Friday, January 30, 2004

Parliamentary Questions

30 Jan 2004: Column 536W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what information she has collated on the estimated badger population of mainland continental Europe. [150897]

Mr. Bradshaw: The most recent assessment of the status of the badger (Meles meles) in Europe was published in 1997 1 .

The quality of information available from each country varied considerably and as a result it was not possible to accurately estimate the Continent's total badger population. In an earlier publication 2 , the same authors estimated that the European badger population was at least 1,220,000. At that time the British population was thought to be 250,000, which is approximately 20 per cent. of all European badgers.

1 Source:The conservation and management of the European badger (Meles meles) (1997). Nature and Environment No. 90; by H. I. Griffiths and D. H. Thomas; Council of Europe Publishing (ISBN: 92–871–3447–2).
2 Source:The status of the badger Meles meles (L.,1758) (Carnivora, Mustelidae) in Europe (1993) by H. I. Griffiths and D. H. Thomas; Mammal Review; 23, 17–58.

30 Jan 2004: Column 536W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what account is taken of routine sightings of badgers during daylight hours in calculating population size and density. [150945]

Mr. Bradshaw: Routine, or incidental, sightings are rarely suitable for estimating animal abundance, although such sightings can be useful for establishing the presence of a species in a locality—especially in the case of rare animals.

Badger sightings have been used to estimate densities, but only as part of planned surveys following a scientifically robust methodology (Heydon, M. J., Reynolds, J. C. and Short, M. J. (2000); Journal of Zoology; 251, 253–264). Furthermore, sighting-based surveys of badgers are carried out at night rather than during daylight hours, as this is when badgers are most likely to be observed above ground.

By far the most widely used method for estimating badger density is based on signs rather than sightings of badgers. During the national surveys carried out during the 1980s and 1990s badger numbers were extrapolated from the density of setts (taking account of their size and level of activity) and the average size of badger social groups.

Full details of the sett surveying methodology used in the last national badger survey are given 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.

30 Jan 2004: Column 536W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the expected date is of completion of the project designed to assess the impact of removing badgers from the ecosystem; what the budgeted cost of the project is; from which institution the project is being managed; and who the lead scientist is. [150474]

30 Jan 2004: Column 537W

Mr. Bradshaw: The expected date for completion of the project is the end of March 2005. The budgeted overall cost of the project is £1.48 million. The project is being managed by the head of the team at the Woodchester Park site of the Central Science Laboratory.

30 Jan 2004: Column 537W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will seek from the European Commission permission to compensate farmers who have suffered consequential losses as a result of the suspension of badger culling in reactive areas in the randomised badger culling trials. [150496]

Mr. Bradshaw: I do not plan to seek permission from the European Commission to pay compensation for consequential losses due the cessation of culling in reactive areas of the randomised badger culling trial. The decision to suspend the reactive culling element of the trial was taken because the preliminary results indicated that this action would reduce the risk of TB breakdowns.

30 Jan 2004: Column 537W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs if she will conduct investigations into whether perturbation in badger populations can be eliminated or substantially reduced by improved culling programme design and execution. [150499]

Mr. Bradshaw: Defra has funded research into perturbation of badger populations subject to culling. The results of the most recent work are yet to be published.

30 Jan 2004: Column 537W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she expects to publish data on the prevalence of TB in badgers in areas of high incidence in cattle herds. [150500]

Mr. Bradshaw: Details of the incidence of TB in badgers captured during operations of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial will be published once the trial is finished, which is scheduled to be mid-2006.

These data will give an indication of the prevalence of TB in the badger population in trial areas; one of the criteria for the selection of these areas was that there was a high level of incidence of TB in cattle herds.

30 Jan 2004: Column 537W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs based on the findings from post mortem examinations of badgers and other data, what her best estimate is of the number of TB-infected badgers existing in England and Wales; and what the best estimate was for that figure in 1994. [150507]

Mr. Bradshaw: It is not possible to give an accurate figure for the number of TB-infected badgers existing in England and Wales because of the difficulty of estimating the size of the badger population and the reliability of the prevalence data available.

The prevalence of TB in MAFF-taken badgers collected in England and Wales each year from 1975 to 1996 is given in Appendix 10 of the Krebs Report (PB 3423).

30 Jan 2004: Column 538W

The prevalence of TB in Road Traffic Accident badgers collected in England and Wales each year from 1972 to 1996 is given in Appendix 11 of the Krebs Report (PB 3423).

A copy of the Krebs Report is available in the Library of the House.

Data on the incidence of TB in badgers collected under the present Road Traffic Accident survey and the Randomised Badger Culling Trial should yield more accurate information, but these data will remain confidential until the trial is finished, which is scheduled to be mid-2006.

30 Jan 2004: Column 538W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what level of TB in badgers is sufficient for the disease to be considered as epidemic in the population; and how in this context the term endemic differs from the term epidemic. [150508]

Mr. Bradshaw: Bovine TB is endemic in badgers in the UK; i.e. it is constantly present in badgers within this geographical area. An epidemic occurs where the occurrence of an infection increases clearly beyond normal expectancy. There is currently no evidence to suggest that levels of bovine TB in badgers have increased substantially in recent years.

30 Jan 2004: Column 538W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what factors increase the susceptibility of (a) badgers and (b) cattle to disease following exposure to M. bovis bacilli. [150513]

Mr. Bradshaw: Factors that increase the susceptibility of cattle to disease following exposure to M. bovis include general health, nutritional status and immunological capability. It is likely that similar factors are important in determining the susceptibility of badgers although no studies have been carried out on this particular subject.

30 Jan 2004: Column 538W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many badger setts that have been sticked have subsequently been found to have been recolonised; and what action is taken in the event that such recolonisation is observed. [150544]

Mr. Bradshaw: Sticking of a Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) sett is a method used to indicate whether the sett is in active use. The team carrying out the post-cull survey will note the sign and use this information to inform their report. It may be difficult to identify whether a sett has been recolonised or whether there are badgers remaining from the original colony which were not captured during the trapping operation.

RBCT design requires culling operations to be repeated annually in Proactive areas to maintain badger numbers as low as possible. During such operations, traps are placed on active setts on premises consenting to culling and additionally at locations indicating the movement of badgers from any adjoining non-consent land.

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when she expects the Oxford University research on badger perturbation being carried out on behalf of her Department to be

30 Jan 2004: Column 539W

completed; when the report will be made available; who the lead scientist is; what the protocols are for this work; and what the budgeted cost is. [150546]

Mr. Bradshaw: It is expected that the Oxford University research on badger perturbation being carried out on behalf of the Department will be completed at the end of March 2004. It is likely that the final report will be available later this year. It is managed by a member of the university's Zoology Department. The project's protocol investigates whether the spatial and temporal scale of the perturbation processes, the pattern and speed of recolonisation and the relief of density-dependent inhibitions on reproduction and survival observed in the study area may be generalised. The budgeted overall cost for the project is £1.25 million.

30 Jan 2004: Column 539W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what statutory measures exist for the licensing and authorisation of badger translocations; under what conditions licences or authorisations are issued; which Department is responsible for implementing their provisions; and what the nature and level of supervisions are over persons licensed or otherwise authorised to carry out translocations. [150581]

Mr. Bradshaw: I refer the hon. Member to the answers given on 6 January 2004, Official Report, column 249W, and 20 January 2004, Official Report, column 1186W.

The specific conditions imposed on any licence are tailored to the particular circumstances of the operation to be undertaken.

Licences are issued by the appropriate statutory conservation agency or agricultural department (English Nature and Defra, respectively, in England) depending on the purpose of the proposed translocation. The licensing body is responsible for specifying the conditions and licensee is responsible for complying with them.

All licensed translocations are closely supervised by the issuing authority and by wildlife advisers with experience in licensed badger operations from the Department's National Wildlife Management Team.

30 Jan 2004: Column 539W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to her answer of 8 December 2003, Official Report, columns 214–15W, on bovine TB, and 15 December 2003, Official Report, column 631W, on badgers, what plans she has to revise guidelines to farmers on the height, positioning and protection of feed and water troughs following the findings of the Central Veterinary Laboratory on the climbing capabilities of badgers. [150594]

Mr. Bradshaw: Recent research has demonstrated that in some circumstances badgers are capable of reaching cattle feed troughs set at least 80 cm above the ground.

There are no plans to change the existing height guidelines, as trough heights must be set so that the cattle intended to feed from them can still reach the contents. However, investigation into trough design to deter access by badgers is being carried out.

30 Jan 2004: Column 540W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to her Answer of 8 December 2003, Official Report, column 218W on bovine TB, how many countries use the current skin sensitivity test as the primary diagnostic tool for bovine TB; and how many have reported problems with this test. [150492]

Mr. Bradshaw: There are a number of different types of skin test in use around the world. We do not hold comprehensive information on the number of countries using each of these tests nor the way in which these tests are interpreted.

All countries that have either eradicated, or have a programme to control, bovine tuberculosis use one or more forms of the skin test. The Government have close links with a number of countries in various stages of eradication and exchanges information and experiences on the use of the tests in the context of these programmes.

The Government are not aware of any country that has replaced the skin test as the primary test for bovine tuberculosis.

30 Jan 2004: Column 540W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether it is possible to determine the relative culpability of an owner of a herd in which a TB breakdown is recorded as to why animals become infected. [150502]

Mr. Bradshaw: In some cases, a TB breakdown may be attributable to a specific event, for example the purchase of an infected animal. In many cases, despite a veterinary investigation, it is not possible to determine the source of the infection with certainty. Defra does not attempt to determine relative culpability but has encouraged all farmers to take sensible precautions to reduce the risk to their cattle through the issue of the yellow "Better biosecurity" card and various booklets which contain guidance on disease prevention and control measures.

30 Jan 2004: Column 540W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) how many deer have been subject to post mortem examinations by her Department for the presence of TB during the least five years; and how many were found to be infected; [150514]

(2) what historical data are held by her Department on the prevalence of bovine TB in the British deer population; and what those data indicate as to the incidence of bovine TB in that population; [150516]

(3) what her estimate is of the population of wild deer in England and Wales; what the estimated prevalence is of bovine TB in that population; and what concentrations there are of the disease in the wild population. [150515]

Mr. Bradshaw: No statutory body routinely collects information on overall wild deer numbers in England and Wales. Stephen Harris et al. (1995) estimated the pre-breeding population sizes for deer in Great Britain (Table 1).

30 Jan 2004 : Column 541W

Table 1: Population of wild deer in England and Wales (estimated)
Species England Wales
Red deer 12,500 <50
Fallow deer 95,000 <1,000
Roe deer 150,000 50
Sika deer 2,500 0
Muntjac deer 40,000 <250
Chinese water deer 650 0
Total 300,650 <1,350

Source:Harris, S., Morris P., Wray S. and Yalden D. 1995. "A Review of British Mammals: Population Estimates and Conservation Status of British Mammals Other than Cetaceans". JNCC, Peterborough.

Table 2 shows the number of wild and farmed deer carcasses, investigated for TB between 1992 and 2002 and the number of samples where Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) was found following bacteriological culture.

Table 2: Deer samples tested for bovine TB Total number of deer tissue submissions investigated by Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) Number of confirmed TB cases in wild deer Number of confirmed TB cases farmed/park deer Total number of deer confirmed with TB
1992 50 0 1 1
1993 33 1 0 1
1994 21 1 0 1
1995 (1)— 3 0 3
1996 (2)17 11 0 11
1997 11 3 0 3
1998 37 6 1 7
1999 49 7 3 10
2000 39 3 6 9
2001 28 0 1 1
2002 54 3 10 13

(1) Data not available.
(2) Most accurate data currently available.

Defra has funded a survey of wildlife in the south-west 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.

30 Jan 2004: Column 541W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) pursuant to her Answer of 8 December 2003, Official Report, column 218W, on bovine TB, whether the occasions of severe interference in the operational Krebs triplets areas represented a significant interference; whether that level of interference affected the conduct and outcome of the trials; and what the effects were of that interference in terms of (a) the outcomes and (b) the costs involved; [150565]

(2) how many farms were affected during the Krebs trials by a partial clearance of the badger population which was subsequently stopped; how many partial clearances were undertaken after a delayed start; and how the incomplete clearances affected (a) the conduct of the trials and (b) their outcome. [150575]

30 Jan 2004: Column 542W

Mr. Bradshaw: There has been a level of illegal activity and interference with the operation of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial which is certainly undesirable and could be considered significant. The cost of replacing stolen, lost and damaged traps is estimated to be approximately £400,000. Other costs relate chiefly to the loss of staff time, which cannot be provided at proportionate cost.

At the time of cessation of the reactive strategy one premises was in the process of being trapped and the operation was concluded with only half the number of trapping nights completed. A number of other operations have been stopped early for a variety of reasons, for example bad weather or activity by animal activists. If an operation is not able to start as scheduled, it is extended to ensure that the standard period of two weeks' trapping is maintained.

Standard Operating Procedures take account of the possibility of interruption to trapping operations. Although interference varied across trial areas, the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB found that the increase in the incidence of TB in reactive culling areas when compared with control (no culling) areas was consistent across all triplets.

30 Jan 2004: Column 542W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the percentage increase was in the number of TB reactor herds reported in 2003 compared with 2002; and what factors are believed to be responsible for this increase. [150576]

Mr. Bradshaw: In 2003, up to the end of November, there had been 2,880 new cattle herd TB incidents in Great Britain. In the same period in 2002, there were 3,035 new TB herd incidents reported.

It is difficult to draw comparison between 2002 and 2003, because the testing effort in 2002 was very much increased to clear the backlog of testing after the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001.

30 Jan 2004: Column 542W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs how many herds required 60-day tuberculosis tests in 1988. [150586]

Mr. Bradshaw: In 1988, 351 herds required short-interval ('60-day') tests.

30 Jan 2004: Column 542W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the estimated infective dose is of TB bacilli (var bovis) in respect of cattle, by reference to infection portals; what the peak load is of bacilli that can be excreted in the urine of infected badgers; and what the predicted die-off rate is of the TB bacilli on grassland. [150591]

Mr. Bradshaw: Determination of the minimum infectious dose of Mycobacterium bovis in cattle is part of the TB pathogenesis research programme. Early indications are that the minimum infectious dose for cattle via the respiratory tract is relatively small; the lowest infectious dose recorded so far is 70 colony forming units CFU, when introduced by the intracheal route or 9,600 CPU by the intranasal route.

30 Jan 2004: Column 543W

Relatively high levels of M. bovis in the urine of badgers with renal TB have been identified by culture methods, so far bacterial loads of up to 300,000 colony forming units per millilitre of urine have been measured.

It is known that the survival of M. bovis on pasture is widely variable depending on climate and pasture type. In hot dry weather survival may be a day or less whereas in cool damp weather M. bovis may survive for several months and in some circumstances in excess of six months.

30 Jan 2004: Column 543W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs pursuant to her answer of 8 December 2003, Official Report, column 216W, on bovine TB, what other rapid assay techniques are (a) available and (b) in the course of development which have the potential to speed up the detection of M. bovis in suspected TB lesions submitted for laboratory analysis. [150597]

Mr. Bradshaw: Several liquid culture methods are commercially available for the isolation of bacteria of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex from clinical samples. These methods are mainly used in medical laboratories for the diagnosis of TB in humans. Although the liquid culture media can significantly shorten culture times, they have not been optimised for isolation of M. bovis. The growth requirements of M. bovis and M. tuberculosis are slightly different and culture media that work for one mycobacterium may not work so well for the other.

The Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) is evaluating the M. bovis recovery rates and ease of use of two of these liquid culture media compared with the traditional method used for cattle and badger tissues. Preliminary findings suggest that one of these systems might be adequate for rapid isolation of M. bovis from badger tissues. Additional experiments are under way to validate these findings and see if they can be extrapolated to cattle samples.

The VLA is also collaborating with the Imperial College in the design and optimisation of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay for the detection of M. bovis DMA in suspect TB lesions.

Although this is a priority area of research for Defra, it is unlikely that any of the new laboratory tests being evaluated can totally replace the traditional culture technique.

30 Jan 2004: Column 543W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether persons wishing or authorised to undertake the relocation of badgers are required (a) to carry out tests on those animals and (b) to await the results of any such tests before setting them free in their new locations. [150609]

Mr. Bradshaw: I refer the hon. Member to the answer given on 20 January 2004, Official Report, column 1186W. To briefly reiterate, all badgers relocated under the authority of a licence are tested three times for bovine tuberculosis and are only released if all three tests are negative. A similar approach is also applied to the relocation of rehabilitated badgers by animal hospitals, only in this case testing guidelines are not mandatory, but are set down in a voluntary code of practice.

30 Jan 2004: Column 544W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the conclusions were of Professor Solly Zuckerman's 1988 report to the Ministry of Agriculture; and what his recommendations were for future strategy to protect (a) badgers and (b) cattle. [150713]

Mr. Bradshaw: A copy of Professor Zuckerman's 1980 report, in which he describes in detail his conclusions and recommendations, is available in the House of Commons Library.

30 Jan 2004: Column 544W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what assessment has been made of the effects of the use of more discrete methods of badger culling on culling results. [150893]

Mr. Bradshaw: It is not possible to draw an accurate comparison between different methods of culling badgers because there are no reliable methods of estimating badger populations either before or after culling.

30 Jan 2004: Column 544W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what percentage cull of badgers was originally proposed for the Krebs trials; how the culling was to be achieved; and in what ways the protocol was amended in the final version. [150895]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Krebs report advised that in reactive areas all badgers, including lactating sows, should be removed from all social groups with territories including the breakdown farm. In the proactive areas there should be total removal of complete badger social groups from localised areas at high risk of breakdown, before herd breakdowns occurred. It also recommended that the use of stop-snaring should be explored as an alternative to trapping, and that an expert group should be established to oversee the detailed experimental design and operation of the trial.

The group which was established, the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, considered the possible use of snaring. It decided against this method of capture in favour of cage trapping and recorded the rationale for doing so in its first report (PB3881). That report also records its reasons for introducing a closed season for three months each year, when no trapping takes place.

30 Jan 2004: Column 544W

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs whether any behavioural patterns have been observed in badgers showing signs of TB which predispose them to closer contact with cattle. [150944]

Mr. Bradshaw: The Central Science Laboratory has just finished a research project at Woodchester Park to investigate the behavioural consequences of bovine TB infection in badgers. The findings of this study will be published in the scientific press shortly.

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