Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Management v. a mathematical modeled cull?

Today the press is full of  Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson's comments as the June 1st start date for a pilot cull of badgers approaches. The firewall protected Sunday Times has this taster:
OWEN PATERSON, the environment secretary, has drawn up plans for a big expansion of badger culling — including allowing farmers the freedom to shoot the animals — before the first two controversial trial culls have even begun.

Paterson wants to create 40 more cull zones in the next four years as part of a drive to eradicate bovine TB, the deadly disease transmitted between cattle and badgers. The two planned trial culls, scheduled to start in Somerset and Gloucestershire next Sunday,will see the killing of 5,000 badgers.
The badgerists are predictably 'outraged', 'horrified' and every other adjective they can trawl up, to describe this 'murderous carnage'. Predictably ignoring the root cause of the target - tuberculosis.
We find an intriguing paradox in this attitude, especially from cheerleader Dr. Brian May. The newspapers had a field day last year when he announced that as he knew nothing about 'management' of woodland and its fauna, while he had cuddled Brock, he had no qualms about shooting Bambi.

And this we think, is the key.  Since the mid 1980s, the badger population has had no 'management' to keep it stable within a shrinking environment. Unfettered breeding, linked to an infinite feed supply has ensured a recorded growth of 77 per cent in the decade to 1997. That was 16 years ago. And in 1997, the infamous moratorium on culling badgers in response to disease, ensured that more infected ones survived to spread their lethal load - and 'scientist's' largesse. We don't call this crazy and dangerous situation a 'beneficial crisis' for nothing.

So could the situation have been handled better? For sure it could; particularly if the public had access to the full story that Defra is not telling. No single species should be a target at all. But tuberculosis, a disease to which successive governments have signed international directives to eradicate, most certainly is.

But in parallel to the badgerists, our lords and masters are hooked firmly onto the convenience of a dead cow's tail. Cattle. Cattle Cattle - ignoring the blindingly obvious overspill which we explored in this posting.

As more sheep flocks and free range pigs herds are restricted, and alpacas and other pets and companion mammals die, the conditions over the last eighteen months have created the perfect storm for the spread of tuberculosis from its primary maintenance host. Badgers. A cool and very wet, dull summer ensured infection on cattle grazing stayed for weeks, available to any other mammal. The months of continuous rain and floods, caused badger setts to become waterlogged, and while they appreciate an occasional dip, they do like a dry bed. Those which didn't drown in flooded meadows, moved, causing the social perturbation notorious for the spread of the disease which they host.

Thus this spring's cattle slaughterings are at an all time high with 6000 animals slaughtered in January and February and whole herds slaughtered in many areas. The sheep and pig casulalties continue to be dumbed down and their devastated owners locked on the hamster wheel of Defra's test and slaughter cattle policy, while their animals are exposed to continued infection as they graze.

So to return to our title question. Owen Paterson is quoted as saying he predicts a '25 year cull' of badgers. And then what? 'Management' of this highly protected but also highly infectious animal would be a better description, responding to pockets of sentinel reactors. And that strategy has no time limit.

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