Thursday, May 24, 2007

The right to reply

One week ago, The Badger Trust issued an Opinion piece to Westcountry paper 'Western morning News'. In it, Trevor Lawson described how under the Freedom of Information Act, the Badger Trust had obtained from SVS details of farms under restriction in 'Beaworthy, and its surrounding parishes'. Armed with this information, our Trevor then decided to do a hatchet job on a single farmer in the South West Tb hotspot, who by 'managing' his badgers and using their selection of chronically sick ones, has, he says, kept approximately 30 farms in an undefined area of mid Devon clear of Tb for eight years. He is proud of his healthy vibrant badgers and no doubt if asked would have shown Mr. Lawson - had he deigned to ask. But no, Trevor got a figure from SVS and off he went, armed and dangerous.

Mr. Hill is wrong, said Trevor and his claim is "utter nonsense". But worse than that, those who give him credibility, are "willfully ignorant".

So what exactly did Trevor ask? Because to get the correct answer, it is always wise to understand the situation on the ground. Remember those 14 million animal movements, which were actually postcards? Data x four in some cases. We do.

As Mr. Hill points out in his Right to Reply published today, he is a 'countryman' not 'superman'. and the Beaworthy area of mid Devon, we are told, is huge. The thirty farms on which Mr. Hill's policy has worked so spectacularly form a small part of that very large whole. And of those 31 farms, 30 are clear. One on the edge has a single reactor. So, 99.9 percent of the cattle in Bryan's patch are clear of TB in area which Trevor has found, has 24 per cent farms under Tb restriction. Almost a quarter. Healthy badgers and healthy cattle. We would call that a success - but hey, what do we know?

And more importantly for the health and welfare of the badgers, they are a valued part of the ecology in this area. They are not 'eliminated', 'eradicated' or any other words of high profile emotive spin, which add little to the debate but keep the Badger Trust's collection boxes rattling. We had a paper delivered asking for £50,000 to 'help the cause'. Would that be to save badgers or jobs?

For the record Central Science Laboratory has identified behavioural differences between badgers excreting m. bovis and those uninfected. A parliamentary question regarding this 'atypical' behaviour of badgers in the 'super excreter category was asked in March 2004. The badgers which Mr. Hill describes so graphically as 'excluded, wandering over longer ranges and into farm buildings ', and is roundly castigated by Trevor Lawson for speaking 'more farmer nonsense'. That'd be about right, however, Mr. Bradshaw's answer - for which, as ever, we are most grateful, confirmed that:

"badgers excreting M. bovis are potential sources of infection for other badgers and cattle.The term 'super excreter' is used for research purposes to identify a sub-group of infected badgers from which M.Bovis has been isolated from several different clinical samples. These animals are thought to be in an advanced stage of disease progression and survival analyses have shown that they exhibit a higher rate of mortality than uninfected animals. (That means they die)

Research conducted by the Central Science Laboratory has identified behavioural differences between badgers excreting M bovis, and uninfected ones. Badgers excreting M.bovis had larger home ranges and were more likely to visit farm buildings.

23rd March 2004: Col 684W [ 158375]

We had hoped that members of the Badger Trust might support this type of 'management' of an endemically diseased population until such time as the scientists get off their backsides and ratchet PCR up the political agenda. Instead we see the night of the long knives.


Anonymous said...

What really grates in the Western Morning News article ( is the attempt to pass off random statistics as scientific proof that badger culling doesn’t work. Quite apart from the fact that the RBCT proves the opposite, everyone knows that quoting random statistics and claiming causation is dodgy (particularly when you don’t know the methodology). After all, ‘statistical associations involve more than selecting facts to fit a particular belief about what's going on in the field’. Oh hang on, who said that? That’s right, Mr Lawson himself (

Matthew said...

We were disappointed that in a piece as personally vindictive as the original 'Opinion', which was as you say chock full of disjointed bits and pieces hoovered up from various and any project - good bad or indifferent, the WMN did not see fit to give Mr. Hill the right to reply on the same day, on the same page.

This is the media at its worst. Accepting unedited, unvalidated and skewed pieces while hiding behind 'press release' or 'opinion' titles. It it lazy and unprofessional at best, libellous at worse. We were told of the March 16th piece but held it over, in the hope that Mr. Hill would be given the right to reply, which we are happy to put side by side..

Anonymous said...

So Mr Hill claims that there has been one reactor. But the SVS say that nearly a quarter of the farms are under TB restriction. Is this right? In which case, someone's got it wrong....? Unlikely that it's the SVS is it?

Matthew said...

You are missing the point. Both Defra and Mr. Hill are correct - depending on the question asked.

As he said, and we explained:
Beaworthy, ( Mr. Hill is often described as a "Beaworthy farmer") is a huge, vast post code area of mid Devon. It strtetches 22 miles in one direction, we're told. There are hundreds of cattle farms, of which 24 per cent (as per Trevor Lawson's question) were (at the time of his question) under Tb restriction.

Mr. Hill, in his Right to Reply no way claimed to have cleared that vast area totally of Tb. What he does say - and no-one, not SVS not Defra, no-one who knows the mid Devon Tb maps in government's Animal Health department, has ever contradicted Mr. Hill's assertion that in one patch of that area, thirty farms are clear of Tb and have remained so for eight years now.

There is a difference between the Beaworthy post code area,(which is most of mid Devon) and a much smaller Beaworthy parish holding number, I think. Which has led to Mr. Lawson's selectively vindictive hatchet job.

But what we find even more encouraging, is that if the area around has a quarter of the farms under restriction, is just how successful Mr. Hill's management strategy has been.

And as we have no wish for an 'elimination' of badgers, any more than the Badger Trust, we are grateful for Trevor's F.of I question which emphasises this.

In an area where a quarter of the cattle farms are under restriction, is Mr. Hill's oasis of healthy badgers and clean cattle.

Good news surely?