Sunday, May 28, 2017

Matt Ridley on badgers

While not as acerbic as Jeremy Clarkson - [link] in our posting below, Matt Ridley writing in the Times and on his own blog - (link) argues the case for controlling badger numbers.

He begins thus:
Badger culls work. They worked in Ireland, where bovine tuberculosis has been largely eliminated. Recent badger culls in Britain, though apparently designed by timid bureaucrats to fail and thereby frighten off politicians, have almost certainly been a success, resulting in a big drop in tuberculosis among cattle. True, the government has been slow to publish this officially — the data are working their way through the scientific journals — but the anecdotal evidence is now strong.
The article then points out that dozens of farms in the cull zones that had been closed down by TB for decades are now going clear. Which is true. But these will not show up under the data collection methods prescribed by Messrs. Donnelley and Co - [link] at Imperial College, as the herds under restriction within a short period of the cull beginning, were apparently excluded from their results.

 We would point out the obvious here, that if ALL herds in cull areas were under TB restriction at the time a cull of badgers began, and all subsequently went clear, then there would be no data to collect at all. Sometimes, simple squared really does equal stupid.

The article then describes the wider benefits to the ecology of controlling badger numbers, citing hedgehogs and bumble bees as species with the most to gain.

  " Human beings should not shirk their duty as the apex predator," says Ridley, whose article concludes:

 Having long got rid of the wolf and the lynx, people have unleashed middle-ranking “meso-predators” such as badgers and foxes to reach unnatural densities with devastating effects on other species. To restore an ecological balance, they need to control the numbers of these animals."

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Clarkson on badgers, hedgehogs and Prince Philip.

Hiding behind a paywall, an article by Jeremy Clarkson in the Sunday Times (May 7th) was a gem.

Commenting on the retirement at the age of 96 of H R H Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Jeremy settles on an idea to keep the Duke active. Not golf or bridge, he explains, "It needs to be something with a point."

Mr. Clarkson then describes the aftermath of floods in Yorkshire, which prompted a local septuagenarian to make their village 'hedgehog friendly' to encourage the surviving swimmers amongst them, back to Burton Fleming.
"Taking advice from a genial-looking 78-year-old hedgehog enthusiast in the next county, she has transformed the village, drilling holes in fences, installing little ladders in ponds and erecting feeding stations. Her work has been described as “the best thing that’s ever happened” to the community."
Because, says Mr. Clarkson, hedgehogs are like ice cream and David Attenborough and Rome. Everyone likes them. Especially a badger, which is a real menace.
"When he’s not marauding about the place, knocking over walls and killing cows with his arsenal of vindictive diseases, he likes to eat as many hedgehogs as possible.

One of the main prerequisites, in fact, for turning your village into a hedgehog-friendly zone like Burton Fleming is that the area is not infested with an army of Brian May’s flea-ridden mates.

Which brings me neatly back to Prince Philip. When he stops walking around with his hands behind his back later this year, he could very easily keep his mind fresh and his body active by joining a hedgehog reintroduction scheme near one of his castles.

Obviously, I can’t see him drilling holes in a fence or erecting a small ladder [for local hogs] Nor can I see him running a bring-and-buy stall in Sandringham’s village hall. However, I can see him doing his bit by pouring himself a nice glass of red and sitting at his bedroom window with a brace of Purdeys, waiting for a badger to heave into view."
More scientific stuff on the lack of hedgehogs where badgers predominate is here - [link], here - [link] and here - [link].

Sunday, May 07, 2017

A catch up conversation.

As time passes and more UK cattle reactors are piled up dead, we note that research into zTB, m.bovis and its screening tests is repeated around the world.

We are grateful for the input of a vet from New Zealand, a country which has, with farmer co operation and a great deal of government oversight, achieved TB free status in a relatively short time. In the UK, we are just beginning that laborious process with voluntary farmer involvement in small areas, their non-voluntary cash up front and no government oversight whatsoever.

Frequently we hear criticism of the skin test so questioned the NZ vet, where it used as a single jab (non comparitive) in the caudal fold.

Below is our conversation:
"Interesting re the skin test - I had an opinion that UK should use the caudal fold Bovine tuberculin only test (CFT) as the screening test - it is quicker, safer, easier and cheaper, cheaper, cheaper.

I thought the last factor would have helped or the safety issue. The other key thing with skin testing is that it is a herd test dependent on the testing being done correctly. I had one good vet say to me once if the CFT was used "at least the test would be done properly". The CFT is simple and so much easier to get right, quickly and safely (with good facilities - that should be enforced to receive subsidy payments [not a politically correct term but that's my opinion on what they are])".
Now it's popular for Defra to blame veterinary practice in testing, blame the product, the farmer or the man in the moon. In fact anything but a 'wildlife'interface. So we double checked with a UK vet, with acres of experience of testing - and results - over the last 40 years. This was his comment in reply to the comment above:
"We use the CCT because of serious problems with non specific infection in the past.

It worked well and actually eradicated TB from all the farms in the UK – but not all at once, sadly. Certainly, in the late 60s and early 70s, TB was at a very low level, even in Glos and Cornwall.

I feel that if badger controls (Protection of Badgers Act) had not come in in the 70s things might have been different. This was at a time when it (testing) was certainly not applied uniformly well by the vets carrying out the test, but this was well enough, it seems.

It is not the test that is the problem and slaughtering large numbers of probably uninfected cattle, which must happen with the Gamma ifn test, is a good way of damaging our farming industry. That’s all.

We know that removing the wildlife reservoir works. It is everything to do with the politics."
But on specificity, (false positives) New Zealand had problems too it seems and their vet commented that there is...:
" ... plenty of non-specificity in NZ as well. Many UK Vets have the misconception that there is not. We have Johne's, Avian TB, environmental mycobacteria. The CFT is a more sensitive test, but not as specific. BUT, in lower risk areas the gamma can be used as a secondary test (especially effective when using the most specific antigens).
The accuracy of any screening test is always a trade off between Sensitivity (finding disease or exposure to bacteria which may cause disease) and Specificity (false positives and dead victims)
 In the UK, we note  that  Specificity of 100 per cent is the prime aim in any test for badgers, with the Sensitivity (ability to find disease) dropping to mid 50 per cent or less in many screening tests, in favour of not harming the hair of one badger's head.

Conversely, our politicians seem hell bent to unleash any of a number of secondary tests on our cattle with the opposite effect while leaving a burgeoning wildlife reservoir to upspill.

 So what drove New Zealand to get a serious handle on their zTB problems? One word. Trade.
The NZ vet comments:
"After seeing TB control in NZ and TB "control" in the UK firsthand - with 14+ and 9+ years in the respective countries - TB is much simpler to control than many in the UK would have you believe given the political will and finance. The non-tariff trade barriers that are rearing their heads now for UK were what prompted NZ into a fully committed approach to TB control back in the 1990's."
We have warned of possible Trade implications - [link] before. In fact the European Union drew up such veterinary import / export documents to cover such eventualities in 2004 - [link] when Russia was rattling her sabres. And make no mistake, separating the country into small patches just wouldn't cut it.

The paperwork dictates a dedicated collection chain for all bovine products which must be TB free from birth to plate, thus another 'Beef Ban' is likely.

New Zealand began its eradication process with just farmer involvement but the process stalled and government took over. So what have we been offered in the UK?
Volunteer scattered groups of farmers, under the control of an organisation - [link] which in its right hand, offers farmers grants to provide 'Badger Gates' and in its left, oversees small culls, having made the protocol for such population control as difficult as possible.

Our NZ commentator had this to say:
"Dad's Army" is a good description of how politicians have allowed (legal) badger control in England. I believe that optimum wildlife control to achieve eradication needs to be centrally co-ordinated and controlled; probably funded by Government (whose ignorance and negligence have allowed the problem to escalate and spread geographically) and industry (who would be the predominant beneficiaries)"

We are often told that 'farmer co-operation' is vital for disease control. That is true, but that description should not be confused with farmers in suits, sitting behind the revolving doors of Defra's London headquarters, playing 'politics' with our industry.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


It has always puzzled us that Natural England - or whatever they call themselves this week - have control over the wildlife reservoir of zoonotic Tuberculosis in Great Britain. In almost every other country in the world it is 'Animal Health' or its equivalent, which is the Government department responsible for clearing up Grade 3 zoonotic pathogens in animals. Our department is concentrating one hundred per cent on cattle, as we explained in the previous posting.

 We spoke of our concerns as long ago as 2011, when this quango published its guidance - [link] for the proposed pilot badger culls. Natural England are also on record, off the record, as saying that the cull protocols would be as difficult as they could possibly make them.

This luke warm response to eradication of zTB in Great Britain, we discussed here - [link]

So apart from celebrating Easter, calving cattle, TB testing cattle and generally minding our own businesses, some of our contributors have also been wading through Natural England's new offers of cash for the preservation of the farmed Environment. Or their idea of what a farmed environment should look like.

Previously these grants have been in the form of hedge and bank management, buffer strips and beetle banks. But the new Mid Tier syllabus for 2017 - [link] , given NE's status as cull master, contains a rather contradictory option we thought. An add on option for capital grants, contains the intriguing title 'FG 14 - Badger Gate - [link] and a description of the hoops through which to jump to get £135 for constructing such a device within an agreed plan, and up to £200 annually thereafter to maintain each one.

Badger tracks such as the one through grassland on the right, have to be studied, photographed and mapped. Then a specially designed gate flap installed in any new fence line, with no sharp edges on which they may hurt themselves.

Annual maintenance is carried out, together with detailed records of the event.

Sadly it cannot be used in an existing fence line, only in new fences supported by Countryside Stewardship, and curiously, not into areas where wetland birds nest. Which is strange as the published mantra is that badger's diets are made up of earthworms and grubs.
But a trail of peanuts and a trap the other side, could be a useful addition, could it not? And possibly take this element of 'contradiction' out of Natural England's role of badger guardian.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

April 1st - new cattle meaures.

Following Consultations - [link] informing the cattle industry what it proposed to do, Defra introduced the first of its new proposals intended to kill more cattle, on All Fools Day 2017. We expect others will follow shortly.
 As expected, more extreme cattle measures pile on to extra restrictions on licensed movements into already restricted herds. Inconclusive reactors in particular, come in for special attention. And the use of gamma Ifn, a blood test which offers broad spectrum sensitivity to many bacteria other than m.bovis, is to be more widespread in the High Risk Area, and in cull areas after their first two years.

 Meanwhile incidence of zTuberculosis in the Edge area and the apparently Low risk area, increases.

 Details can be found on the Defra operated Tb hub - [link]
 Other than a few throw away mentions of 'bio-security' aimed at preventing cattle contact with infected badgers, we see no mention of any meaningful action on curbing the spread of zoonotic tuberculosis through this maintenance reservoir of disease whatsoever. This mind set of rubbish testing and a reservoir of disease in cattle, filters right down from the top end of Defra. And like their predecessors four decades, ago they are determined to stamp it out. But inevitably, as those predecessors found, - [link] unless the disease is eradicated in free ranging, over populated, super protected wildlife, an even bigger heap of dead cattle will make no difference to disease incidence at all.

But trust in and co operation with the Ministry responsible, already low, will disappear completely.

 This current Defra mindset is also contradicted by scientists working for Defra. Following a conference in 2014, reported by author Richard Gard in Vet. Practice - [link] the following observations were made by Dr. Noel Smith, whose painstaking work compiling a zTB genotype database was discussed:
Today, the various genotypes have a specific home-range. Some 95% of bTB breakdowns are in the home-range or within 50km of it and 97% of genotypes have a home-range. Dr Smith indicated that the spoligotype identified from a bovine slaughtered for bTB indicates whether the animal has been transferred out of the M. bovis home-range.
Dr Smith commented that:
“The observed geographical clustering of M. bovis genotypes is incompatible with a cattle-only transmission model for bTB in GB, or cattle-movement patterns. The geographical localisation of bTB home-range suggests a local, relatively static environmental (wildlife) reservoir of the bacterium”.
Perhaps Defra should talk to its own staff, or those of its more reliable agencies, more often.

Friday, March 24, 2017

New, old , new, old.

We have remarked before, that with TB non control, the more things appear to change, the more they remain the same. And so it seems with the introduction last August of a new farmer and veterinary package - [link] from APHA (Animal and Plant Health Agency) which includes a map of TB breakdowns surrounding the one to whom it was posted.

Introduced for new TB breakdowns in the High Risk and Edge area last August, this is far more detailed than the badger Activist's Road map - [link] produced a couple of years ago after a change in the Data Protection statutes. We showed it in the posting below, with an 'X' marks the spot on Mr. Durose's farm.
Today, Farmers Guardian - [link] have more on this story.

The building blocks of outbreaks in the area surrounding his farm over the last four years, were as shocking as they were indefensible. Mr. Durose's herd had been clear of TB and on annual testing for decades.

In the leaflet, the new mapping system is described thus:
d). TB breakdown map - included on the final page is a map showing the geographical location of the holding and geographical data that is held by RPA (i.e. an outline of owned and/or rented land that is registered against that CPH with RPA). [snip - explains helpfully, that short term grazing may not be included.]

This map also indicates the location of other recent breakdowns within the area surrounding the holding of interest, along with details of any genotype(s) isolated from them (if available). This information can give an indication of the incidence, weight of disease and identified M.bovis genotype(s) present within the localised area around the breakdown under consideration. This can help in considering the risk of locally acquired versus imported disease.
But how 'new' is this idea?

 In 1972 a local vet at the Truro office began combining computer datasets with his curiosity into the origins of local TB outbreaks. All badger post mortems were logged, together with those from cattle as they became available. Spoligotypes and locations were painstakingly listed to show the depressingly familiar outwards spread we see today.

These maps are now part of a collection in the National Archive - [link]  who describe them thus:

The datasets record the incidence of tuberculosis among cattle in Great Britain from 1977 to 2002; and record of incidence of tuberculosis among badgers, as potential carriers of disease, from 1972 to 1998. The system links data showing incidence of TB to computer-generated maps; the original name of the database was 'TB Maps & Stats'.
On seeing Apha's 'new idea' Dr. Roger Sainsbury, whose painstaking work over more than two decades was for Ministerial internal consumption only, remarked wryly:
I wonder how many farmers will be shocked to see how much ‘Big Brother’ knows about their activities?
and he also noted that:
We always used to ask questions to get this information. It occurs to me that they (Defra / APHA) must be very sure that their info is 100 per cent.

As we now live in a society thriving on litigation, we hope it is too. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Carnage - again.

Four years on, and from the same area of the north Midlands comes another harrowing tale of carnage on our dairy farms.

This was the story we told then, of the 2013 'de-population' - [link] for Louis and Gillian Bothwell..

And the latest herd to feel the carnage of Defra's hammer are Guernsey cattle belonging to Mr. Durose who farmed  not a million miles from the Bothwells, and built a business producing A2 milk and cheese. - [link]

BBC Midlands Today has the story, on a short video which can be viewed here

 Mr. Durose now has no milking cattle, no income and a wish list from our Ministry before he can be licensed to restock. Most of it dealing with keeping badgers out of the way of his stock.

By order of the Secretary of State.

And this is a screen grab of the interactive TB map of the area around Mr. Durose's farm. more than 20 outbreaks surrounded his farm in 2016.

None are resolved in 2017, but more are added.

Below is a screen grab of the Defra map from the video clip.

Every yellow square  is a cattle farm which has been under restriction in the last four years.

His farm is surrounded.

Twenty years of non-eradication of zoonotic tuberculosis from its wildlife maintenance reservoir has done really well, hasn't it?