Badger cull update : what it all means

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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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

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