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)
Britain’s top animal disease scientists have launched a devastating attack on the government’s “mindless” badger cull, accusing ministers of failing to tell the truth and demanding the immediate abandonment of the killings. The Observer reports
The intervention by dozens of the nation’s most senior experts, in a letter in the Observer, comes as farmers prepare to begin the cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset, possibly as early as tomorrow. The government’s own chief scientist has refused to back the killings.
More than 30 eminent animal disease experts describe the cull as a “costly distraction” that risks making the problem of tuberculosis in cattle worse and that will cost far more than it saves.
TB in English cattle is an increasing problem, with the 26,000 infectedanimals slaughtered in 2011 costing £90m in compensation. Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, argues that more than a decade of research shows that culling badgers, which can carry bovine TB, could reduce infections by 12%-16% if undertaken intensively for many years and over large areas.
However, the scientists reject the idea of scientific support for the cull, which could wipe out 100,000 badgers, a third of the national population. The cull policy is “mindless”, according to Lord John Krebs, one of the UK’s most eminent scientists and the architect of the landmark 10-year culling trials that ended in 2007. “The scientific case is as clear as it can be: this cull is not the answer to TB in cattle. The government is cherry-picking bits of data to support its case.”
Another signatory, Lord Robert May, a former government chief scientist and president of the Royal Society, said: “It is very clear to me that the government’s policy does not make sense.” He added: “I have no sympathy with the decision. They are transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.”
The current government chief scientist, Professor Sir John Beddington, refused to back the cull. Asked if it could make a meaningful contribution to tackling TB in cattle, he said: “I continue to engage with Defra [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] on the evidence base concerning the development of bovine TB policy. I am content that the evidence base, including uncertainties and evidence gaps, has been communicated effectively to ministers.”
A Defra spokesman said: “The leading experts Defra brought together in April 2011 agreed that the evidence shows that culling done in the right way can reduce the spread of the disease to cattle, with benefits remaining for many years. The culling policy has been developed to maximise the benefits shown in previous trials, and to minimise the impact of badgers spreading disease beyond the cull area by including hard boundaries such as motorways and rivers.”
But scientists say the two-page document produced by the April meeting does not support the cull. Professor Rosie Woodroffe, of the Zoological Society of London, said: “The document simply does not endorse the policy.”
The cull has provoked the largest animal rights campaign since fox hunting in the 1990s, with some activists pledging to disrupt the nocturnal shootings by marksmen. More than 150,000 people have signed a government e-petition to stop the cull, entitling it to be considered for a debate in parliament. MPs say they are confident this will be granted when the decision is made on Tuesday.
The scientists, whose letter is also being sent to Paterson, claim scientific opinion in the UK is overwhelmingly against the cull. “I just don’t know anyone who is really informed who thinks this is a good idea,” said Professor John Bourne, who led the decade-long trial.
The scientists reject other statements from ministers and even David Cameron, who said last week: “I believe this is the right policy for healthy badgers as well as healthy cattle.”
Woodroffe pointed to research showing that just 14% of badgers in previous culls had TB and just one in a hundred had severe symptoms. “Furthermore, all the evidence shows that culling badgers increases the proportion of badgers that have TB,” she said.
In a separate development, nine leading vets have written an open letter, co-ordinated by the Humane Society, to Defra and Natural England. They warn that the shooting permitted by the cull licences “will inevitably result in the targeting of many pregnant sows and, if culling extends towards the end of the open season, could result in the shooting of lactating sows, leading to the starvation of dependent cubs”.
Naturalist and broadcaster Bill Oddie said: “I cannot believe they are going to be able to go out in pitch darkness – badgers are nocturnal – and shoot them. It is truly a horrific situation.”
- Badger cull ‘mindless’, say scientists (guardian.co.uk)
- Professors urge government badger cull rethink (itv.com)
- Scientists have condemned a plan to cull thousands of badgers in an attempt to fight bovine tuberculosis in the UK – @SkyNews (news.sky.com)
- Badger cull furore is distracting attention from the real problem | Ian Boyd and Nigel Gibbens (guardian.co.uk)
- Second badger cull licence issued (bbc.co.uk)
- WATCH: The brutal reality of badger culling (express.co.uk)
- Badger Update : Full-scale cull set to get government go-ahead (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Vaccine for bovine TB could prevent future badger culls (telegraph.co.uk)
- Professors urge badger cull rethink (standard.co.uk)
- Professors urge badger cull rethink (express.co.uk)
The bitter battle over the government’s plan to kill thousands of badgersreaches the high court on Monday, when the Badger Trust will tell a judicial review that the action is neither legal nor scientifically justified.
Caroline Spelman, the secretary of state for environment, believes the cull is necessary to curb the rising number of tuberculosis infections in cattle, which led farmers to slaughter 25,000 animals in 2010 alone.
Cull opponents are also attacking the “undue influence” of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in the decision to go ahead with the shooting ofbadgers across England. In a February letter to the Badger Trust, seen by the Guardian, officials at the environment department (Defra) argued that “advice from the NFU was so integral to the development of the cull policy” that it considered the NFU to be a part of the government in this instance, and would therefore not release its “internal” communications with the lobby group.
“The NFU has had an undue influence on the culling policy. My question is what do they have to hide?” said Jeff Hayden of the Badger Trust. Gwendolen Morgan, a solicitor at Bindmans, who are representing the trust, said: “Whilst the NFU clearly have expertise on farming, the fact remains that they are an external, unelected, unaccountable lobby organisation. Defra’s argument goes against accountability, transparency and good governance.”
Hayden said the trust had a “duty” to make the high court challenge. “We are challenging this on legal and science grounds – we are neither bunny huggers nor violent activists – and we really don’t think it will help reduce TB in cattle.”
A Defra spokesman said: “Bovine TB is a chronic and devastating disease and is taking a terrible toll on our farmers and rural communities. Nobody wants to cull badgers. But no country in the world where wildlifecarries TB has eradicated the disease in cattle without tackling it in wildlife too. Unless TB is effectively dealt with it will cost taxpayers around £1bn over the next 10 years.”
Martin Haworth, NFU director of policy, said: “The development of such a policy would not be possible without the farming industry working in partnership with government, becoming an integral part of the process.” He said it was “entirely appropriate” that NFU advice and input on this policy should be treated as internal communications.
The Guardian can also reveal that a new group set up on Thursday to advise the government on TB in cattle has no members with wildlife or conservation expertise, despite official statements that such experts would be included.
In court, the Badger Trust’s legal team will argue that the cull would break the 1992 law protecting badgers, which only allows culling to “prevent the spread of disease”. Morgan, who also worked on thesuccessful legal challenge against a badger cull in Wales, said the proposed badger cull will do the opposite, based on the findings of alandmark decade-long trial which showed that fleeing badgers carried TB to new areas. The trial found that, at best, TB incidence was reduced in the cull area by just 16% after nine years. “But even that does not take away the fact the cull will have spread the disease and some farmers may never see any benefit,” said Morgan. “It is totally contrary to the aims of the law.”
The trust’s lawyers will also argue that Spelman’s cost impact assessment was flawed as it was based on shooting free-running badgers, rather than the far more expensive method used in the trial of trapping the animals in cages first.
Morgan said: “The government says if new trials show free shooting is not working, they will switch to cage trapping and shooting. But you can’t legally authorise a decision on one basis, then proceed on a wholly different basis.” Spelman’s legal team is expected to reject these arguments.
Rosie Woodroffe, an ecologist at the Zoological Society of London and one of the team who led the decade-long trial, said: “The government can’t call the cull science-led.” Woodroffe, who has provided a witness statement for the Badger Trust, added: “The scientific evidence suggests the cull they are proposing is not likely to bring a substantial benefit for cattle farmers and runs the risk of making things worse. Even if it goes really well you are only chipping away at a tiny part of the problem.”
Opponents argue that a badger vaccination programme should replace a cull, as it has in Wales following legal challenges and the election of a new political administration. Vaccination is being tested the National Trust in Devon and in Gloucestershire by the Wildlife Trust. The previous Labour government said an oral badger vaccine would be ready by 2015, but the coalition cancelled five of the six vaccination trials set up and Spelman now says a useable vaccine is “years away”.
The freedom of information request made by the Badger Trust to Defra for their communications with the NFU remains subject to an internal review that is due to conclude the day after the judicial review ends on Tuesday. “The timing is most unfortunate,” said Morgan.
- Badger cull to halt rise of TB in cattle ‘will in fact spread the disease’ (independent.co.uk)
- Badger cull is a U-turn-in-waiting (guardian.co.uk)
- Badger cull plans to be reviewed (bbc.co.uk)
- Review ordered over badger cull (express.co.uk)
- UK News: Review ordered over badger cull (walesonline.co.uk)
- Three in court over badger baiting (thejournal.ie)
- Judicial review approved into badger culling (telegraph.co.uk)
- National News: Review ordered over badger cull (coventrytelegraph.net)
ALISTAIR Driver of The Farmers Guardian looks at what the badger cull will mean in practice, what the requirements are and why there’s a need for more consultation.
Why the need for more consultation?
Defra consuledt with stakeholders on the guidance to Natural England, which will issue badger cull licences. It is required to consult again because a number of changes have been made to the licence conditions from last autumn’s proposals.
The consultation will end in September and Defra Ministers will make a final decision in the autumn once the results have been analysed. ]
Defra Secretary Caroline Spelman was therefore only able she is ‘strongly minded’ to allow ‘controlled culling’. She stressed the consultation was only on the technicalities of the licence conditions, not on whether badger culling reduces bTB levels in cattle or should go ahead. The decision, she said, has been made ‘in principle’.
When will culling start? And finish?
June 1, 2012 is the earliest start date for the two pilot areas, the locations of which are yet to be decided. But the timing will depend on when the final decision is made, how long it takes Natural England to set up the licensing system and process the first applications, and whether the policy is challenged in the courts.
If monitoring shows controlled shooting to be humane and effective, Defra’s intention is to roll the policy out nationally in 2013. Defra is clear that culling will be limited to just the two pilot areas in the first year, although the industry would like the option of more areas being added if the monitoring shows the policy is working as intended.
There will be a maximum 10 new four-years licences issued per year. The policy will be reviewed after four years to determine whether more licences should be issued.
What are the requirements for a cull?
Key requirements include:
- The application must cover at least 150sq.km of land within yearly testing areas, although Defra estimates areas will average 350sq.km.
- At least 70 per cent of total land area must be accessible for culling, with at least 90 per cent accessible or within 200m of accessible land.
- Applicants must put in place ‘reasonable measures’ to mitigate risk to non-participating farmers and landowners in control area and 2km around it.
- Applicants must take reasonable measures to establish barriers and buffers around culling areas – such as rivers, coast, motorways and cattle free areas – to minimise badger perturbation.
- Culling will be done by cage trapping and shooting, and controlled shooting. Contractors will need to be licensed and required to complete a Government-approved training course to ‘Deer Stalking Level 1’ standard.
- Culling must be sustained for four years and co-ordinated on accessible land. It will be limited to six weeks in each area (outside closed seasons: Dec 1-May31 for trapping; Dec 1-May 31 for controlled shooting).
- Badger populations should be reduced by a minimum of 70 per cent.
How many badgers will be culled?
Defra estimates that between 1,000 and 1,500 badgers would be culled in a 150sq.km over four years. There will be a maximum of 40 areas licensed over four years, indicating in excess of 40,000 badgers could be culled. The national badger population is estimated to number 250,000 to 300,000.
Natural England will set maximum levels of badgers to culled in each area to ensure the survival of local populations, in line with the Bern Convention.
Will there be a role for vaccination?
Injectable vaccination could take place in combination with culling, for example, as a buffer where it might help reduce the risk to vulnerable livestock inside and around control areas, or as a ‘sole disease control measure’ elsewhere.
Mrs Spelman announced £20m investment in cattle and oral badger vaccine development but said there was ‘no usable vaccine’ of either type ‘on the horizon’.
“We are working hard to develop a cattle vaccine and an oral badger vaccine but a usable and approved cattle vaccine and oral badger vaccine are much further away than we thought and we can’t say with any certainty when they will be ready. We simply can’t afford to keep waiting,” she said.
How will farmers apply?
Farmers will come together to form limited companies, which will apply for four-year licences by submitting a Badger Control Plan to Natural England. The company will be responsible for administering the cull, including hiring and training contractors.
The NFU has already identified 33 areas for possible licence applications and has carried out preparatory work in them, including, in some cases, mapping land, and recruiting farmers.
How much will it cost?
Estimates vary massively. Defra estimates culling and vaccination will cost £1.4m over 350sq.km, while the NFU predicts it could be as low as £40,000-£50,000 over 150sq.km.
Farmers will be required to deposit funds to cover the total cost of the four-year cull, plus a contingency sum. The Government would reserve the right to access land and recover costs should farmers drop out.
What security measures will be taken?
The licence application process will include a 28-day ‘opportunity to comment’ for local residents and organisations.
But, while the area will be public knowledge, the names of those taking part and dates of culling are ‘unlikely to be made public’. Shooting will not be permitted near villages, towns and public rights of way.
Will there be new cattle controls?
Mrs Spelman said cattle controls ‘remain the cornerstone of efforts to control the disease’ and announced some new measures as part of the overall Bovine TB Eradication Programme for England, including:
- Reducing compensation to herds with ‘significantly overdue’ TB tests.
- Strengthening enforcement of TB surveillance and controls.
- Removing some pre-movement testing exemptions, such as for shows and the 30-day exemption.
Defra will also seek to ‘promote good biosecurity’ on farms and provide advice and support to farmers.
Mrs Spelman stressed that a number of measures had already been introduced recently, including:
- A significant expansion of areas on annual and two-yearly routine TB testing.
- Some higher risk Officially TB-Free (OTF) status suspended herds are now required to have two consecutive short interval tests (rather than one as before) before they can regain OTF status;
- Extended use of gamma testing;
- DNA tagging to prevent TB reactor fraud.
What of other farmed species?
Defra pledges to ‘heighten awareness’ of bTB spillover in other species, review policy on movement restrictions and encourage a more ‘risk-based approach’ to the disease within these sectors’.
Full Report by Professor John Bourne, chairman of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, to David Milliband in June 2007 : http://collections.europarchive.org/tna/20081027092120/http://www.defra.gov.uk/animalh/tb/isg/pdf/final_report.pdf
- Farmers’ call for badger cull to be approved by ministers (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger Update : Spelman fires starting gun on cull (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Humans v Nature : Farmers criticise badger cull delay (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger update : cull to prevent TB in cattle a mistake, says key scientist (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger cull to start in pilot areas (telegraph.co.uk)
- Badger Update : ‘Black day’ : Plans for cull pit farmers against animal rights activists (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger-culling: not such a black-and-white issue (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Government backs cull of badgers (mirror.co.uk)
- Badger Update : The Wildlife Trusts’ and Badger Trust views on the cull (environmentaleducationuk.wordpress.com)
- Badger cull announced by government to counter TB in cattle (mirror.co.uk)
The Government’s vision for protecting England’s environment over the next 50 years was criticised by environmental groups and rural campaigners, who said the plans were too vague and over-reliant on volunteers to repair the damage previously done to nature. The Independent reports
The Department for the Environment’s first natural environment white paper for twenty years said that a dozen large-scale conservation zones across the country, new local nature ambassadors and voluntary biodiversity “offsets” for businesses are needed to protect England’s environment.
Ministers also promised to give communities more power to protect local green spaces, cut bureaucracy which stops children from being taught outside, phase out the use of peatlands for horticulture and promote conservation volunteering.
But the coalition pledged just £7.5m towards the 12 new “nature improvement areas,” which it is hoped will restore connected habitats for wildlife.
Paul Wilkinson, head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts – which manage more than 2,000 nature reserves across the UK – said he was concerned that the paper did not describe how the 92 commitments within it would be achieved. “Although we hugely welcome this vision within this White Paper, it is disappointing that a commitment to enshrining the aspirations in statute has not been made,” he said.
Conservation groups including the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace were particularly concerned with the paper’s failure to address marine conservation, global food production and the impact of the government’s planning reforms on biodiversity issues.
Margaret Ounsley, head of public affairs at WWF, said: “The trouble is a lot of the report seems to be underpinned by the ideology of the Big Society, which is fine if we assume local communities will do the work. We have reservations about whether it will deliver in the end.”
Concern was voiced over the biodiversity “offsetting” mechanism recommended in the paper, in which developers will be encouraged to compensate for habitat destroyed in one area by improving it elsewhere. Greenpeace’s chief policy adviser, Ruth Davis, said: “How many badgers or hedgehogs do you save, to offset one dead otter? It’s madness.”
The government also announced they would set up an independent body that will report to the government’s economic affairs committee and advise ministers on environment issues. Paul de Zylva, head of Friends of the Earth England, said: “The economic valuation of nature has a role and it is certainly the new game in town, but the natural world is on the brink. It doesn’t need more clever accounting and arithmetic to know we need to do something about it – it needs the right regulation used in the right way.”
Environment Minister Caroline Spelman said: “What I’d really like to see happening as a result of this White Paper is more children enjoying nature and continuing that interest into adulthood, so that they pass that passion for the environment down through the generations. That would be a legacy well worth leaving.