BADGER UPDATE: Pilot culls set to go ahead (!!)


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.

BADGERS : MPs vote 147 to 28 for abandoning cull entirely!

Some good news for a special British creature!  The Guardian reports

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.

The debate in the Commons on Thursday gave MPs the first opportunity to vote on the cull, which was intended to curb bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

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.”

David Heath, the Liberal MP for Somerton and Frome, who is also thefarming minister, made a forceful defence of the cull during the debate.

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].”

BADGER UPDATE : Badger cull to be delayed…?

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

Ministers are going “nowhere near far enough” in seeking alternatives to the imminent cull of badgers, according the scientist who led the landmark 10-year culling trial that remains the scientific benchmark for the policy. The Guardian reports

According to Prof John Bourne, stricter measures to stop cows spreading tuberculoisis to other cows are the only way to combat the disease effectively, as they had in the 1960s when TB was virtually eradicated in England. “Despite some improvements, the government is still going nowhere near far enough with biosecurity”, he said. “It is not badgers that spread the disease throughout the country; it is cattle”.

The most recent European commission inspection of England’s biosecurity uncovered a catalogue of failures , including missed targets in the rapid removal of infected cattle with TB and “weaknesses in disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels”.

Another eminent scientist and former government scientific adviser, Lord Robert May, pointed to vaccination as an important tool in tackling TB, which Welsh ministers have backed after abandoning their cull plans. “What is particularly irritating is that we have the vaccines in the pipeline, but the commitment to really go in and test them is really not there,” he said. The coalition cancelled five of the six trials of injectable badger vaccines on taking office.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “Culling is only one part of the government’s approach. We are also strengthening cattle controls to reduce the risk of disease spreading between cattle and increasing surveillance. Vaccination remains a long-term goal and we are investing £15.5m in developing workable vaccines over the next four years.”

Bovine tuberculosis is rising in England and resulted in 26,000 cattle being slaughtered in 2011 and compensation payments of £90m. Environment secretary Owen Paterson has insisted that culling badgers, which can carry TB, is a necessary measure and derided widespread opposition as “sad sentimentality”.

Bourne said: “The real reason for the cull is that politicians are desperate and I think farmers have been hoodwinked for years.”

He said key differences between his team’s methodology and the government’s cull, including a very different killing method and much longer killing period, were significant: “It could make TB a damn sight worse.”

Bourne was one of dozens of senior scientists who demanded the “mindless” government cull be halted in a letter to the Observer on Sunday and accused ministers of misusing the science. Ministers claimed the science has moved on since the decade-long trial ended in 2007. But Lord John Krebs, the architect of the trial, rejected this: “That is simply not true.”

Krebs said he was puzzled at the zeal of the National Farmers’ Union for the cull: “Their President Peter Kendall is going to have a lot of angry farmers on his hands in three-four years’ time, saying we have spent a lot of money on the cull but we still have TB.”

Kendall said: “No one, not the NFU, nor the farmers involved, wants to kill badgers. But TB must be stopped from making its relentless march across our countryside. Only by using all of the available tools in the box will we begin to get on top of this terrible disease.”

Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, said: “This is not a science-based policy, it is just a shot in the dark. The government must abandon the cull.”

BADGER UPDATE : Cull is ‘mindless’, say scientists

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.”