This is the text of a letter in the current edition of The Veterinary Record (18 September). It should be engraved on the heart of Mr Bradshaw, preferably without anaesthetic.
As a members of the newly formed Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, we are dismayed to read the recent (13th) report of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRACom) on bovine TB and DEFRA’s earlier consultation document, and to note an absence of any strategy or intention to address the uncontrolled and expanding badger population and the problem of endemic bovine TB in that species.
The recommendations of the EFRACom, which are wholly centred on control of the disease in cattle, unashamedly ignore the basic problem in badgers. We are particularly dismayed to note that our own association, the BVA, in its submission to DEFRA seems to encourage this politically motivated denial of the problem in badgers by stating that: Badger culling might not be an acceptable option as far as the general public is concerned and a badger management policy might be the preferred option. Culling could only be acceptable if it was proven beyond doubt that there was no alternative action to control TB in cattle.
Such a statement is a recipe for inaction and music to the ears of a paralysed Government which wants more and more consultation and no decision. Furthermore, it is a pity that, as a profession, we appear to speak with two voices, since the RCVS in its brief but cogently argued submission to the EFRACom conclude by hoping “That the select committee will encourage the Government to recognise that its present policy of waiting for the outcome of the culling trial is not sustainable.” So what do we get from the EFRACom? A statement to the effect that a decision about the culling of badgers must await the outcome of the randomised badger culling trials. An outcome which, as the RCVS again cogently argued in its submission, is likely to be inconclusive.
The badger is a species without natural predators. It is a classic example of a population out of control through lack of man-agement. The problem is twofold. First, since the badger was made a protected species in 1973 the population has been expanding until it is now serious agricultural pest in many parts of the country simply from weight of numbers and the damage it does by digging. Secondly a large proportion of badgers, up to 30 percent in some areas in the south west and West Midlands, are endemically infected with bovine TB, with many excreting vast numbcrs of infectious tubercle bacteria into the agricultural environment.
Badgers suffer a painful and pro-tracted death from TB. They also suffer from the adverse effects of overpopulation, namely loss of territory, fighting, wounding, road accidents, lack of food and ultimately starvation. The badger population, therefore, urgently needs to be brought under control for the sake of badgers themselves, cattle and cattle farmers, and other wildlife, for example ground nesting birds, not least because of the hazard from TB to man and other wild and domestic animals. Failure to control TB in badgers has inevitably resulted in spill over into other wildlife.
A nationwide strategy for the control of the badger population per se is therefore necessary. Over four years ago, two of us (L. N. T. and A. M.) advocated modification of the exisiting badger legislation to enable landowners and farmers or their nominees (and only them) to deal with their local problem by culling excessive numbers of badgers. This is not reactive culling to the incidence of bovine TB; it is proactive, ongoing population control. A more radical and comprehensive culling strategy is clearly needed in areas of epidemic bovine TB. But such a scheme as ours should limit spread to currently uninfected areas. Furthermore, it should be attractive to the Government since it requires little or no input from DEFRA and is unlikely to be perturbed by so-called badger protection groups.
Finally, we submit that it is the duty of the veterinary profession to pronounce on possible biological solutions, not to speculate on political realities.
W L Allen. L. H. Thomas.
Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management
c/o Smiths Cottage