease now found in 115 sites and a further six counties (independent.co.uk)
- Ash dieback confirmed in Wales (bbc.co.uk)
- Hunt starts for resistant trees as officials admit that dieback fungus is unstoppable (thetimes.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)
The Independent on Sunday’s Simmy Richmond reviews the situation regarding the British badger and the ‘licence to cull’.
Small, furry, cuddly, no direct threat to humans … hell, they even creep around at night, when we’re generally not around, so it’s difficult to make the argument that the badger is a major pest (literally, the villain of this piece), and even harder to make the case that they must be mercilessly killed.
- Badger Update : Full-scale\cull set to get government go-ahead (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Statement on bovine TB and badger culling (ntpressoffice.wordpress.com)
- Badger latest : RSPCA calls for milk boycott as farmers prepare for cull (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Brian May and Team Badger step up war on ‘crazy’ cull (theweek.co.uk)
- First badger cull licence issued (bbc.co.uk)
- Crown Estate permits badger cull on its land (independent.co.uk)
- Badger cull: Brian May calls milk boycott as saboteurs prepare (theweek.co.uk)
- Full-scale badger cull set to get government go-ahead (guardian.co.uk)
- Badger cull is a shot in the dark (guardian.co.uk)
A badger cull will not solve the problem of bovine TB, notes Richard Mountford in The Observer today. It could even make it worse
Your comments are welcome here – or at NAEEUK on facebook.
A badger cull is not scientifically justifiable (‘On the hills and farms of England, friend and foe await the badger’s fate’, News, last week). The government’s own independent scientific group found that killing badgerswould not significantly reduce bovine TB and could even make it more prevalent because it causes the badgers to disperse to new areas.
However, the government (not for the first time) has been overly influenced by the National Farmers’ Union, which is why it supports a cull. One reason that the NFU is so keen on a badger cull is that it does not wish to accept that today’s agricultural practices are largely responsible for TB in cattle.
Stressed animals, selectively bred to grow at an unnatural rate, and living unnatural, unhealthy lives in factory farms, are vulnerable to disease. Illness then spreads rapidly within overcrowded intensive farms. Long-distance travel and livestock markets spread disease around the country, and live export spreads it even further. Badgers are not the problem; poor farming is.
We are deeply disappointed for the species we exist to protect! Pat Hayden, vice-chair of the Badger Trust. http://twitter.com/badgertrust
High court ruling opens the way for pilot culls in autumn 2012 to help eradicate bovine TB. Reports from The Guardian – and
The Badger Trust lost its judicial review of the government’s controversial plan to allow the killing of thousands of badgers on Thursday. The result means culls, aimed at reducing tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, could begin as early as September in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Pat Hayden, vice-chair of the trust, expressed deep disappointment but said: “How we feel is much less important than the impact on the species we exist to protect. We owe it to our members to do our utmost to protect badgers.” The trust is now considering an appeal.
“We are pleased with the judgment,” said a spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). “No one wants to cull badgers but in 2011 bovine TB led to the slaughter of over 26,000 cattle and to help eradicate the disease it needs to be tackled in badgers. We will continue to work with the farming industry so badger control in two pilot areas can start as soon as is practical.”
The judicial review considered only legal arguments, not scientific ones. In the course of the hearing, the government accepted that a landmark decade-long trial had shown that fleeing badgers carried TB to new areas. That trial found that, at best, TB incidence was reduced in the cull area by just 16% after nine years. The government also accepted the culls could cost farmers more than doing nothing.
David Williams, the chairman of the trust, said: “The Badger Trust emphatically did not ask the court to adjudicate on the science around culling. That remains exactly the same as it has been for a decade. Despite a constant stream of evidence that culling will make matters worse and growing consternation from many farmers, the coalition government intends to press ahead with its expensive and pointless policy.”
Martin Haworth, NFU director of policy, said: “Given the public interest in this issue, we always knew that there would be a legal challenge. We are pleased the judge has ruled that Defra’s approach is lawful. This policy is desperately needed to tackle what is a terrible and damaging disease that affects cattle and badgers and brings misery to the lives of many hard working farming families.”
In court, the Badger Trust’s legal team had argued that the cull would break the 1992 law protecting badgers, which only allows culling to “prevent the spread of disease”. The trust’s lawyers also argued that the cost-impact assessment of the environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, was flawed as it was based on shooting free-running badgers, rather than the far more expensive method used in the decade-long trial of trapping the animals in cages first. But Kate Grange, of the government legal team, told the court: “[Mr Justice Ouseley] has rejected the application in clear and robust terms.”
The trust now has seven days to seek leave for an appeal, a shorter period than the usual 21 days. Grange said: “Given where we are with the pilots, that is not unreasonable.”
The Badger Trust said in a statement: “The judgment demonstrates that the legislation in this area has not kept pace with developments in the understanding of how TB works.”
The RSPCA‘s David Bowles said: “We are bitterly disappointed. We believe culling is not a long-term, sustainable solution. It is not as if there aren’t alternatives to a cull. Vaccination could be more effective and sustainable.”
A badger vaccination programme is replacing a planned cull in Wales, following legal challenges and the election of a new political administration. Vaccination is being tested by the National Trust in Devonand by the Wildlife Trust in Gloucestershire. The previous Labour government said an oral badger vaccine would be ready by 2015. The coalition cancelled five of the six trials of injectable vaccines and Spelman says a useable oral vaccine is “years away”.
The government is also facing a complaint at the Council of Europe from the Humane Society International (HSI), which argues the badger cull contravenes the Bern Convention that protects wildlife. Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of HSI said: “This may now be the badgers’ last hope and we are determined to do everything we can to prevent this bloody and pointless slaughter.”
The Badger Trust, RSPCA, the League against Cruel Sports and other groups will hold public meetings in the next week to discuss the cull at Taunton and Tewkesbury, both towns in the two pilot areas.
• The original version of this story wrongly stated a pilot cull was planned for Devon, not Somerset.
- Badger cull ruled legal (guardian.co.uk)
- Thousands of badgers face slaughter after bid to prevent cull fails (independent.co.uk)
- Badger cull ruling due in high court (guardian.co.uk)
- Badger Trust loses bid to stop culling (independent.co.uk)
- Time running out for badgers in the culling fields of England…? (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger cull ‘not legal or scientific’, high court will hear… (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger Trust loses cull challenge (express.co.uk)
- Badger cull to halt rise of TB in cattle ‘will in fact spread the disease’ (independent.co.uk)
- Badger cull ruled legal (oddonion.com)