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 The policy proposal has been developed further in light of the consultation responses and the draft guidance sets out in greater detail (at paragraphs 9-11) how applicants would be expected to deliver an effective cull and demonstrate their capacity to do so.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

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