Friday, December 17, 2004

WMD Badgers

Farmers are used to dealing with damage from badger excavations, in fact Defra put a figure in excess of £25 million for the last year they asked anyone. And having awarded the badger sett Grade 1 Listed status, it is very difficult to deal with. Tunnels run out into fields leaving 'tank traps' for tractors and overturning trailers. Buildings are undermined and we have been told of a sett built under a slurry tank, which collapsed on a Sunday afternoon running its contents down the hill to the sea.

This year, the scourge of tunnels and holes was visited on 3 (at least) non farm locations and all these have made the news. Saltdean, we have described on this site where badgers excavated the back gardens of 4 domestic properties. That situation was offered a novel solution by the then minister Eliot Morley. After using all available expertise and failing miserably to exclude them Mr. Morley used taxpayers' money as part of the Tb budget, to build them an artificial sett. We are still unable to tell if you if it worked - or not.

This summer the Telegraph reported desecration on a large scale, of burial mounds on Salisbury Plain caused by - badgers. These sites were SSI's of the highest rated historical interest and should have had the full protection of the law. If any person had dared to heave out piles of bones with a spade then no doubt the proverbial book would have been quite rightly thrown. But badgers? Hey that's different, and arms and legs, ribs and skulls were churned out into the daylight.

Reported in the Telegraph this week, a further £500,000 damage. This time the little poppets drained a canal.
"Engineers said that the animals digging in the canal banks had caused an estimated £500,000 of damage to the Llangollen Canal in north Wales. They had caused a 10 million gallon leak which swamped fields and stranded narrow boats near Bettisfield, a village on the border with England"

One may enquire whether these were Welsh badgers trying to escape a possible 'go it alone' Tb strategy, or English badgers trying to get in. Has Mr. Bradshaw finally bitten the bullet? Doubtful before an election.

Either way the canal - now presumably without water, "will remain closed until Easter while repairs are carried out".

If the gardens of Saltdean are anything to go by, don't hold your breath that any such 'repairs' will have any longterm effect whatsover. This time it may be Mr. Bradshaw who has to construct 'artificial setts' under the guise of research and employ the badger equivalent of Pickfords.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Invent a product - Create a need?

A package from our New Zealand correspondant inspired this post.

'Possomdown' is a product containing 40 percent fur of the brush tailed possom, the wildlife vector of bovine Tb in NZ. It is marketed with the purchaser then cosily identified as an ecological 'saviour' of forests, and native birds.

The sales literature reads:

"About 80 million of these nocturnal marsupials cause enormous ecological damage to our forests and native birds, including the national icon, the Kiwi. Possumdown knitware is the first ever commercial blend of possum fur and superfine merino wool. It is the said to be the first new blend of natural fibres in the world for oever 100 years and is unique to New Zealand"

"By purchasing this product, you are helping to save our forests from devastation"

How can this help our problems with meles meles - the badger?.

The badger is a nocturnal mammal, causing enormous ecological damage to the balance of the ecology where its numbers have reached saturation point. No hedgehogs, slow worms, ground nesting birds, bees or wild wasps. It causes damage to ancient monuments and domestic properties, farm buildings and forests. And it is a reservoir of m.bovis - tuberculosis which is not confined to badgers and cattle (the tested sentinels of the amount of disease around) but spills over into many other species - including human beings.

Unfortunately (for the badger) it has acquired 'cult' status, and its ancestral home a grade 1 listing.

Our correspondant suggests a sales pitch along NZ lines, to save the badger from a horrible debilitating death from Tb (which it will have spread around) and keep it healthy and useful. He points out that in his part of the UK, the healthiest badger he's seen in years is on the collecting box of the local Wildlife Trust. Ones he's found dead or nearly dead on his land, are in a dire state.

Sporrans made from British badger fur. (Fashion accessory for a safer wallet??)
Artists brushes made from British badger fur. (not Russian)
Shaving brushes made from British badger fur. (not Russian)

Why is it OK to import and use 'foreign' badger material, but not use home grown?
That's hypocrisy.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Cause and Effect?

Two stories this week.

Firstly a report from the Mammal Society which has been recording the expansion / decline of British mammal populations for the last 10 years.

Otters are up, dormice down, rabbits rampant and Badger numbers almost doubled.

The society produced its first report a decade ago, and has repeated the excercise using the information from 'professional conservationists' and 'amateur enthusiasts'. Mammal society chairman Michael Woods, gave the reason for the spectacular rise in population of species including the polecat which has enjoyed a spectacular renaisssance, to the lack of control by gamekeepers. "The number of gamekeepers has declined dramatically, and (some mammals) have responded by expanding their range" he told BBC News teams.

That should be music to the ears of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management, who are calling for just such control of dominant species, (badgers, foxes etc) for the benefit of ecology as a whole and the health and welfare of their own populations and others affected by their endemic diseases as well.
For more see

Farmlife magazine (November issue) told a very sad story of rare breed White Park cattle which had reacted to the Tb test and gone for slaughter.

Andrew Biggs is a Devon vet, with many cattle herds on his books. He is vice chairman of the BCVA (British Cattle Veterinary Association)

"Twenty years ago it was a rare event for a farm to have a Tb reactor and the farms were on a 3 year testing regime. Today if a farm has a clear test, it is a rare event and farms are on annual, and 60 day testing."

Mr. Biggs describes the frustration of farmers and the economic effect on their businesses, particularly a small farm dependent on selling younger stock for further finishing, which is then unable to do so. (Also farms which are dependent on selling breeding stock)

He continues: "Vaccination for cattle is still many years in the future. Unfortunately vaccination doesn't prevent animals excreting the bacteria and there are technical issues yet to be solved. It is likely that a vaccine for badgers could be available more quickly, but there are real problems with delivery and timing. Cubs are infected while still underground. So a key question is, whether badger vaccination would significantly reduce Tb in cattle".

"There are only 700 White Park cattle in the world. We look after a farm with 10 per cent of the breeding females . These animals are as bio secure as farm animals can be and are managed with great care. It is a huge disappointment that this herd contracted Tb and that rare animals have been slaughtered".

A"huge disappointment" . That's putting it mildly. We would say a disgrace. And a totally avoidable disgrace at that, and a reflection on all those who say they care, say they are horrified at the waste of good cattle and actually do - very little to alter the situation by using the knowledge they have in a more pro active way.

SW regional director of the NFU Anthony Gibson, was reported in the Western Morning News recently to be very enthusiastic about correspondance he'd received on soil minerals as a Tb cureall.

Nice try. When the Director of the Communicable Disease section of Public Health offers a Tb 'at risk' patient an (organic) carrot plus 2 selenium tablets and a muliti vit injection, we'll believe it.

Get a grip. Get real. Tb is a nasty infectious disease of many species. It is endemic in badgers and their increasing numbers means that it is spilling over into cattle (which we finding because they are tested for it), deer and domestic moggies (see The cat's out of the Bag).
Ultimately human beings are very much at risk.

Anyone for a multivit?