Sunday, June 17, 2007


Predictably, this week has seen the media attempt to prejudge the RBCT (dispersal trial) results. Last week the Sunday Times offered an enticing snippet which indicated a 'cull was ON'. This week, the opposite view from both the Observer ;
Proposals for a widespread cull of badgers to limit the spread of bovine tuberculosis have been ruled out by the government's Independent Scientific Group, which argues that culling cannot make any meaningful contribution.

Environment Secretary David Miliband is expected to accept the recommendations, and make it clear that culling will not be reintroduced into Britain. Culling was banned in 1998 after doubts about its effectiveness. Animal protection groups which have campaigned against the measure say that it is cruel and unnecessary. The National Farmers' Union, however, is expected to challenge the decision.

The ISG's findings, based on trials over a 10-year period, show that when badgers are disturbed by a cull the survivors move farther afield, spreading the disease to cattle and to other badgers. Bovine TB costs around £80million a year, in compensation paid to farmers whose herds have to be put under movement restrictions. It says farmers can do more to detect the disease early in cattle, by using a new blood test.

and an identical 'leak' can be found in the Telegraph

The £80 million by the way, is not pocketed by 'farmers' at all. Compulsory purchase payments make up but one third of the bTb budget - but it sounds good, and usually goes unchallenged. The Telegraph article also refers to Prof. Bourne as 'Sir John'.
A bit premature, we would say, but nevertheless a possibilty.

We had doubts - big ones - as the wisdom of hanging on to anything at all that came out the RBCT after its chaotic progress and in particular, the damning critique by one of its own managers. Nevertheless, the main farming unions grabbed John Bourne's assertion that a "300 block" offered the best hope of dealing with the disease in wldlife. It wasn't, as we have said before this so called 'edge effect' of the RBCT efforts which so devastated and disappointed us, it what what they failed to achieve in the middle of their playgrounds. And to extend the area, using the same tools, in our opinion, merely amplifies the chaos.

We will not pre judge this weeks' press releases. But to sum up:

Since 1997, when all badger culling in response to outbreaks of wildlife driven bTb was halted for the duration of this 'trial', at the direction not of parliament but the chairman of the group leading the RBCT, the number of herds under bTb restriction now approaches 7 per cent.
That total includes, as it always has, herds which had bought in no cattle and whose owners are feeling pretty sore at being accused of 'sins and ommissions' which they have not committed.
In response, the EU has a veterinary certificate already drafted for use to ban UK products across the community.
The Badger Trust has seen a parallel growth to bTb, in its full time employees.
The use of PCR is still barely scratching the surface of a disparate, demoralised and now re-branded State Veterinary Service,
and members of the badger groups still think that all farmers want to exterimnate all badgers.

No group has 'won' here. Tuberculosis has.

On-site rapid diagnosis, such as that given proper trials by Warwick , allowing any necessary euthanasia to be both humane and targeted, could defuse the whole, horrible, polarised "debate" between those who want to save their cattle and those who want to protect badgers. Both sides speak from the best of motives. But we have the technology to deal with bovine TB without a mass cull

And with that conclusion we agree, absolutely.


George said...

It is interesting that the "edge effect" which has been seen to be so important by the ISG was not particularly noted in any of the papers that documented the previous official removal trials in the UK and Ireland.

Matthew said...

Just goes to show George - it ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.

The paper to EFRAcom from one of the 'trial' managers, is a damning criticism of the methodology employed by the RBCT.

"It took us 4 years to learn how to trap badgers" - that presumably to avoid the 69% 'interference' to traps, logged by PQ's and the year out sabatical during FMD.

Anonymous said...

You refer to who quote "On-site rapid diagnosis, such as that given proper trials by Warwick"

If you follow your link, you'll find that PCR is not yet a useable tool. It is a new technique that "could become valuable way identifying badger setts harbour TB diseased infectious badgers"


As you seem keen to support the latest science, I presume you will by now have read the latest ISG report, and be supporting it's findings, or would you rather kill badgers and risk spreading TB?

Jo said...

Re the above comment: The way I read it is that PCR is a very usable tool, it's just not being used. Why not? Warwick University obviously got some very worrying results from it.

It's only mentioned in the ISG's report in a list of references. Following that reference takes you to a summary of a research project on DEFRA's website, 'Review and economic analysis of the use of PCR assays for M tuberculosis complex detection and incorporation into routine bovine TB testing (SE3118)'.

The link to the final report doesn't work.

I'm still working my way through the ISG report. It makes depressing reading. Time and again we have heard from scientists and vets that no amount of cattle control can work whilst bTB is still in an uncontrolled wild-life resevoir, and yet Bourne says 'Having shown that the main approach to cattle Tb control should be rigorously targeted to cattle...'.and further in the report:

Need for ‘ownership’ of the disease.

10.91 Many of our recommendations are consistent with the need for farmers to take ‘ownership’ of the disease problem in their cattle herds, rather than leaving it largely to Government to resolve.

I've searched and found no reference to closed herds. There is also no reference to badgers suffering, though it is implicit if one reads between the lines. If lesions don't mean suffering then why are we bothering to try and control bTB at all?

4.23 Not all badgers found to be infected with M. bovis by bacteriological culture had lesions indicative of TB disease (Table 4.11). Although M. bovis infection occurred less frequently in cubs than in adults, among infected animals the prevalence of lesions was higher for cubs (Jenkins et al., in review-a).

The acccompanying table shows that badgers with visible lesions are between 38.5% and 55.5%. What are the figures for VL's in culled cattle? Is it as much as 10%?

The other thing missing is a proper evaluation of the effects an uncontrolled predator is having on other wildlife. There is one section, in the reports 287 pages, headed 'Effects of badger culling on populations of other wildlife species'. No mention of skylarks or other ground nesting birds, but devastating for the hedgehog.

'4.15 In addition to its effects on badgers themselves, proactive culling in particular had impacts on other wildlife species. Numbers of foxes (Vulpes vulpes) increased in proactive areas, in comparison with survey-only areas and, perhaps as a result, numbers of hares (Lepus europaeus) declined (Trewby et al., in review). Before culling, hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) were rare in parts of RBCT areas where badgers were abundant (Young et al., 2006), and badger culling increased their numbers (G. Wilson, personal communication '.

The more I read this report the more depressed I am. Bourne knows that he is washing his hands of the problem in all real terms. In the recommendations and conclusions he says 'Disease control in high risk areas
24. Elimination of infection in high risk areas is unrealistic in anything other than the very long term; control measures should therefore be proportionate to avoid prolonged restrictions being imposed on farms (10.69 – 10.70).

Look at the sections mentioned

,Disease Control in High Risk Areas
10.69 It is important to acknowledge the persistent nature of infection in many farms in high risk areas and to recognise that elimination of infection from some of these areas is unrealistic in anything other than the very long term. This problem is a consequence both of a failure of testing to remove all infected cattle on some farms and, in some cases, reintroduction of infection from wildlife. Control measures adopted must be effective in driving down the incidence but be proportionate so as to allow farms, even though not conifrmed clear of infection, to continue trading.
10.70 A proportionate, pragmatic, approach to improved disease control in these areas, involving application of different measures dependent on the status of the breakdown farm, would therefore be applied. A key element of this approach would be to apply more rigorous testing but to reduce the durations of herd restriction. The overall objective, over a period of time, would be to reduce the level of infection by minimising between-herd spread and reducing the reservoir of infection within herds.

I think he must realise that whilst he ignores what he calls 'in some cases, reintroduction of infection from wildlife' the only way to reduce the reservoir of infection is to kill all the cattle.

I'm sorry to have gone on for so long.

Jo said...

I meant to say, with reference to reducing the reservoir of infection, that once all the cattle are killed the reservoir will be there, but invisible. Reintroduce the cattle and they will soon be reinfected.

Anonymous said...

Jo said...

Re the above comment: The way I read it is that PCR is a very usable tool, it's just not being used.

Jo, perhaps you need reading lessons!

Project SE3118: Review and economic analysis of the use of rapid methods for M. tuberculosis complex detection and identification in the bovine TB control programme.

"A number of potential rapid detection systems for MTB complex were reviewed. While some of these show great promise, for example, nanotechnology, they all require further development."

Jo said...

"If lesions don't mean suffering then why are we bothering to try and control bTB at all?"

It's nothing to do with suffering Jo.
International Trade
Movement restrictions
cattle slaughtered

Matthew said...

Re; PCR. Warwick had good results last year, and we understand they are replicating (validating?) the work any time soon.
Has computer modelling ever been 'validated'? Seems like an excuse for more research to us.
PCR is used around the world. This government was offered the technolgy on March 12th 2001, to target our FMD by the late Fred Brown. They declined in favour of carnage by computer, led by computer modellers, and not veterinary epidemiologists.
Nothing has changed amd Defra are still dragging their feet.

Anon. The ISG report was predictable. It tells us nothing we didn't know before.
And predictably it bottles out on taking action on infected wildlife, mainly on the grounds of 'cost'. Cost to whom it does not elucidate.

We have over time reported bTb spillover into cats, dogs, free range pigs and camelids on this site. Not from cattle, they are the sentinels of the amount of infection out there. Bourne also skates over the 'closed herds' which would spoil his theories.

What he does not say is that Sir John Krebs recommended a target of approx. 80% cull rate for this trial. The ISG achieved 30% (PQ's)
Krebs recommended gassing setts to avoid breaking up social groups. The ISG went for cage traps.
Have you actually read Paul Caruana's tales from the front line? We've told you before and we'll say it again, the last thing the RBCT did was to cull badgers.
They came, very occasionally - stayed 8 nights and then disappeared. Sometimes for good. Boundaries changed, farms were in - and then out of a triplet. Farms under restriction when the 'trial' started were not included, thus forming hotspots within a hotspot triplet. Crazy. It was chaos at the start, and predictably has ended in chaos.

The wildlife ecological survey for the RBCT was also a very strange beast. One graduate from Chris Cheeseman's 'badger heaven' was to arrive on the farm, once a year and stand on a red X. That the farm was 10 acres or 1000 acres made no difference. That was it. He stood for 4 minutes on his appointed spot (ours was 4 in the morning!) no more, no less and counted the noises or sightings he witnessed. And that was it. What a farce.
You really couldn't make it up.

Anonymous said...

Mathew asked: "Have you actually read Paul Caruana's tales from the front line?"

Yes I have, but better still I was there at the front line.

Unfortunately, Paul doesn't begin to understand the overall trial process.

I can't claim to have met Paul personally, but I can assure you that very any of the 'DEFRA field officers' were not much short of common thugs who couldn't get a better job - you will recall that the blood money wasn't great.

Anonymous said...

Apparently "the ISG report was predictable. It tells us nothing we didn't know before. "


So you realise that to be effectice you'll need to kill badgers over very large areas.

What some of us don't understand - 'cos you've never told us, is how you propose to achieve this species elimination.

Don't bother about the 'we only want to kill infected badgers' unless you can include how you'd tell those that were infected.

Matthew said...

Anon: 6.56
No, we have not met Paul Caruana. Other contributers to the site have. They speak highly of him. Which side of the 'front line' were you on?

'Elimination' is unacceptable, unecessary and counterproductive.
It is emotive claptrap.
I am old enough to have experienced control of populations years before the Badger Protection Act was dreampt up, and that worked in a similar way to letting the badgers themselves turf out the old, sick and weak.

A single main sett was left with about 200 acres of foraging area, then annually (at least)the off setts were gassed. The result was no dispersed factions of the group, no perturbation, no scrapping for territory, space or food and no badgers left to die of tb. No damage to buildings, hedgerows or rivers either.

The sentinel cattle were clear, and other species were enjoyed too. Skylarks, lapwings, and grey partridge, wild bumble bees, hedgehogs and slow worms, hares and even rabbits.

This emotive, highly exaggerated spin of Bourne, is an excuse for his trial's frailties. We were Krebbed only twice in 5 years. That was the chaotic backlog they were dealing with. The 8 night trapping broke up the group, missed the worst offenders, and then left a vaccuum for other badgers to enter and get infected from the 'super excreters' they'd left behind. How do we know this?

The cattle reactions, tested every 60 days got worse, and worse. When the team finally returned, as Paul Caruana said, they'd finally learnt how to catch a few badgers within the constraints of the trial. Two of the 8 they caught here, which were not from the main sett area, were absolute horrors. Their single hole setts were missed by the mapping teams too, so they'd been missed before. After their demise, the whole valley has just about gone clear.

Nearly 400 cattle from 5 farms over 6 years were slaughtered. Were these two worth all that?

Anonymous said...

James Paice MP says:

"No-one wants to see large scale culling of badgers, which is why we have been pressing the Government for four years to carry out field trials of the PCR test. If successful, these tests would radically alter the form of a cull allowing only infected badger families to be culled.

Mr Paice declared: "Sadly, only now have ministers agreed to such research, which starts next month."

So to sum up, yes PCR is in use for various things around the world, but it ain't ready yet to detect cattle TB in badgers - or cattle for that matter.

Matthew said...

non ; 8.40
And you are happy with that? Yes? No?


Jim Paice would have done far better to have joined the dots with the work that his predecessor did on bTb in general, and PCR in particular. Other countries are using the technology, for many diseases including bTb. Warwick had a trial last year and, as we said are set to replicate it under the title 'validation'. It is to this work, that we assume Jim Paice refers.

When political opposition parties start to do joined-up-writing, they may be considered fit for government. Until then, they merely repeat past questions without moving on from previous answers.
The press release we will post later, in full.

George said...

Most of the work on badger gassing seems to have been forgotten. (Yes, it probably wasn't the best way to do it, but the same could be achieved by intensive trapping.) Badgers were removed from an area 3Km X 3Km. That is, of course, quite a small area. Not only did it work - the drop in the cattle reactor rate was statistically significant I understand from VLA. No 'edge effect' was noticed. So removing the badgers over small areas was effective. This work was ignored by the ISG.

Jo said...

I'm grateful to anonymous 5.27 pm for sending me the DEFRA link to the project summary for SE3018. There is no obvious link to it on the DEFRA website. The research project lasted a mere 6 months, was completed in 2001, and finished with ' Further research is therefore recommended'.

I would like to read the full report, but as I said before, the link is not working. Perhaps anonymous could help me again as I am finding the DEFRA helpline far from helpful.

Anonymous said...

matthew 6.30
where do you get your 30% figure from? analysis of badger activity in the trial shows reductions of around 75%.
i know you like the idea of gassing but wasn't it rejected on the grounds that it's inhumane?

Matthew said...

Anon 11.58
30 per cent came from the answers to PQ's where we asked about trapping efficiency in the RBCT. The answer was that 57 per cent of traps (up to Oct 2003), had been 'interfered with' and 12 per cent had disappeared. Thus out every 100 set, only 31 actually achieved an occupant in that very short 8 night trapping regime.
Paul Caruana's EFRAcom critique backed that up.
From personal experience the badger density in Krebs was calculated from number of active setts found, multiplied by 8/10 individuals as per Harris et al methodology. (an increase from previous mammal society head count which relied on 6/8 occupants)

On our 200 acres, the first census in 1997 was 2/3 setts. The second had doubled to 5/6. And after a brief cull in May 2003, we found 3 more setts which had been missed by the mapping teams.

An increase from 2/3 to 9 in six years, but the number of badgers accounted for by the RBCT would have been calculated on the population of the 5/6 setts on the WLT maps, not the 9 that actually existed.

Anonymous said...

What are PQs?
The figures reported by the ISG at the meeting yesterday in London showed that badger activity had reduced by around 75% and that interference by activists was nowhere near 57%. now considering they're the ones with access to the data - this sounds like a more reliable source.

Matthew said...

PQ's = parliamentary questions which form the archive basis of this site.
Usually a better indication of what's going.
And as we said, if Bourne's mapping teams did not count all the setts, then their number trapped v. population available would be skewed.

Anonymous said...

so PQ's are a better indication of what's going on than the actual database where the data collected were stored? And where do PQ's get their numbers from? And what about the fact that defra have since admitted that that figure was wrong?

Matthew said...

Anon 3.24
PQ's are useful to extract info that focus groups / Defra would rather not tell you. With few exceptions they have to be answered and are on record for everyone to see.
The trashed traps one is:
8th Dec 2003; Col 218W [141971]
Several 'pursuant to' PQ's were asked as backup - a variation on a theme. The answer was the same.

We stand by the mapping + population = cull rate figures. By not recording 4 of our setts, the actual population density was reduced (substantially), and thus 'target success cull rate' increased. That is skewed statistics.

Anonymous said...

Ah! So now the mappers missed 4 setts - retrospectively up from 3 then? Only problem is: a hole in the ground is NOT a sett, it's a bolthole.And I don't think 3 boltholes are going to skew any results! (Except where someone tries to use them to magically rack up badger numbers)
And when are you going to stop using your own frankly bizarre hypotheses as if they were established facts? E.g. that cattle don't transmit TB infection to badgers or any other beast but just act as 'sentinels' for infection in badgers!! It has been established conclusively (in the Woodroffe study of last year)that if you use testing in cattle effectively it reduces bTB in cattle AND badgers WITHOUT culling badgers.