Badger Update : The Wildlife Trusts’ and Badger Trust views on the cull

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Bovine TB (bTB) costs the UK millions of pounds every year and The Wildlife Trusts recognise the hardship that it causes in the farming community. However, we believe that a badger cull is not the answer (Wildlife Trusts).

HIGH PROFILE SUPPORT

Dr. Brian May and the Save-Me campaign have offered to support Badger Trust in the fight to prove that culling badgers will not eradicate bovine TB. Brian said “I am very honoured to join in this battle with you. On the side of what is right!”.

http://www.save-me.org.uk/

FROM THE WILDLIFE TRUSTS’ NATIONAL WEBSITE ….

**19 July UPDATE**

The Wildlife Trusts today express disappointment at the Government’s decision to pursue yet more trials of badger culling, as The Wildlife Trusts do not see culling as the solution to the problem of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). Click here to read our press release issued 19 July 2011.

Badgers and bovine TB

The Wildlife Trusts are very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB (bTB) causes in the farming community and the need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease. Our work in providing advice to farmers across the UK means we recognise and value the crucial contribution that environmentally-friendly farming practices make to wildlife.

The Government will publish its policy on bovine TB control, following consultation in 2010 on a proposed badger cull in affected areas in England. A review of the scientific evidence regarding the eradication of bTB in Wales is expected to report to the Welsh Assembly Government in autumn 2011.

Badger culling could make the problem worse

We have concluded from the available scientific evidence that the Government’s proposals for badger culling in England would be unsuccessful in helping to control bTB. The science suggests that, if implemented, these proposals could make the bTB problem worse. This is due to the ‘perturbation effect’ from culling, causing badgers to range more widely and increasing the risks of disease transmission.

The Wildlife Trusts believe a number of different measures are needed to eradicate bovine TB. They should include:

Badger vaccination

To prevent disease transmission from badger to badger and from badger to cattle. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust is using an injectable badger vaccine on ten nature reserves in 2011. We also urge Defra to continue development of an oral badger vaccine.

Biosecurity

All possible measures should be pursued to prevent disease transmission between cattle on-farm. Not all the control measures recommended by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB have been implemented;

Cattle vaccination

Development of a cattle vaccine should be pursued as a matter of priority by Government as the most desirable and long-term solution to bovine TB.

How could a badger cull make the bovine TB problem worse?

Badgers typically live in social groups of four to seven animals with defined territorial boundaries. Culling disrupts the organisation of these social groups, causing surviving badgers to range more widely than normal and increasing the risks of disease transmission. This is known as the ‘perturbation effect’. The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB concluded in its final report (2007) that it was ‘unable to conceive of a system of culling, other than the systematic elimination, or virtual elimination, of badgers over very extensive areas, that would avoid the serious adverse consequences of perturbation’.

Badger peturbation effect diagramDownload our leaflet explaining the peturbation effect and the problems with using badger culling as a technique to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

What are the practical problems with the Government’s proposed badger cull?

In its consultation document, the Government identifies 12 criteria required for an effective licensed cull. These include culling for a period of at least four years and over a minimum of 70% of a land area no less than 150km squared.

The Wildlife Trusts do not believe that all these criteria can be met effectively and together. There are a number of practical problems with implementing, enforcing and monitoring a licensed cull by landowners eg participants in the cull might drop-out, through change in land ownership and tenancy. The final report of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle TB (2007) states that ‘culling badgers under license not only could fail to achieve a beneficial effect, but could increase the geographical spread of the disease, irrespective of whether licenses were issued to individual farmers or to groups.’

What alternative measures could be taken now?

Vaccination of badgers could form the central part of a short to medium term strategy to reduce bTB transmission from badgers to cattle. Studies have shown that vaccination is effective in significantly reducing the progression and severity of infection and that vaccinated badgers were significantly less likely to subsequently test positive for bTB. On-farm transmission from cattle to cattle and cattle to badger could also be reduced through effective testing, movement controls and other bio-security measures (e.g. badger-proof food stores and feeding areas). The Wildlife Trusts support the provision of advice, support and incentives for farmers and would like to see regulation implemented, where possible, to ensure that measures are followed.

How can we eradicate bovine TB?

The most desirable solution to the bTB problem is the development of a cattle vaccine. We welcome the statements in the consultation that a licensed cattle vaccine and a diagnostic test should be ready by the end of 2012, along with the proposed change to EU legislation to allow a cattle vaccine to be used by 2015. Achieving this long-term solution would be an effective, efficient and wildlife-friendly way of controlling the disease.

FROM THE BADGER TRUST http://www.badgertrust.org.uk/_Attachments/Resources/534_S4.pdf

BOVINE TUBERCULOSIS IN CATTLE AND BADGERS: Q AND A
FOR DECADES discussion and controversy has raged about bovine tuberculosis (bTB). For
the Badger Trust it has sidelined other major issues—notably persecution—because of the
insistence, led by farming unions that bTB will be solved only if badgers are slaughtered
(culled is the word they prefer to use). Unperturbed by conclusive scientific evidence, the
result of the near 10-year £50 million taxpayer-funded  research programme by the
Independent Scientific Group (the ISG) that killing large numbers of  badgers would have
no meaningful impact on the spread and control of this disease, they have continued to
call for widespread “targeted” action.  Badger Trust totally rejects this argument. But to
put the issue into some context here we answer some of the points most frequently
raised about bTB.
Q: What is bTB and how does it relate to the human version?
A: TB in cattle is a debilitating, highly infectious and progressive respiratory infection, very
similar to human TB, caused by the organism Mycobacterium Bovis (M. Bovis), which forms
lesions or “tubercules” (hence the name) most often in the lungs. Clinical signs of the
disease are rarely visible in the early stages so detection relies on routine screening using
the tuberculin “live test”. Before milk was pasteurised bovine TB in humans was common
and often fatal. Today it’s rare. The human form of TB is more usually caused by
Mycobacterium tuberculosis (M. tuberculosis).
Q: What does bTB do to cattle?
A: Grossly infected animals become emaciated, weak and lethargic and eventually die. But
in countries with established test-and-slaughter eradication policies this doesn’t happen
because the disease is detected in its relatively early stages. TB in warm-blooded mammals
is a world-wide problem. Cattle are the main hosts—hence the name, bovine TB—but the
disease affects many other mammals, from bison in Canada, to brush-tailed possum in New
Zealand, buffalo in southern Africa and white-tailed deer in the United States.
Q: How do cattle catch TB?
A: Principally from other cattle by breathing in bacilli expelled by infected animals as tiny
aerosol droplets. It may also be caught through contamination of feeding and watering sites
and from infected wildlife, including badgers and deer and possibly from other farmed
animals such as deer and camelids (llamas, alpacas etc). The risk of disease spread is
greatest in enclosed, poorly ventilated areas—notably over-wintering barns and sheds
where cattle spend months confined together—but any contact between cattle, at shows
and markets, for example, in livestock lorries or at single-fence farm boundaries where they
can come into contact with other cattle are other obvious transmission points. On its website Defra says: “Cattle-to-cattle transmission is a serious cause of disease
spread”. The Independent Scientific Group (ISG) in its final report describes cattle-to-cattle
transmission as very important in high incidence areas and “the main cause of disease
spread to new areas”.
That said it’s worth adding that despite years of research, transmission routes (for example
cattle to badger and badger to cattle) are still not properly understood.
Q: How do badgers catch TB?
A: From each other, from cattle (probably through infected urine and faeces) and possibly
from other infected farm animals and wildlife. Badgers spend most of their life below
ground sharing the same air space, tunnels and chambers with other badgers, but decades
of research at Woodchester Park (by what was the Central Science Laboratory, now part of
Fera, the Food and Environment Research Agency) has shown that infected badgers and TBfree badgers often share the same setts. This might be explained by acquired immunity in a
proportion of badgers or simply that badgers do not easily infect each other.
Q: So not all badgers are infected?
A: Far from it. Most badgers are healthy. The Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) which
form the basis of the ISG’s final report and recommendations showed that even in bTB
hotspots less than one in seven badgers were infected and when road-killed badgers from
seven hotspot counties were examined the figures were almost the same (15 per cent
infected).
Q: What does TB do to badgers?
A: The disease chiefly affects the lungs and kidneys. Infected animals lose weight and body
condition and experience breathing problems. Though debilitating, bTB in badgers is rarely
fatal. Generally, infected badgers do not show any signs of illness. Badgers suffering from
the advanced stages of bTB become severely emaciated and as disease carriers are then
described as excretors - this means they can potentially shed live bacilli. Levels of bTB in
badgers in hotspot areas jumped sharply immediately following the foot and mouth
outbreak in 2001-2002 when the routine bTB test and slaughter programme for cattle was
stopped. So there’s good evidence to suggest controlling bTB in cattle will reduce bTB levels
in badgers.
Q: Why is so much attention focused on badgers in the bTB debate and so little on other
wildlife, including deer?A: That’s really a question for Defra and farming interests to answer. Badger Trust has
always taken the view that the near obsession with the alleged role of badgers has
distracted attention away from more important research and cattle management issues. As
to the specific question: foxes, squirrels, rats and deer are among wildlife known to suffer
from TB. But in 2008 Defra said two research projects had concluded that except for two
species of deer the likelihood of other mammals (excluding badgers) being a significant
source of infection to cattle was extremely low. It’s worth noting that all six species of deer
in the UK suffer from TB.
Q: Why do so many farmers want to cull badgers?
A:  They argue that bTB won’t be beaten until all significant sources of the disease are
tackled and to them that means killing wildlife, notably badgers. The National Farmers’
Union, a key source of information for many farmers, has been especially aggressive in
calling for a cull of badgers. Everyone involved in the bTB debate, which has raged for
decades, accepts that the disease can have a devastating impact on farmers. That’s not the
issue. The debate is about the part played by badgers in spreading or maintaining TB in
cattle, and whether slaughtering badgers --“culling” is an inappropriate description—is
necessary to beat the disease. The Badger Trust has always argued that decisions must be
based not on anecdotal evidence, certainly not on prejudice and rumour, but on science.
The country invested the best part of £50 million in the culling trials conducted and analysed
by the ISG. Its final report recommended a series of cattle-based measures which it said
were likely to reverse the increasing trend in cattle disease incidence…and which in addition
might also reduce disease in badgers. Yes, the ISG did say that “…badgers do contribute
significantly to the disease in cattle” but it went on to say: “…it is unfortunate that
agricultural and veterinary leaders continue to believe, in spite of overwhelming scientific
evidence to the contrary, that the main approach to cattle TB control must involve some
form of badger population control.” Crucially in its summary findings and recommendations
the ISG said: ”Given its high costs and low benefits we therefore conclude that badger culling
is unlikely to contribute usefully to the control of cattle TB in Britain, and recommend that TB
control efforts focus on measures other than badger culling.”
Q: Farming Minister Jim Paice has said “there’s no country in the world that’s got rid of TB
without addressing the problem in wildlife”.
A: Let’s look at the facts. Here in the UK a bTB epidemic that began in the 1930s spiralled
out of control and by 1960 was still infecting 16,000 of the UK’s cattle. It was brought under
control and all but eradicated by the cattle-based controls. No badgers had been killed or
implicated.  Then in the last decades of the 20
th
century bTB began to increase again. The
reasons were not clear. Farming organisations blamed badgers. But in fact the increase
followed a marked relaxation of cattle testing, slaughter and movement controls introduced during the area-by-area eradication policy described above. The increase also coincided with
the intensification of dairy farms and the growing trend towards large herds and over
wintering them in sheds and barns. So to try to answer whether badgers were to blame the
Government set up the Randomised Badger Culling Trial overseen by the ISG in the late
1990s. Thousands of badgers were killed in this project and as reported above the ISG
concluded in 2007 that culling badgers would have no meaningful effect on the control of
bTB and that farmers should concentrate on improved cattle controls. In the two years 2009
and 2010, there has been a 15% reduction in bTB due to improved testing of cattle,
movement controls and improved cattle husbandry. This improvement has been achieved
without any badgers being killed.
Q: The farming Press reports that large numbers of diseased badgers are dying in agony and
that “culling” would end that misery and lead to healthy badgers living alongside healthy
cattle.
A: Pure fiction. It is just a bit of clumsy public relations to try to justify a “cull”. There’s
absolutely no evidence to support the claim that bTB is killing large numbers of badgers. As
we’ve already said, TB in badgers is rarely fatal.  Further, it is not possible to identify and kill
only diseased badgers. Nor is it possible to identify and take out “diseased setts”.  PCR
(Polymerase Chain Reaction), a technique based on DNA, has been discounted as a tool
which could do that. There are no other alternatives. A post mortem is required to reliably
diagnose bTB in badgers. So a “cull” would be non-selective. Mostly healthy, non-infected
badgers would die. How is that a route to “healthy badgers living alongside healthy cattle”?
Q: What about vaccination of badgers?
A: An injectable vaccine for badgers has been licensed for use and development works is
continuing to produce an oral bait vaccine.
Badger Trust now strongly believes that an injectable vaccine, and ultimately an oral
vaccine, provides a very positive way forward in the long-term control of this disease. The
“silver bullet” remains a cattle vaccine which will not only protect cattle from the disease
but will also allow the UK farming industry to export cattle to EU countries. A test is being
developed which will differentiate between a vaccinated cow and an infected cow. This
will require acceptance within the EU.
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