Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Quotes of the year

As 2011 draws to a close, several people have had their say about badgers, TB the proposed cull and much more. Below are a few snippets.

From Jeremy Clarkson in the The Sun [sorry, no online link] a comment on the cost of Jim Paice's proposed cull, using a protocol described by Natural England. While he admits it is 'safer' not to get bogged down on rights or wrongs of culling badgers, Mr. Clarkson explains that he doesn't understand the numbers being bandied about...
" It's been suggested that the cost of culling 100,000 badgers over the next eight years will be £92m. That works out at £920 per badger. I'm sorry but what are they going to use? Golden bullet? Hellfire missiles? Apache gunships? That's the trouble with modern government. It trots out these big numbers without ever pausing for rational thought".
You get to that figure quite easily on the 150 sq km blocks as well Mr. Clarkson. Divide Mr. Paice's £1.38m per patch by Natural England's maximum number of badgers culled of 1500 - and bingo. That £920 pops up again. But if only 1000 (NE's lower figure) are culled, the per head cost rises to £1,380. The NFU are quoting a few £ per head at meetings to drum up support - but the distance between the two is enormous and deserves further exploration.

Still on the subject of cost, in The Daily Wail last Saturday was a comment on the cost of moving a badger sett. It was pointed out that the animal in question could dig another home quite quickly and the quoted figure of £180,000 would fund the creature a council flat. Quite so.

When the proposals outlined by Natural England were published in August, we drew your attention to the main document and its many annexes in this post. Later that week, former SW regional director of the NFU, Anthony Gibson published his overview of the proposals in the Western Morning News. With a strapline "Badger cull rules must change to be workable," Mr. Gibson commented :
It is hard to say whether it is the cost of what is proposed, or the regulatory burden which it will involve, which evokes the greater degree of concern. But if you put one together with the other, it will be a very brave and very determined group of farmers which signs a "TB Management Agreement" with Natural England.

The bureaucracy associated with such agreements will be formidable, if anything like the measures proposed in the consultation are finally agreed. I don't have the space to go into any great detail, but you will find it all at which should be required reading – including the annexes – for anyone planning to get involved.
In this piece, Anthony went on to say that:
Unless these proposals are radically altered in the consultation process – particularly in terms of reducing the financial and other risks to participants – I find it hard to envisage a badger-culling licence ever being issued.
and he concluded
The only consolations I can offer are, first, that the principle of a badger cull has been conceded, and that could be crucial to TB control when sanity is restored; and second, that a bad cull could very easily be worse in all sorts of ways than no cull at all.
So have the costs been reduced? Bureaucracy loosened or protocol simplified? We don't think so, but others are now starting to question whether this is yet another 'designed to fail' exercise.

In Farmers Guardian last week, Jim Paice explained why a cull was necessary.
“The science is not simple. But scientists agree that, if culling is conducted in line with the strict criteria identified through the randomised badger culling trial, we can expect it to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 sq km area, plus a 2 km surrounding ring, by an average of 16% over nine years, relative to a similar unculled area. That was based on trapping and shooting. Our judgement is that farmers can be trusted to deliver a similar result by controlled shooting
Our judgement is that Animal Health have abandoned their responsibility on this issue, preferring to dumb down overspill, test cattle to distraction yet still hang on to the coat tails of the worst bit of 'science' we have had the misfortune to be caught up in.

Predictably the Badger Trust, RSPCA and assorted followers are frothing at the mouth, with the Humane Society launching a broadside at the Bern convention on the following grounds :
The Government claims a badger slaughter will prevent livestock damage by reducing the spread of bTB. However, the proportion of cases of bTB in cattle attributable to badgers is very small and the Government itself admits that the slaughter is likely only to achieve a 12-16 per cent reduction in bovine TB cases in cattle after 9 years.
The Government has given insufficient consideration to alternative non-lethal solutions including cattle movement/testing controls and the development of vaccines for badgers and cattle. The Convention should not allow a slaughter of badgers in preference to alternative options such as stricter cattle movement controls, which have a potentially greater chance of reducing the spread of bTB, solely because it is more convenient for farmers.
Amazing how they talk of a 'massacre' of tuberculous badgers, but imply 'damage' to cattle and 'inconvenience' to farmers? Can't really get our collective heads around that one.

We do however see a distinct stumbling block in that mathematically modelled 12 - 16 per cent alleged benefit. It is farcical and Defra know it. Thornbury achieved 100 percent and even Professor Krebbs when he formulated his original protocol for the RBCT (before it became politicised ) had this to say about past culling strategies and their results : (p126)
7.8.3 The gassing and clean ring strategies, in effect, eliminated or severely reduced badger populations from an area and appear to have had the effect of reducing or eliminating TB in local cattle populations. The effect lasted for many years after the cessation of culling, but eventually TB returned.

7.8.4 The interim strategy, introduced following the Dunnet report, is not likely to be effective in reducing badger-related incidence of TB in cattle for the following reasons:

i) The policy involves removing badgers from a limited area (the reactor land or the entire farm suffering the herd breakdown if the former cannot be identified) ; but social groups of badgers may occupy several setts covering more than one farm.

(ii) Partial removal of groups could exacerbate the spread of TB by peturbation of the social structure and increased movement of badgers.

(iii) There is no attempt to prevent recolonisation by badgers of potentially infected setts; even if infectivety in the setts is not a problem, immigrant badgers may bring new infection.

In addition, the current operation of the interim strategy involves a delay (27 weeks in 1995) to the start of the removal. The average period from the herd breakdown to the completion of the removal was 41 weeks in 1995.

7.8.5 In common with the clean ring strategy and the live test trial, the effectiveness of the interim strategy is further undermined by the failure to remove lactating sows which may also be infected. We recognise that culling lactating sows has a welfare cost in terms of cubs left in setts, but this needs to be balanced against wider animal health and welfare considerations for both cattle and badgers.
All the great and the good who pontificate from a distance on the insidious spread of this disease, and the many who glean employment from it, know what Krebbs knew in 1996 and what his predecessors Professors Dunnet and Zucherman knew.

They knew it then, they know it now and yet they will do nothing to address the situation at all except cook up the most complicated divisive strategy imaginable - and expect farmers to carry the cost.

A Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

After the Olympics...

.. our Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is 'minded' to allow two pilot badger culls to go ahead, each lasting 6 weeks, in the autumn of 2012. The Defra statement can be viewed here (pdf) - note section 5 for the cull protocol which participating farmers will have to abide by.

More on the official press release, from Farmers Weekly, Farmers Guardian and the Western Morning News.

We'll revisit this later in the week, as the dust settles around various reactions.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

1, 2, 3, 4 ... Brocks.

Still in the spirit of our Happy Brocklemas posting below we see from the Defra website that dear old FERA (Food Food and Environment Research Agency (UK)) have a received an early Christmas present in the form of a new project to keep them in the manner to which they have become accustomed handbags for the next couple of years.

Known as SE 3129, an estimated £870,984 will be spent enabling FERA to count badgers in 1700 x 1 km squares. They explain:
"Obtaining an up-to-date estimate of the current size of the badger population will help inform policy on badgers and will assist the UK in addressing its obligations under the Bern Convention. The last National Badger Survey of Great Britain was completed in 1997 and was a follow-up to the original survey carried out in the mid 1980s. The 1990s survey revealed that badger numbers had increased substantially in the intervening decade."
Although the Defra report appears somewhat reluctant to put a figure on that increase, members of the Mammal Society who carried out that survey revealed an increase in population of 77 percent in the decade to 1997. (Ref: "Changes in the British badger population, 1988 to 1997" (1997). G. Wilson, S. Harris and G. McLaren. People's Trust for Endangered Species (ISBN 1 85580 018 7))

The objective of the new study will be:
1. To conduct a repeat field survey of badger setts in approximately 1700 1km squares that were surveyed in the 1980s and 90s
2. To produce estimates of the number of badger social groups in 2011-2013
3. To assess change in the number of social groups since the 1980s and the 1990s, if any
4. To produce estimates of the badger population of England and Wales, and of the UK.
5. To build and make accessible a GIS for the estimation of badger populations at a regional scale
The Project will run from 2011 - 2013 with taxpayers coughing up £870,984 to fund it. Most of us trying to farm cattle, would say there are too many badgers (and thus a paucity of hedgehogs and ground nesting birds) and suggest that unless the badgers are sitting on each others' shoulders, density of the 1700 original 1 km squares may be similar, but their occupants are likely to have spread out a tad ?

And keeping within the spirit of Christmas Brocklemas, we wonder, will this poor old chap be counted ?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Happy Brocklemas

Isn't he a cutey? And now we can reveal that you are able to buy bags of - Badger Food on which to feed him.
Searching amongst the shelves of a local pet superstore on a Saturday morning is not for the faint hearted, but occasionally it turns up something which may be a shock to some - particularly cattle farmers south / south west of Lancashire.
But such goodies would be viewed with delight by others of the Bill Oddie fraternity.

A quick 'google' turned up two brands of badger bait food. One is a formed biscuit of meat concentrate, oils and other stuff which should, say the instructions, be left out at dusk. On this link it was also marked 'out of stock', which is somewhat depressing.
The other one which we found was a coarse peanut based mix
which has secret ingredient, and comes in packs up to 52kg. And that's an awful lot of badger food.

In this instance and as it's Christmas, we won't mention the ethical arguments of encouraging an already top heavy badger population to increase by artificial supplementary feeding, purely for public gratification. And we will ignore the very real danger of badgers encouraged to feed up close and personal, bringing a highly infectious zoonosis into your front garden, and thus directly to your cat, dog or child.

From our parliamentary questions, we are already quite well aware of Defra's attitude to the translocation of badgers, sick, mended or disease status unknown and thus would presume that this intransigence extends to artificial feeding too.

The answers to our Questions confirmed that :
"as native species, there are no specific restrictions under current law regulating where badgers can be released once they have recovered". [ 6th Jan 2004: Col 249W 144446]

Although the use of the old Brock test (which boasts just 47 percent sensitivity) is encouraged and is mandatory if a license is applied for, relocations undertaken by so called 'animal hospitals' have more leeway and our Question revealed that:
" testing guidelines are not mandatory, but are set down in a voluntary code of practise". 31th Jan 2004: col 543W [ 1500609]

And finally on this thorny subject of these 'rescues', answers to our Questions confirmed that :
"this voluntary protocol was not devised or approved by Defra". 6th Feb 2004; Col 1109W [150583]".

So, you may release him anywhere at all. Your place or mine? Nobody really cares. And he now has a purpose built feed to sustain him too. But the result of this crazy over protection of a species in which Defra state "Tuberculosis is endemic" is no less distressing for old Brock himself. It may be called 'conservation' but under no circumstrances can it be deemed 'welfare'.

The badger is a victim of his protector's success.

Happy Brocklemas.