Monday, January 26, 2004

Parliamentary Questions

26 Jan 2004: Column 1W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the total population of badgers in the UK; and in which areas the population is greatest. [148650]

Mr. Bradshaw: English Nature advises that there are likely to be in the region of 300,000 to 400,000 badgers in Great Britain. This figure is derived from a National Badger Survey which took place in the mid-1990's.

The survey also reported that there had been a 77 per cent. increase in badger numbers between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s. The increasing number of applications received by Defra for licences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 (up 50 per cent. since 1999) suggest that this trend is continuing.

Badgers densities are highest in the south-west of England, with high densities present throughout southern counties, the west midlands and Wales.

The Department has been funding the Winter Mammal Monitoring Project which is being carried out by the Mammal Society and the British Trust for Ornithology. This is a pilot study intended to develop a multi-species terrestrial mammal monitoring system. The project is still at the pilot stage—but is intended in the future to provide valuable data on the abundance of mammal species, including badgers. Early findings confirm the pattern of distribution report in the National Badger Survey.

Full details of the badger survey findings are published in: "Changes in the British badger population, 1988 to 1997" by G. Wilson, S. Harris and G. McLaren (1997), published by the People's Trust for Endangered Species (ISBN 1 85580 018 7).

Results from the Winter Mammal Monitoring Project are available online at: results.htm

26 Jan 2004: Column 2W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment she has made of whether wild deer are responsible for the spread of TB to cattle. [148655]

Mr. Bradshaw: In Great Britain, there is very limited evidence that deer have been responsible for transmitting tuberculosis to cattle. Wild deer in GB have generally been considered a sentinel or 'spill-over' host of infection in cattle and other wildlife, rather than the cause of it. Whether any wild deer populations (of any species) may constitute a reservoir of TB will depend upon the prevalence of TB, density and ecology of the hosts and the pathology that TB shows in those species.

Defra has funded a survey of wildlife in the Southwest of England by the Central Science Laboratory. The first phase established whether Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis—the causative organism for bovine tuberculosis) was present in a number of wild mammal species, including deer. M. bovis has been confirmed in five of the six established wild and feral species of deer in GB. The second phase of the survey (due to end March 2004) is to estimate prevalence of M. bovis in those species where it is found, by carrying out a more targeted and extensive sampling.

26 Jan 2004: Column 3W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what estimate she has made of the incidence of TB in cattle by 2008 if current measures are continued and there is no increase in activity by her Department; and what her projections are for costs of compensation for slaughter of cattle reactors in that period. [148657]

Mr. Bradshaw: Our latest assessment shows that bovine TB restrictions affected 5 per cent. of cattle herds (5,181 herds) in Great Britain at some point between January and November 2003. At any one point in time there are about 3 per cent. of herds under restriction.

The average annual increase in the number of animals slaughtered as a result of TB control measures between 1990 and 2001 was 20 per cent. It is too early to say whether this long-term trend has been altered by the interruption of the testing programme due to Foot and Mouth disease in 2001, and the priority testing of high-risk herds once the programme resumed.

In 2002/03 we paid out £31.1 million in TB compensation. With no new changes in policy, or disease dynamics, we could theoretically expect a 20 per cent. year on year increase in the compensation bill.

However, the TB programme will not remain static over the next four years. We recently consulted on proposals to rationalise compensation arrangements for all notifiable diseases including bovine TB and we will shortly be consulting on proposals for a new TB strategy and options for controlling the geographical spread of the disease in the short term. The key challenge for Government and the farming industry will be to work together to reduce the overall economic impact of bovine TB.

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