Monday, August 29, 2011

The Big Bad Wolf ?

Looking through Natural England's prematurely released consultation document, ( post below )- apart from getting the message that this is something they would rather not touch with the proverbial bargepole, we were struck by a paragraph on licensing contained on page 3:
Natural England is authorised to do so by what is known as “a Part 8 Agreement ” made in accordance with section 78 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006;
This is not just licenses to move badgers causing damage, but concerns the issue of licences under Section 10(2)(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act (1992) which deals with preventing the spread of disease.

It is our understanding that MAFF, the predecessor or Defra (when Agriculture still had a part to play in this department) held a general license under this section of the Act, and used it with great care and after outside scrutiny, to control badger populations where bTB outbreaks in sentinel tested cattle, proved not to be of a bovine origin.

But in 2006, along with sacking the WLU trappers, this part of the Act appears to have been thrown into the long grass to the quango known as 'Natural England'.

This agreement came into effect on 1st October 2006.
It's duration is twenty years from that date.
A review is allowed for in five years.

The clandestine transfer of responsibility is described in this document.

Five years from 01/10/2006 is 01/10/2011. In a month's time.

But, as of July 11th 2011, according to the Defra website, this agreement is currently under review. Note - none of Defra's links to their documents work.

Is it time to throw infectious disease control back to where it belongs, with AHVLA?

Or would that give Mrs Spelperson the 'get out jail free' card she's been angling for all along.

We've been sold a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Would you put a fox

... in charge of a henhouse?

A rhetorical question, but it appears that this is what Defra have done with allocating the quango known as 'Natural England' control of the two pilot badger culls, which our Secretary of State is 'strongly minded' to allow.

We explored 'Natural England's somewhat un-natural armlock over this project, with links to their various policy protocols in this post.

But today, Farmers Guardian publish an overview of this organisation's views on the concept of controlling tuberculosis in badgers by culling. And it is illuminating. NE state that it has
a ‘low level of confidence that the predicted benefits can be delivered consistently’ under the proposed policy.

“This stems from the lack of evidence that a farmer-led cull can replicate what has only previously been undertaken by government (and even then on a smaller scale) and the complexity of the regulatory regime required to ensure successful outcomes,”
But while FG's strap line illustrates a decidedly luke warm response to the idea, it fails to point out that via its overall responsibility for monitoring any cull, Natural England may dictate both its progress and outcome.

The full consultation response from Natural England can be found in this pdf.

A comment from fellow architect of this cull, NFU's Kevin Pearce on his blog;
We have known from day one that many within Natural England have strong reservations about this policy. However, what worries me more is that Natural England is an advisory body that provides advice to ministers. This submission makes public their advice to ministers before the end of the consultation period. There can be only one reason for this; Natural England is playing a political game trying to influence wider opinion before ministers have had chance to consider all the responses to the consultation.

Perhaps it’s time to recreate a wildlife unit within Defra to deal with this issue because it’s clear Natural England do not believe in the policy, don’t want to do it and will do everything it can to frustrate the proper process.

Quite. And that much has been clear to us for some considerable time.

And our opinion? Why would Defra put a fox in charge of the hen house other than have its plan 'designed to fail'?

Control of a notifiable zoonosis does not belong with Natural England. It should be returned back where it belongs, with AHVLA.

PCR Update

More details for the reasons behind the Industry funded PCR project, described in the posting below can be heard for the next 7 days on Radio 4.

Camelid vet Dr. Gina Bromage MA,Vet MB,DVM,MRVCS and Dianne Summers an alpaca owner, who produce the website speak of their experiences of bTB in alpacas.

To all our readers, we as cattle farmers support this project for its longer term potential. PCR being used to identify m.bovis is a concept we like and donations to it are most welcome. Details in the posting below.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Good news on PCR

We are delighted to read on the alpaca TB support group website that they have secured a contract with AHVLA, to conduct a study into the use of PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technology to support TB diagnosis in camelids. The news release explains:
"Following a further meeting in July with scientists at the VLA we are pleased to announce that we have now signed contracts with AHVLA Weybridge to conduct such a study. This technique is already used successfully for other similar
diseases and the AHVLA microbiologists are hopeful that due to the advanced gross pathology often found in camelids it may be possible to detect m.bovis in faeces, nasal swabs or blood."
This project will be trialled on alpacas presented for postmortem examination to AHVLA with suspected bTB, but the report continues:
"It is common knowledge that alpacas and llamas can be heavily infected and infectious with bTB and yet show no outward signs or symptoms whatsoever. If this project is successful the simplicity of taking a faecal sample or nasal swab to be tested at your local VLA would be a huge step forward.

If successful, the test could be used:
∙ Where an alpaca or llama in a herd that was not under TB restrictions showed clinical signs that could be attributed to TB.
. In herds recently confirmed as infected with M. bovis the test could be used to remove cases which were not picked up by the other ante mortem tests or whilst waiting for culture results or waiting for skin tests and blood tests to be carried out.
∙ As a routine screening test. Testing of faeces and nasal swabs will be quick and affordable. Samples can be taken by owners and sent to the AHVLA without the need for a farm visit from their vet."
The news release also explains that as well as being commissioned by the Alpaca TB support Group, they will be funding it. Further funding would be welcomed and would be ring fenced to this project.

Details of how to support this project can be found on the ‘DONATE’ tab on the Support Group website and they can contacted at any time for camelid support, as they explain in this flyer.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tripping up

'For Immediate Release, screamed a press release from the Badger Trust, demanding an immediate investigation into parts of a BBC Report programme.

But also in the document, as it splutters in indignation over the content of the Report's assertions, is this little gem:
The Trust is also challenging the BBC over an unattributed assertion in the programme that "since badgers became protected in the ‘70s the population has surged to an estimated 300,000".

The Badger Trust's David Williams said:
"The BBC must give the references for this figure. There has been no quantified estimate of population for 14 years. It must also quote any scientific basis for the clear implication that legal protection had caused a ‘surge’.

Now there seems to be a tad of confusion here. That BBC steal is a direct quote from the Badger Trust Factsheet, where this figure and the reason for it, is clearly stated. And so that there is no confusion, we will quote it.
"However the passing of the Badger Act 1973 (and consequent amendments 1981, 1991 and 1992) has helped badger numbers to recover and today they have a total estimated population of around 300,000.”
This estimate is however, quite wrong. What did you expect?

The answer to a Parliamentary Question asked in 2003, gave a figure of 350,000 in the mid 1990s. It is now 2011. But a survey by the Mammal Society (Wilson, Harris et al [ISBN 1 85580 018 7]) from 1988 - 97 and published by the People's Trust for Endangered Species, had logged a 77% increase in badger numbers in the previous decade.

We assume that that was the study referred to as '14 years ago' by the Badger Trust, but for obvious reasons, its content not elaborated on?

What a delicious little trip.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Natural England's guidance for a badger cull

Nothing about our green and pleasant land is 'natural': its hedges and fields, spinnies, towns and villages created over thousands of years by human beings - and in the case of the field boundaries, by farmers. But we digress.

Animal Health, now joined at the hip to the Veterinary Laboratories Agency, have thrown responsibility for control of a Grade 1 hazardous material - a dead badger - (or even more dangerous, a live one) direct to farmers by way of the quango known as 'Natural' England, who will oversee, monitor and control any licenses which they see fit to offer, to control TB which is endemic in the wildlife reservoir of England's badgers.

This much has been announced already, with great reluctance, by the Minister of State for DEFRA, Caroline Spel-person, MP.

But buried in the labyrinth of the Defra website, are a handful of annexes issued by Natural England on the operating procedure which they expect from any signatories to this cull.
Links to these are below, together with a couple of gems quotes from each.

This is the overview document.
14. The policy proposal has been developed further in light of the consultation responses and the draft guidance sets out in greater detail (at paragraphs 9-11) how applicants would be expected to deliver an effective cull and demonstrate their capacity to do so. The specific requirements include:

co-ordinating activity across the entire area;

sustaining culling annually for at least four years;

reducing the total badger population in the Control Area by 70% overall during a six-week intensive cull and maintaining this reduction in each subsequent year of culling; and

minimising areas of inaccessible land within the Control Area, through a requirement that 90% of land within the application area is either accessible or within 200m of accessible land.

Before a licence is granted, participants will be required to submit to Natural England a Badger Control Plan detailing how badger control activity will be co-ordinated, carried out Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and funded, as well as providing information on the biosecurity measures in place on farms. Further guidance on the information to be included in a Badger Control Plan is at Annex D and a draft of Natural England’s guidance to applicants on biosecurity measures is at Annex E.

And should farmers be unable to carry out the plan, for whatever reason - and there could be many ?:
17. We propose that all participants would be required to enter into agreements with Natural England under section 7 of the NERC Act. These ‘section 7 agreements’, called ‘TB Management Agreements’ would set out the participants’ obligations once a licence was granted, and if necessary as a last resort allow Government to intervene, access all participating land, take over responsibility for a culling operation, and recover the costs from the participants, should the participants fail to meet the conditions of the licence. In the case of a tenant farmer, the agreement would normally need to be entered into by the farmer’s landlord (to ensure that access to land is available to complete the cull if there is a change in tenancy) unless Natural England considers that the likelihood of accessible land falling below 70% as a result of the termination of any tenancy for any reason is very low. A draft TB Management Agreement accompanies the guidance at Annex F.

Participants would also be required to deposit sufficient funds to cover the total expected cost of the four-year cull (plus a contingency sum) before culling begins. Government would be able to access these funds in the event that it needed to intervene and assume responsibility for a culling operation, and be able to levy additional funds from the original participants should that be necessary. Details of the circumstances in which Government would be likely to intervene are set out in paragraph 31 of the draft guidance.

Annex A describes the part of the Protection of Badgers Act, which is still subject to a very un-parliamentary moratorium, introduced on receipt of £1 million bung from the Political Animal Lobby (PAL)in 1997..

The list of consultees are in Annex B together with the closing date of September 20th.

An updated cost/ benefit analysis in is Annex C.
A thumbnail sketch of Defra's rehashed figures compute to :
Cost to farmers in each cull area of £1.38m
Benefit to farmers in each cull area £1.32m
Benefit to farmers in surrounding areas £0.o4m
Benefit to Defra in avoiding cattle bTB incidents £2.94m

NE's draft guidance on their Badger Control Plan and pro forma sheet is in Annex D, which begins with a section on their compulsory bio security monitoring;
As part of the licence application you will have been asked to provide details of biosecurity training and advice that has been provided for farmers in the application area. Participating farmers/landowners must have carried out a disease-risk self-assessment questionnaire to help identify areas for improvement (see Annex E to the consultation).
This annex also comments on protecting badgers whose ancestral home happens to be on land not involved with culling by (for example) fencing them out of your land, or vaccinating them.

Biosecurity is part and parcel of this application, and more can be found in Annex E. This is the usual hopeful whitewash, which studiously ignores grassland watered with copious amounts of badger urine. NE say they may withdraw any license if, for example, they find cattle feeding troughs under 75cm are still used or there are gaps in building or feed store access which allow badger access.
Filming carried out by Professor Tim Roper in research released in 2001, showed badgers feeding from cattle troughs set at 130 cm, which is 4'3" off the ground, a height which as Defra were helpful to point out in answers to our Parliamentary Questions, is too high for cattle (or camelids) to access. Thus to comply with NE's licence conditions, may involve the modification of cattle with one of these.

NE's licence withdrawal section is phrased thus:
If Natural England considers that reasonable biosecurity measures have not been set in place then a licence may be withheld until such measures have been taken, or modifications to the application made (e.g. change of Control Area boundary), before a licence is issued, or Natural England may refuse to issue a licence for the proposed Badger Control Area. If a licence has already been issued and inadequate biosecurity measures have been found on a farm or farms then Natural England may exclude that farm or farms from the licence or, if the affected area is sufficiently large, suspend the licence until the issue is satisfactorily resolved

An example of the proposed management agreement can be found in Annex F including notes should a default occur.
6.1 A Relevant Authority shall be entitled to recover from the Licence Holder and all or any of the Land Holders all costs which it reasonably incurs if it undertakes any activities in connection with this Agreement as a result of an Event of Default occurring during the subsistence of the Land Holder’s interest in the Land, including the costs of carrying out any Licensed Activities that are required to be permitted under clause 4(1), however carried out, and whether or not those activities could have been carried out at a lower cost.
6.2 For the avoidance of doubt the Licence Holder and the Land Holders will be jointly and severally liable for any costs incurred as a result of an Event of Default

Best practise guidance for shooting or trapping badgers, "to prevent the spread of bTB in cattle" (which is at least an acknowledgement of that which has previously been vehemently denied) is in Annex G.
This is a 46 page document, dealing with closed periods, operating protocols, firearms and disposal of Class 1 hazardous waste material ( badger) Watch for little inserts like C & D of collection vehicles (already classified and licensed for Class 1 hazardous waste) between farms.

And finally, in Annex H are NE's ideas to reduce impact on non-participants, which will also be the responsibility of participating licence holders.
This includes not only 'liaising with non-participants', and protecting 'their' badgers from harm, but may involve posting intentions and map references on the parish noticeboard:
Licensees are required to liaise with local police forces in areas where badger control operations are to be carried out and follow police advice on measures to protect public and operator safety. For example, if so advised by the police it may be appropriate to post notices at relevant access points or, e.g. on parish notice boards, alerting people to the fact that shooting may take place in specified areas within a specified period.

So as proposed by Natural England, with numerous bolt ons to Class 1 Game Management licenses, this proposed cull will certainly not be.... OK lads load your shotgun, jump in the pick up and off we go culling a few badgers.

The way this reads is .. OK lads get out your cheque book, sign a couple, but leave the amount to pay blank. We ( who ever 'we' are) will fill that in later. In fact sign a direct debit with your bank, cheques are soooo outdated. But watch out for the biosecurity inspection, don't shoot too many (or too few) badgers, depending on the tally from NE's original survey and do watch your overdraft in the event of any alleged breaches. 'We' have our hand in your back pocket.
And opposition to this vital disease measure, which in our opinion is the responsibility of Animal Health/ VLA? It's effect on individual farmers?
Of course you won't be at risk because of the secret limited liability Company we have formed ...... other than the registration details of said company, the 28 day public consultation, the notice on the Parish notice board and of course any badger loving mole in Defra or NE. The provision of a 'contingency fund' to dip into for damage, court action etc., etc., should cover it.