Defra’s latest ‘public’ consultation on killing badgers

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The proposal to issue supplementary licences, in the complete absence of any evidence that culls conducted over four years have yet resulted in any benefit and without any evidence from the RBCT or elsewhere that culling beyond four years is warranted is completely at odds with Government commitments to evidence-based policy making. Humane Society International UK (HSI UK)

Submissions to Defra’s latest public consultation on badger culling closed on February 10th. This time they were seeking opinions on their plans for ‘supplementary badger disease control’. What they mean by that is that any badger cull which has completed its allotted four years could be licensed to simply go on killing badgers.

How many consultations have been held over this thorny issue? Three or four? Or more? I’ve lost count. What is clear is that not once have environment or farming ministers listened to (or perhaps even read) the responses, whether from ordinary members of the public or, importantly, from scientists, vets, ecologists and wildlife organisations.

In The Fate of the Badger author Dr Richard Meyer, a member of the Consultative Panel when the government was planning to cull badgers in the 1980s, quoted from a 2009 paper Intractable Policy Failure , which said that one minister asserted that the CP:

 ‘… plays a major role in allowing us to demonstrate that all shades of opinion on badgers have been taken into account before we kill them.’

Consultations are there as fig leaves. Opinions contrary to the government’s desired policies have never been taken into account.

Concerned organisations responded with science

With each consultation the barrage of science against badger culling gets stronger, as yet more studies are published (some of them government-led as in Northern Ireland) demonstrating that it is not badgers that are to blame for bovine TB in cattle, but poor testing, even poorer biosecurity and cattle management.

As before, Defra’s Consultation document is full of cherry-picked poor science, science that has been proven wrong by later (or even previous) studies and proposed actions based on fanciful assumptions presented as facts. Defra still maintains, despite ongoing research to the contrary, that disease spread from badgers to cattle is an important cause of herd breakdowns. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is politely scathing about the way ‘evidence’ is presented:

“Such documents should equip the reader to provide informed comment on the government’s proposals… it misrepresents the level of certainty associated with the action proposed…   there is thus far no evidence of any disease control benefits from industry-led culling and no evidence as to whether continued culling would prolong such anticipated benefits.”

Lack of evidence of any reduction in cattle Tb is an issue raised by several organisations. Using Defra’s own figures they point to the drop in new incidents before culling started, caused by the implementation of tougher testing and cattle movement controls. Defra then added something else, the use of another bTB test (IFNy) which gave more accurate results and identified more infected cattle. This would lead to fewer new incidents of bTB. But the drop is being claimed as proof that the badger culling is working.

“Unfortunately, Defra has undermined its own ability to use this measure, by deciding to use the IFNy test on cattle only in areas where badger culling has been undertaken. Hence, ongoing attempts to estimate the impact of badger culling on cattle TB will be confounded by improvements in cattle testing in cull (but not comparison) areas.” ZSL

‘Evidence-based Success’

This is Defra’s justification for continuous culling, but both the ‘evidence’ and the ‘success’ have been queried. Defra claims that the first two culls, in Somerset and Gloucester, “have now completed successfully their fourth and final year”. What do they mean by ‘success’?

Even after four years of culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset, there is no evidence, or indeed any suggestion of any beneficial effect on TB in cattle.” HIS UK

The Badger Trust goes further and asks whether badger culling is actually legal:

“More specifically there is a fundamental omission from the licencing process that has existed from the beginning of the 2013 ‘pilot’ culls, namely that there is no requirement for licencees to produce any evidence of bTB infection in badgers or to establish any credible risk to known populations of cattle. That is to say there are no safeguards within the process to ensure that 10,2(a) of the Protection of Badgers Act, 1992 (… for the purpose of preventing the spread of disease …) is being met and thereby ensuring that any culling is actually legal under the Act.”

And they point out that “All criteria mentioned with regard to the ‘success’ (or failure) of culling, or the conditions needed to be met before renewing ‘supplementary licences’ refer only to numbers of badgers killed.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) commented: “It appears the only criteria being applied to define success of the prior culls is number of badgers killed, not a visible reduction of bTB within cattle herds.”

One reason for disputing Defra’s idea of ‘success’ and its plans for the future is the inability to produce any believable badger population figures. ZSL has a lot to say about this. It had taken a lot of hard field work to produce the badger population figures for the first year of culling in Somerset and Gloucester, and even then it was wrong. But now, says ZSL:

“These concerns arise because Defra attempted to estimate badger numbers without conducting any field surveys in the cull zones… Without reliable estimates of initial population size any estimate of population size reduction is likewise unreliable. Unfortunately, now that culls have commenced in these areas the initial badger population size is unknowable.”

They conclude: “it is not at all clear how Natural England could be expected to set target numbers of badgers to be killed in follow-up culls…”

“There is no conclusive evidence that culls carried out to date have resulted in significant disease control benefits, nor that extending them will result in or prolong any such benefits.” Born Free Foundation (BFF)

And even Defra admits that there is no evidence on the effects of longer term badger control. The desired benefits are no more than an assumption.

Welfare is left to the killers

Defra wants to continue the use of ‘free’ or ‘controlled’ shooting, which was found to be inhumane by the Independent Expert Panel in the very first year of culling. Since then even the British Veterinary Association has condemned free shooting. Just about everyone has called for its ban.

Farmers want shooting for two reasons. Cage-trapping badgers is much more expensive, time consuming and involves physical labour. And – let’s be brutally honest here – shooting is much more fun, more macho.

The lack of monitoring, supposedly under the control of Natural England, which is the only way to prove the inhumaneness of shooting, is also called into question. “Wholly inadequate” was BFF’s response, and quoted Natural England’s own figures. Only 2% of the badgers shot in last year’s cull were observed by monitors, and only one badger was autopsied, this out of a total of 8639 dead badgers.

“Entirely inadequate”, said HSI UK, and added: The increased reliance on self-reporting by culling contractors is inappropriate and liable to lead to erroneous data; for example in 2016 contractors reported a level of missed shots one tenth of that observed by NE monitors.”

Both the Badger Trust and BFF said that Defra appeared to rely on the Chief Veterinary Officer’s belief that “the level of suffering in badgers is comparable with other forms of culling, currently accepted by society”. So that’s okay then. Hang on – I seem to remember several explosions of public rage over proposals to cull – beavers and buzzards to mention just two.

Defra’s ‘cost analysis’ doesn’t add up

“Plans to extend the culls in this way nullify the original cost benefit analysis.” IFAW

“Like every other government department, DEFRA and therefore Natural England, have been subject to continuous cuts in budgets and human resources so it is reasonable to assume that much of what is expected of it under the proposed scheme will be beyond its capacity to deliver.”   Badger Trust

“The Government claims to have shown that the culling policy will have a positive cost benefit. This is at odds with numerous independent economic analyses and relies on the reduction in TB in cattle shown by the RBCT, which is unlikely, and has not yet been demonstrated.” HIS UK

As the Badger Trust points out, TB eradication is being used as an excuse to slaughter badgers, not a reason.

“…it is possible for significant portions of the cull zones to be made up of land where no cattle exist and where any risk from badgers (diseased or otherwise) is non-existent. The process allows for landowner/farmer participation in the culling exercise to be based simply on their ‘desire’ to cull badgers regardless of whether they keep cattle or not.”

But will Defra listen?

I said that opinions contrary to the government’s desired policies have never been taken into account. So does it surprise you that, just 11 days after the consultation closed and before Defra has had any time to consider the large holes in their science (if indeed they would), the Environment Minister Andrea Leadsome told the NFU conference:

“Last summer we rolled out the cull to seven additional areas – all of which were successful. And this year, I want to extend that even further.”

Lesley Docksey © 23/02/17

DBBW Response to the Defra Consultation on ‘Supplementary [Badger] Culling’

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This public consultation is not the first to be conducted regarding badger culling and each time, despite major opposition (backed by some powerful scientific arguments), Defra chose to ignore the results. Defra’s Strategy talks of ‘strengthening cattle testing and movement controls’ and ‘improving biosecurity’, but appears yet again to put culling badgers first.

A public consultation on implementing stricter TB testing, biosecurity measures and cattle movement controls would be welcome. It is time to impose strict movement controls, to enforce all-round biosecurity measures on farms. These measures alone have (as shown in Wales) a marked effect on bringing down bTB incidence, which surely must benefit the farmers.

Changing the rules

The Randomised Badger Culling Trials advised 2 weeks of intensive culling for 4 successive years, after which the area was left alone. The culls in Somerset and Gloucester were ‘pilot’ culls with 6 weeks of culling, to last for four years. This has now been rewritten as ‘a minimum of 4 years’. Surely, if the intention was to reduce bTB in cattle, a pilot cull should be given enough time to demonstrate that the culling had reduced the incidence of bTB in cattle. Thus, the culls in Somerset and Gloucester, having completed the four years, should now be studied for another 3-4 years to see if the pilots had produced the desired effect, this before any further culling took place elsewhere. To prolong the culls will not only prevent obtaining evidence that they were effective in reducing bTB, it will also hide any evidence that culling and the disturbance it creates on farmland and among badgers has increased the incidence of bTB in cattle.

International evidence – 3.7 and 3.8

Republic of Ireland
The RoI has now successfully trialled oral vaccine for badgers, and are hopeful that this will eventually replace culling (http://mrcvs.co.uk/en/news/15458/Oral-badger-vaccine-trial-yields-‘positive’-results). Note that the agricultural minister Michael Creed warned that this would not ‘provide any direct evidence of the protective effect of vaccination to TB in cattle’.   Put more bluntly, having a vaccinated and TB-free population of badgers wouldn’t necessarily affect the level of TB in cattle.

New Zealand
Defra is still making use of New Zealand’s possums as a ‘wildlife reservoir’, even though only 54 out of 124,000 autopsied possums had TB. In October 2015 New Zealand’s First Minister announced that:

“There’s been a 40 percent reduction in the number of infected cattle since movement control was introduced in 2012…. this strongly suggests that effective movement control has been the real answer to TB in cattle all along. The single biggest reservoir and vector for bovine tuberculosis is cattle. It always has been cattle.”

(See press release from New Zealand First Party: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1510/S00480/pigs-not-the-tb-culprit-either.htm)

The ‘reservoir’ of bTB in badgers

Until Natural England/ Defra undertakes to test all badger carcasses – not just for latent TB but infectious TB – it is an assumption to call it a reservoir. It should also be accepted that badgers and cattle do not readily mix:

  • Several studies (in Co. Wicklow, Eire, Northern Ireland and Cornwall) have clearly demonstrated that badgers avoid cattle and cattle housing.
  • It has not, despite years of research, been proven exactly how badgers could infect cattle. It follows that to say that ‘disease spread from badgers to cattle is an important cause of herd breakdowns’ amounts to an assumption, not a fact.
  • It has been admitted that badger culling was offered to farmers as a way of persuading them to accept further cattle control measures (the famous ‘carrot’ quoted by Professor John Bourne), and more recently in Northern Ireland, where DAERA is proposing to allow a badger cull in return for farmers accepting control measures.
  • Many farms have few or no measures in place to prevent badgers from accessing yards, and there is even less evidence of measures to prevent cattle-to-cattle transmission

While no culled badgers are being tested for infectious bTB, it is wrong to state unequivocally that they are infecting cattle. In the RCBT nearly 11,000 badgers were autopsied and only 1.65% were found to be infectious.

Defra and Natural England should address the issue of the ‘single biggest reservoir’ before even looking at other sources of bTB. And instead of still using NZ possums as a reason to kill badgers, why aren’t they treating seriously the results of Wales’ strict testing, biosecurity and movement regimen?

Supplementary form of licensed badger culling

4.2 ‘The aim is to prolong the disease control benefits of a completed licensed cull.’

Defra says the Somerset and Gloucester culls were ‘successfully completed’. What is their basis for that? Is there any concrete evidence that the culling has reduced the bTB in cattle in those areas? ‘Disease control benefits’ are another assumption.

There are ongoing problems over badger population numbers. The 2012 culls were cancelled because the numbers were wrong. The 2013 culls had to be extended because neither cull could meet its targets. Are the culls successful in killing the right amount of badgers, or simply in killing badgers?

As badger population estimates, upon which cull targets are based, are so inaccurate, Natural England cannot claim that 70% of the badger population has been removed in the first year and that reduction in population maintained in following years. Farmers often count separate holes and call them setts (according to Natural England records for 2012, there was one Dorset farmer who claimed to have 60 setts on his farm). They also overestimate the number of badgers per sett (in 2015 another farmer claimed to have 90 badgers living on his small farm – ecologically impossible).

The ‘updating’ of targets in the 2016 culls, with some areas failing to achieve the set numbers while in Dorset the minimum and maximum numbers were doubled in the last week (with West Dorset being allowed a further 10 days) points to a system that is either shambolic or blatantly dishonest.

It also cannot be claimed that any decrease in bTB is due to culling badgers as it is now impossible to separate the effects of killing badgers from the effects of increased testing, biosecurity and cattle movement measures, these having been implemented a year before the culls started. And now it appears the improved (IFNy) testing is only being used in areas where culling is taking place. With no control test zone, yet again it will be impossible to say whether any lower incidence of bTB is due to badger culling or better testing of cattle.

In Dorset, which had no culling until 2015, we saw a very welcome drop in the bTB cattle slaughter rate (down 37.25% between 2012 and 2014) due to the implemented cattle measures.   New incidents of bTB are now on the rise. Given the dire lack of biosecurity on farms – not just to prevent access to yards by badgers, but to prevent cattle-to-cattle transmission – and with no disinfection of contractors’ vehicles and footwear when travelling farm to farm, it is difficult not to lay the increase firmly at the culls’ door.

4.7 and 4.8  

The closed seasons must be amended to January 1 to May 31 for shooting and November 1 to May 31 for trapping, but we feel that free shooting should be stopped altogether.   The Independent Expert Panel and the British Veterinary Association both say it is inhumane. Also, using the same ‘open season’ as for deer shooting is wrong – badgers are not deer. Shooting badgers during January must not be allowed – it used to be thought that badgers did not produce young until February, but modern research shows that 50% of badger cubs are born in January.

Cage trapping should not be carried out in November – the weather is too cold and wet, and it is inhumane to leave badgers out in such conditions. Also, some cullers are lax about when they return to shoot the trapped badger. During last year’s cull one of our members found a badger still caged at 2pm. Is this the ‘expertise accumulated’ during the culls (4.3)?

Further Comments

6A In its consultation document Defra states as certainties things that can only be presumptions. Under these circumstances there is no way any policy at all can be formed that might have quantifiable results

6B The welfare of badgers has never been maintained nor, due to the lack of sufficient monitoring, would Natural England be fully aware of that issue. As a group that wants both badgers and cattle to be bTB-free, DBBW is appalled that yet further culling should be proposed without Natural England and Defra waiting to see if the first two ‘pilot’ culls produced any provable benefits. All we have seen is dead badgers and abandoned setts. We are, and have been from the start, seriously concerned about the lack of welfare, whether of badgers or cattle.

While we know farmers who love wildlife and do not support badger culling, we also meet and hear many who simply want to kill badgers, using bTB as their justification Yet they make little effort to protect their yards and their cattle, which they surely would do if – if – they genuinely believed badgers to be the problem.

6C When Natural England has not been able to evaluate the effectiveness of the culls to date, and has never been able to produce accurate figures for the badger population, to suggest that they could properly evaluate prolonged culling is an insult to their intelligence and ours.

Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare – Badger Cull Results

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The badger cull is over for 2016 and we now have the results…

In West Dorset alone the cull company claims to have killed 3000 badgers in just 50 nights of killing operations. That amounts to 60 badgers a night for 50 nights! I am minded to wonder if the killers can count or, perhaps, if they brought in dead animals from outside the West Dorset cull area as happened in other zones in previous years.

However, if the figure of 3000 dead is correct it makes a complete mockery of the original Natural England cull target of between 1282 and 1740 animals to be slaughtered and the original Defra badger population estimates for the area of between 1832 and 2725 animals. Presumably, the cull company didn’t manage to kill more animals than actually existed!

Once again those who hold badgers responsible for the spread of bTB in cattle have shown a total ignorance of the science and a determination to eradicate badgers from the landscape; why else would they extend the cull by 10 days when they had clearly reached the minimum target requirement in the statuary 6 weeks?

During this year’s cull those of us opposed to the killing walked hundreds of miles of footpaths and bridleways, often through farms and farmyards, in an attempt to save badgers from both free-shooting and from cage trapping and shooting. In doing so we saw the disgraceful lack of bio-security in many of our farms.

George Eustace, the Farming Minister, who claims to be “using every tool in the toolbox” in the Government’s ‘25 year plan’ to eradicate bTB (as did 2 previous ‘Secretaries of State for the Environment’), does not even require farmers to show that they have carried out even the most basic bio-security measures.

One farmyard visited was completely covered in slurry (which can support bTB bacilli for many months) and, in previous years, I have seen dairy cattle stand in the slurry for much of the winter. This farm is currently locked down with bTB. The farmer in question took part in the badger cull.

On a neighbouring farm, in the space of one week, I found two newly dead roe deer, each left to rot in a field supporting dairy cattle. Roe deer are also susceptible to bTB and carcasses left to rot attract all manner of scavengers. The farmer at this farm also took part in the badger cull.

I could go on about dead sheep left to rot (two farms), deadstock thrown over a fence into scrub, or, piles of farm bio-hazard waste dumped on a public footpath (all reported to Trading Standards or Police) but this is not meant to be a diatribe against farmers and there are, of course, many very good farms and farmers.

However, if the NFU and the farming community want to be taken seriously when they profess to be fighting bTB they have a mountain of work to do to get their own house in order before they blame the humble badger.

© Ian Mortimer

Dorset Badger Cull 2016 Officially Ends

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We are happy to announce officially that the West Dorset badger cull finishes at midday today Wednesday 19th October 2016.

We will not know any actual numbers of slaughtered badgers (from both the West Dorset and North Dorset zones) for a while because it seems the powers to be often have trouble counting.

Thank you all for your support, we at DBBW and Dorset Badger Patrol and Control will keep trying to get future culls stopped and will be promoting vaccination.

This battle is over, but the war goes on!