Thursday, January 23, 2014

Natural England and badger 007 licenses.

Since the much talked about, but rather elusive 'moratorium' on culling badgers 'to prevent the spread of disease', in 1997, Defra quango Natural England has consistently opposed the issuing of licenses for farmers with herds under TB restriction to cull badgers - should they be the source of the herd breakdown.

In fact spokespersons for NE say they have issued no such licenses in the last 15 years.

Prior to NE's tenancy of such licensing, in answers to Parliamentary Questions [Hansard 18th March 2004 - Col.431 W [158605] the answer given was similarly unequivocal:
"It is current policy not to issue any licenses under sub section 10 (2) a to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis, except for animals held in captivity"
Originally the paper shield of the RBCT was used for this moratorium's existance. But having ended in 2006,  that excuse is now looking rather threadbare.

However,  a number of such 007 licenses have been issued both by Natural England or their predecessors.

 In fact, since 2002, records show that 22 licenses to kill badgers have been issued involving 311 animals. - [link]  The NE criteria for this category of license is 'Disease' and the option across the spread sheet data is 'kill'. And in another document we see that the vast majority of licenses issued 2002 - 2011  for culling of TB infected badgers, were to premises in Somerset with the description of purpose:
"Euthanasia of TB infected badgers". 
Now that rather knocks on the head the old argument of  "you can't tell if a (live) badger has TB or not" does it not? So, musing aloud here, is the difference in license application between a farmer losing shed loads of cattle (or an alpaca, sheep or pig farmer losing his herd) and suspecting badgers by default, and badgers testing positive to TB by such sanctuaries as Secret World - [link] the crucial difference?

 Or is the difference, as the PQ answer implies, between 'wild' badgers and those held in captivity?

Of course zTuberculosis doesn't differentiate between the two such badgery hosts:  and it would be churlish to point out that wild badgers have more than a fighting chance of sharing their disease.
We could also point out that farmers, with a little help from AHVLA, badger tracking and possibly PCR can also identify tuberculous badgers - and probably with a great deal more accuracy than those tested in sanctuaries.
But we digress...

From that link to Secret World, the fragrant Ms. Kidner has tested 600 baby badgers and euthanased 78 of them as positive to the old Brock test.

Now this is a blood assay test trialled in the mid 1990s as a 'live test trial' and which although it proved pretty accurate on a positive, with published sensitivity of just 40.7 per cent, was dangerously inaccurate on a negative. It was so bad that even the diminutive John Bourne said it was rubbish, as did our Parliamentary Questions. The ISG Final Report described this test, (used by some, but not all, sanctuaries to screen its badgers before re-locating them) thus:
1.7 [] ... A live test for badgers had been developed and subject to trial from 1994-96, but its sensitivity was much poorer than had been hoped, successfully detecting only about 40% of infected badgers (Clifton-Hadley et al., 1995-and Woodroffe et al., 1999)
Since 2006, Natural England have held the competence for the issuing of  licenses to control badgers on a 20 year lease, as we explained in this posting. - [link]   But having spent a fruitless couple of hours trawling the Protection of Badgers Act (1991) for any sign of a Statutory Instrument, debated in Parliament which would legally support NE or their predecessor's stance on Section 10 licenses and this mysterious 'moratorium', our co editor patiently explained, 'it's not there'.

So, unless we've missed something, it is no use looking for that 1997 moratorium on Section 10 (2) a anywhere in writing to check NE's interpretation. Apparently, it does not exist. So how did this road block on a legal Act of Parliament come into being? Cooked up behind the equivalent of the Parliamentary bike sheds in exchange for £1m bung? Value for money then, if you factor in a £1 billion spend, 350,000 dead cattle and the possibility of another trade ban.

 And if that is how easily the Laws of this land are tweaked, what is the point of the rather grand building in the picture below, which is pretending to be the cradle of democracy ?

Paragraph 9 of the Protection of Badgers Act states quite clearly that:
"A licence under this section shall not be unreasonably withheld" .
And they are being withheld. Or, unlike those issued for sanctuary blood test failures, their conditions of issue to farmers made so damn difficult, complicated and expensive to operate that they can only be described as designed to fail - [link]

Perhaps a small levy on our 9million remaining cattle would help ease things along, if that is how this Parliament operates?

Finally, unNatural England, having made such a horlicks of counting badgers for the last pilot culls, and who together with their friends at FERA trousered a reported £3.17m for their trouble, are inviting expressions of interest, should the pilot culls be deemed acceptable enough to be rolled out again this year.

Details of criteria to be met are pretty much as onerous as before and can be found on this link. - [link]

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