Saturday, February 13, 2010

Costs - and Defra costs

This week saw the publication of a further tranche of material from the ISG's electronic abacus. Professor Christl Donnelly having agreed that when badgers are removed, cattle TB reduces, sometimes significantly - then concluded in this paper that removing badgers was too expensive.

Quotes from the farming press ask expensive for whom? But we will take our own line and examine answers to Parliamentary Questions on the trial protocol and its efficacy, communications from WLU staff working on the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial and our personal experiences of their efforts - all of which have informed us just how the ISG went about their task of trying to cull badgers and the influence this had on their costs. These costs of RBCT cage traps averaged £3,799 per sq KM per year, (updated within this paper to £17,709 per sq KM ?) and form the basis of the paper published this week.

From a submission to EFRAcom in 2006, a culling trial manager stated:
" The whole basis of Krebs was to remove badgers off the ground. For the first four years, that effort was farcical, due to restrictions placed upon us. The trial had too many flaws in it to be trusted to produce meaningful evidence. How much weight do we give the latest ISG report, detailing their ‘robust’ findings to the minister? If it were down to me and my staff, very little".
And on the subject of using anything to do with trial costings, the submission was emphatic...
The costs for a future culling policy must NOT be based on Krebs costings. The Wildlife Unit have many great ideas on how to reduce costs vastly should the State remain involved in it. Give the Unit a chance to see how innovative it can be when it comes to reducing operating costs. Krebs was ridiculously expensive for what it delivered.
However, this latest paper appears to rely on 2005 costings of badger culling as carried out during the Krebs trial referred to in such scathing terms above. As usual the figures in this mathematical modelling exercise are subject to 'assumption' but what isn't, is the raw, unadulterated information from the trial, gleaned by answers to our PQs over a similar time scale to Donnelly's 'assumed' costs.

The RBCT relied on cage trapping over a very short period of 8 nights annually, with locations widely advertised. Operations were co-ordinated from two VI centres: Polwhele near Truro in Cornwall and Aston Down near Stroud in Glos. Approximately 133personnel from these sites covered all ten trial areas. Thus WLU operatives from Truro, after visiting farms on their home turf could head north on the M5 / M6 for Staffordshire via Hereford, while Aston Down's staff were also covering many miles at exorbitant and unnecessary cost.
[141974] The number of WLU staff employed on the RBCT was 133 in 2003/04, at a cost £6.8 million.
So what were they doing? Catching badgers? Nope. Not all the time. In fact not much of the time.
[1509079] In 2003, 1,130,000 miles were driven in WLU official vehicles, which equates to 2 - 3 hours travelling per person, per day.
How many times to the moon and back is that mileage? And as local expertise was not used, overnights, B&B and security allowances were also stacking up to the tune of around £130/day per operative, over and above their usual salary. That's £500 a week for each operative + salary. All presumably included within the ISG costs of their very own unique method of trying to trap badgers. We are unaware if Prof. Donelly's or the rest of the ISG team's own remunerations were included in the total.

So what of the efficacy of their attempts?
[141971] Of 15,666 traps sited in the RBCT to October 2003, 8,981 were 'interfered with' and 1,827 disappeared.
A pretty poor success rate then, if almost 70 percent of the traps set at dusk were empty in the morning. And the cost to the trial of traps damaged was answered thus:
[150494] (Over a similar time scale to the PQ above), 6,239traps suffered damage and 1,926 were stolen or lost at a cost of £50 each.
So, £408,250 to be added to 'costs' of not catching badgers in cage traps. But how did all this affect how efficiently the RBCT was able to do what it allegedly intended? i.e to catch and cull badgers?
[157954] There has been a level of illegal activity and interference with the operation of the RBCT which is certainly undesirable and could be considered significant. Culling stopped for a variety of reasons, including interference from activists and weather. Some activities led to trapping being extended or prematurely suspended.
But presumably the costs which now form the basis of Donnelly's paper were not suspended? WLU personnel were paid to set traps; whether or not they succeeded in catching badgers in them, we are unable to extrapolate from the ISG data.

Given such skewed protocol, operated under bureaucratic straitjackets and unbridled costs the average cost per badger caught and dispatched would be £thousands. And yet in spite of all the aforementioned and acknowledged problems, Donnelly confirms a drop of an average of 30% in new herd breakdowns of TB. (a figure which in itself is misleading, as herds under restriction at the beginning of the 'trial' did not qualify for badger removals, and although forming mini-hotspots within the ten triplets, are not included in RBCT data.) And 30 per cent is very meaningful if you happen to one of that number.

Dividing these extraordinary WLU 'costs' during the RBCT Badger Dispersal Trial by the number of badgers they actually managed to catch is a crude assumption, but it is the only one available to them. Their trial, their data, their conclusions.

But commenting on the paper, Professor Bill Reilly, President of the BVA, said:
“This paper clearly demonstrates that badger culling did have an impact on the incidence of bovine TB in cattle, which is a very positive outcome.

The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) was undertaken in very specific circumstances and it could be misleading to extrapolate the findings to any future control programme".

The ISG final report and everything which has sprung from it, confirmed (again) that badgers do transmit TB to cattle, but it showed us quite clearly how NOT to deal with that situation.


Anonymous said...

So the RBCT was to expensive in relation to the number of TB incidence reduced. What a surprise. The RBCT was seriously damaged by AR’s releasing Badgers, if they had left the trial alone it would have proved far more effective. We need to eradicate TB in both cattle and Badgers and get back to where the industry was in 1970. The pool of TB needs to completely eradicated in the Countryside.

We need to stop Pusey Footing around this subject and agree a very cheap and cost effective way of culling the badger, Licensing Farmers to shoot with rifles badgers on their farms. They could either do this themselves or get the huge number of pest controllers that currently use this method to control foxes. For an extremely small fee the Badger cull would become extremely cost effective.

We need in the next 10 years to eliminate TB in badgers by Culling and in Cows by testing. There after if their were any breakdowns both the cattle on the farm and the badgers in a 3KL area would be culled this would keep TB under control. Over a period of time where badgers have been culled they would repopulate from areas in Northern Brittan where TB is much less of a problem.

Anonymous said...

Shooting badgers in the dark isn't to be recommended ! There would be a real possibility of shooting anything, especially if you missed and your bullet travelled a mile in the wrong direction !! What would happen to the injured animals that eluded you ? A slow and agonising death !

Why not go the whole hog and use carbon dioxide/monoxide ? This would do away with the problem of leaving infected badgers in their setts and the so called "perturbation effect" as well ? It wouldn't give the Antis any notice of what or where it was being done and would only require a single visit to do it ? Cheap, effective, humane. Something else that Matthew has missed off the costings - in 2003, the Reactive part of the strategy was halted overnight. ALL of the staff remained in post until 2006 despite the workload dropping by at least a third !! If they used 2005 costs as a bench mark for future culls, they should look closely at the number of ineffective and under employed staff they had for that period before moving forward on this.

Matthew said...

Anon 9.21
The devil is in the detail of exactly what Donnelly and co put into their model. As the WLU staff have said, and continue to say, the RBCT was a gravy train of costs without a brake. And the cattle side of the data too had some notable ommissions.
We know from past expereience that a sensible size of clearance of grossly infected badgers works. And conversely we have seen to our cost what happens when this reservoir is not tackled. Or in the case of the RBCT, scattered with irregular and indiscriminate use of cage traps.

Once the source of TB is gone, it takes only two 60 day tests to clear cattle.

Not sure about shooting though. Likely to scatter a social group as badly as the trial did.

Anon 10.47

Agree with that. And badgers asleep underground during the day even comply with Defra's working hours directive.

Yup, missed the Reactive non relocation, relocation, relocation of staff. But PQs also told us that (despite the abrupt and premature curtailment of the Reactive areas in 2003), WLU staff were struggling to cope with the Proactive triplets they had and visits had unfortunately fallen behind schedule.

Anonymous said...

Shooting with rifles is the recommended way of dealing with foxes, by the RSPCA and is carried out every night by thousands of marksmen using lights, or image intensified night scopes giving good sighting up to 150M. No pest controller takes a shot that is unsafe, always making sure a round enters the ground and disintegrates if missing the target. With badgers this is usually around 50M to 80M and misses would be very rare. Using sound modifiers, high powered rifles are not that noisy and I don’t see that as a problem. Badgers from one sett can be wiped out in one night very easily and would be far more efficient that the cage trap method used in the RBCT.

David Thomas

Matthew said...

David 7. 10

I'm sure you're right re foxes David, but they tend not live in tight groups and not carry a Grade 3 zoonotic pathogen.
The advantage of gassing is that you achieve 100 percent in one swipe with no problems of carcase disposal and its associated risk to operatives.
That said, not all setts are accessible to landowners or Defra. (Although with this pathogen they should be) Those in forestry, NT or refusniks' land for instance, so all tools should remain in the box for such instances.

Management of this disease (we think) should be driven by the presence of disease in sentinel tested cattle, and cleared by a mixture of fieldcraft + PCR and then targetted culls - by whatever method is appropriate for the location - of all occupants of setts, positively identified by the aforementioned cattle problems.

Anonymous said...

Well, weather its going to be shooting, gassing trapping, or whatever, the use of the COST of culling badgers in relation to the cost of TB is a complete red herring. Allowing licences for famers to cull badgers has a Nil cost to the state, so this is the price that should be used against the cost of eradicating TB, Nil, even costing the usefulness of the RBCT the cost of state culling is irrelevant

The fact that GOVERNMENT decide that they have to do the culling by the most ineffective means and organise and control the cull, to try to placate badger groups, which ends up costing millions is a decision for government. I admit their would be a problem with some landowners who would not participate in culling badgers on their land. However allowing culling by Licence would have a big effect for the 90%? of famers more than willing to do the job. Eventually over a ten year period when TB has been eradicated in most areas, breakdowns would lead to a farm cull of cattle and a compulsory 3 0r 5KM cull of badgers around the infected farm. Which will keep TB under control in both Cattle and Badgers for ever.

There is one more thing needed for this method to be effective. Compensation for TB will be phased out over a five year period, Reduced by 20% per year until no compensation is paid for TB. This will have a considerable effect on the number of Landowners who are not culling their Badgers It would be up to Farmers to Insure against TB which would not be ridiculously expensive as TB would be under control and outbreaks would be relatively low as they were in the 1970’s. The NFU, FUW, and CLA might not like it but its time the talking stopped and the ridicules gravy train that TB has become was stopped. If this plan was implemented and the removal of compensation for TB is a key element then the cost to us as taxpayers would be Nil in five years time.

David Thomas

Anonymous said...

One thing that might be worth trying now is to see what sort of bait dispensers and bait types can be used with badgers, which limit the access to this bait almost exclusively to badgers. The way to do this is to find a bait they really like (peanut butter mixes would be good here; they love peanuts) and add UV fluorescent plastic pellets to it. Then all you do is wait until they've had a good chance to eat the bait and go round with an ultraviolet light in the evening, to see how brightly the badger latrines glow (and if the marker is turning up in fox droppings too).

This sort of thing would let you fine-tune bait dispensers so that when culling licences are issued, the containers can be rented or lent to farmers along with appropriate baits. As to a toxin, standard anticoagulent baits as used on rats would be safest, especially since individuals strongly affected by the bait tend (with rats at least) to head underground to try to sleep it off.

The whole point of the cull is really to remove as many badgers as possible as quietly and effectively as possible, with as little impact to everything else in the area as possible. This tends to rule out trapping, snaring and shooting and gassing is also rather obvious to the media and to animal rights groups.

Matthew said...

DAvid @ 9.09

We think about 80 percent of farmers signed up to a Devon initiative, to prove that farmers could work together. This was set up after Bourne scoffed that farmers could not co-operate.
Not that chasing Bourne's red herrings has any merit whatsoever. there have been too many, most irrelevant. But it keeps some industry leaders happy.

We were always able to get insurance for TB, until 'exposure to risk' became too great. And once the disease is under control, that option will be available again. At the moment the premium has gone up 10 fold, and pay out halved, with people in our position, (a claim after a long breakdown) and many of those who contribute to this site, uninsurable at any cost.

While government are not prepared to do their part in controlling wildlife reservoirs of TB, it is only right that they should compensate for the compulsorily purchased cattle. But when TB is under control, and insurance avaialbale, we see no reason for it to continue. It doesn't for other diseases.

However, we would point out that by handing responsibility for TB control to farmers, GB would be the only country in the world which has a policy for the eradication of TB whose government does not steer and control it. Whether that is a legal requiremnent of TB eradication, we are unsure.

If GB was to walk eyes wide shut into another ban on our produce, the veterinary certificates for which already exist, that may shake things up a little. And a few more cats and companion animals would be good. Providing accurate numbers are logged of course, which is not always the case at the moment.

Anon @ 11.49

Agree with this:

"The whole point of the cull is really to remove as many badgers as possible as quietly and effectively as possible, with as little impact to everything else in the area as possible."

With the RBCT and also some of the WLU trapping expeditions, Defra might as well have sent the operatives out in pink landrovers with a flag on the top. Vehicle reg. numbers were posted on various websites, and abuse and intimidation followed at a level that amounted to terrorism.