This week the film was launched, and in the next few weeks it will be seen by vets and other interested parties across the country.
An introduction by Richard Gard, an agricultural journalist with an interest in animal diseases, described how after seeing a short introductory piece, all major television channels had turned down the film. Too hot to handle? The footage of emaciated badgers which had died in dire straights was not what people would have expected from the ever rattling tins of the Wildlife and Badger groups. But that is what their ultimate protection of this species has delivered. So while the carnage of FMD were brought nightly to our screens by most TV channels, the equally destructive salami sliced effects of bTB on our cattle herds and those who tend them, are ignored.
With a strap line is 'Healthy Badgers - Healthy Cattle', the fact sheet opens:
"Wildlife assessments of groups of farms with adjacent land are an important step in the control of cattle TB to operate alongside existing procedures. The project is established to offer wildlife assessments to veterinary practices and their clients for the winter of 2009/2010. No funding for assessments is currently available."We note that last snippet.
The political slant heaped on this pernicious zoonosis is such that successive layers of Defra (formally MAFF) civil servants and their political puppet masters have sung from a different hymn sheet when dealing with the problem at the farm level as opposed to the perceived problem tossed around in the Palace of Westminister. Thus we have in place a government totally divorced from what is really happening on the farms. And the folk tending Defra's corporate window box, haven't a clue what to do. Other than kill more cattle.
The result is that cattle farms are testing and killing cattle, and then 60 days later - killing more cattle. How extraordinarily and expensively short sighted? In warfare this is known as 'cognitive dissonance', a plan of action which although destructively wrong, may work in the end because all the cattle are dead. (Or all the badgers?) But the fallout from Defra's carnage is incalculable, both on the ecology as a whole and on other species, equally susceptible to TB, as we are seeing here and here.
Mr. Chapman's film projects stoic but grim sadness from affected farmers as their animals are piled into Defra's maw, but many salient facts as well. From Dr. John Gallagher, the well made point that very small lesions in badgers will produce millions of bacteria, (with just 70 needed to produce TB in a cow - ed. [PQs]) and that from this, "it is inevitable that there will be cross contamination". Dr. Gallagher also pointed out that the disease is monitored and acted on in cattle, but ignored in wildlife.
Devon veterinary practitioner Andrew Cobner, reported a 50 percent increase in herd breakdowns in the area covered by his practice over the last few years, with continuous cattle testing and culling failing to clear problems. And several times the difference in the behaviour of excluded and extremely sick badgers, which were shown in Mr. Chapman's film, was highlighted.
And it is this 'management' of their own social groups by the badgers themselves, that is at the core of the message offered by the group promoting the film and the possible direction TB control could take, which is explained thus:
"At this time wildlife assessments are not accepted as an important part of TB control. We are convinced that a combination of wildlife assessment, veterinary involvement and cattle management can reduce the numbers of cattle being slaughtered and the number of farms under TB restrictions."Richard Gard explained his understanding of the word 'science', which he said "involved the observation of natural phenomenon and the need to work within it". The process is ongoing he said, and once proved, the result becomes 'science'.
The core of this possible way forward uses the observed behaviour of badgers themselves, as its core. Mr. Gard described TB as the 'hidden disease of the countryside'.
He explained how farmers, their vets and maps of the farms, all formed bits of a disease 'assessment' jigsaw. Input of where cattle had contracted disease, fields, buildings or areas which were giving problems, were then examined by trained wildlife trackers and the results mapped. These maps gave a green light to setts and territories used by badgers which clear cattle tests showed were healthy and conversely, the often single hole satellite setts, used as temporary lairage by badgers excluded by the main group and which could be linked to major breakdowns, often on several farms, were marked 'red'.
In recent papers, AHO risk assessment sheets from newly infected farms, showed an overwhelming majority - up to 90 percent - of breakdowns were attributable to wildlife, and in particular to badgers. This part of the jigsaw is then ignored. It was noted that both the BVA and BCVA had mentioned 'assessment' of all available information, in relation to their client's TB breakdowns, and also 'green and red' setts, within their policy documents.
The present non-policy offered by Defra is a shambles, but anything replacing it has to tick several boxes: the main one being the word 'targeted'. This assessment of several farms within an area, using the information offered by tested cattle sentinels, and interpreted by wildlife trackers appears to us to answer that selection process.
If the badgers don't want a skanky, sick individual within their group - why would any cattle farmer?
Healthy Badgers - Healthy Cattle Project ;
1. Initial discussions between veterinary surgeon(s) and farmers take place and an assessment area of ten square miles (6-10 farms with adjacent land) is indicated to the project. An initial meeting with the project team is arranged and local practicalities discussed. Maps showing field boundaries of each farm are to be made available. an area wildlife assessment is booked and paid for (£300 per farm)
2. The wildlife assessment is carried out over several days.
3. The farmers, vets and project team meet to review findings and the TB situation [ of cattle} in the area. Actions to improve bio-security of the herds will be discussed.
Richard Gard, Andrew Cobner, Bryan Hill.
Contact : 01647 24434 or email : firstname.lastname@example.org .