Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare are arranging an open meeting to raise more awareness about the culls and badgers. This first one will be in Stalbridge. All are welcome, please spread the word!
Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare are arranging an open meeting to raise more awareness about the culls and badgers. This first one will be in Stalbridge. All are welcome, please spread the word!
From December 2011, when it became clear that the government was going to implement its policy of culling badgers, Defra and Natural England (NE) were flooded with requests for information about how the culls would be set up, conducted and monitored, under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI). One such person seeking information was Anna Dale, and her success has implications for everyone trying to protect the environment and wildlife.
Many FoI requests are refused on various grounds – ‘not allowed under the Environmental Information Regulations’ is a favourite, Defra banking on the hope that no one has read the EIR. Sometimes the information released is so blacked out it is meaningless. Or it would not be ‘in the public interest’.
Details, including names of farmers, landowners or culling contractors, cannot be given as it would ‘compromise public safety’, even when the request had specifically stated names were not sought. Or Defra or NE ‘does not hold that information’.
Disheartened, many people do not persevere. Anna Dale did. After a lengthy battle she succeeded in getting the information she wanted, after she and the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) went to court.
Anna made an FoI request to Defra and three to NE (between April and October 2013). Answers to the initial letters being unsatisfactory, Anna wrote again, asking for ‘internal reviews’ which also proved unhelpful. Anna pressed on and took her failure to gain the wanted information to the ICO. She had to wait some time before being assigned a case officer, but the ICO supported her and ordered Defra and NE to release the information. They appealed.
September 2015: the case against the Defra and NE appeals is heard by the Information Tribunal.
Defra was more than muddled. First it said it did hold the information but refused to release it. After the review it said it didn’t hold the information. During the hearing it was ordered to search again with the result that it couldn’t supply the information requested because it held some but not all of the information needed for a complete answer. The Judge allowed Defra’s appeal but politely told Defra to get its act together and stop wasting people’s time and money.
Did you understood that? The lesson to take from this to-and-fro exercise is, in your initial FoI request, to ask that the authority undertakes ‘adequate and properly directed searches in your Department and any Executive Agencies.’
The information Anna sought included:
The Tribunal’s decision provides some very useful reading for those campaigning against the culls. To start with:
The right to environmental information
The whole of the public’s right to environmental information comes under two closely related bodies of laws, the first being the Aarhus Convention which grants citizens the right to environmental information, and enables them to take an informed part in any decisions concerning their environment, and informed protest if they disagree with those decisions.
In 2004 the UK enacted the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (EIR), implementing the EC Directive on public access to environmental information. The Directive closely follows Aarhus. The Judge and his Panel made great use of these laws in forming the Decision. For instance, Aarhus says:
“… in the field of the environment, improved access to information and public participation in decision-making enhance the quality and the implementation of decisions, contribute to public awareness of environmental issues, give the public the opportunity to express its concerns and enable public authorities to take due account of such concerns”.
These values condition the interpretation of the EIR, said the Judge, stressing the point that the public has an over-riding right to environmental information and that any refusal to disclose it has to be ‘restrictive’. Thus, a public authority “shall apply a presumption in favour of disclosure”. Note the ‘shall’ – as in ‘must’, not ‘may’. Any grounds for refusal must be ‘specific and clearly defined’.
Under the EIR, information may be refused on these grounds:
As culling badgers would not affect international relations, defence or national security, NE depended on protection of the environment, public safety and public interest. Thus they argued that culling badgers was ‘protecting the environment’. The Judge said:
“The anti-cull movement believe that vaccinating badgers and other measures such as restricting cattle movements are the way to protect the environment including cattle. These views, we are informed, are supported by many scientists.”
There was much discussion about releasing the names of landholders (even though Anna was not seeking names), which NE said was a matter of public safety. NFU witnesses and NE argued that releasing such information would result in intimidation from ‘activists’. One witness related how he had personally been targeted, but much of the evidence was anecdotal and ‘speculative’.
The ICO took the ‘restrictive’ approach on safety issues. Simply put, beyond reported ‘worry and stress’ among farmers, no actual physical harm occurred.
NE argued that the ICO’s approach will lead to ‘drastic and terrifying results’, that it ‘could endanger people’s safety for no good reason’ and that it is ‘a reckless and thoughtless construction.’
Emotive language indeed, but the Judge noted that:
“… the limited police figures and correspondence available in evidence … do not support widespread chaos and illegality across the … cull areas.” Rather the contrary, as he pointed out:
“Most of the incidents described seem to us to be perfectly lawful protester activity, such as marching or demonstrating to gain public support for their cause; or identifying participants who can be lobbied and using largely lawful methods to try to persuade them to cease involvement in the culls through social media, phone calls, writing polite letters to retailers of farm produce etc.” (Emphasis added)
Given the recent news about the release of the names of Devon farmers, and despite the fact that the majority of anti-cull people do not approve of abusive or confrontational behaviour, the phrase ‘perfectly lawful protester activity’ is worth studying.
NE also argued that the destruction or removal of the cage-traps ‘compromised public safety’. Such activity is illegal but, as Dorset Police said after the 2015 cull, there were no arrests or prosecutions because there were no witnesses or proof as to who was responsible. The Judge said:
“There is, for example, no necessary need to treat an adverse effect on property (such as a badger trap) as having the same weight as an adverse effect on safety from a physical attack on a person or an inhabited dwelling.”
Government and its allies have always cited ‘public interest’ when what they mean is ‘government interest’. The Judge said:
“… the whole basis of Aarhus and the Directive is to encourage public participation in environmental matters. That participation encompasses, as a central feature, public protest on matters of environmental concern. Where, as here, Government policy on an environmental issue is a matter of substantial debate and concern, the provision of environmental information, including information facilitating protest, is vitally important. Increased protesting in the cull areas (or better directed protesting) is perfectly legitimate in a democratic society.” (Emphasis added)
“The ability to monitor and assess the effectiveness of the pilot culls is a significant public interest particularly in view of the public controversy surrounding the badger culls.”
The final paragraph of the Decision reads:
“We have considered the public interest balancing exercise and also the presumption in favour of disclosure and find that in all the circumstances of these appeals the public interest in maintaining the exceptions does not outweigh the public interest in disclosure for the reasons given above. In summary we find that in the circumstances of this case the weight we give to the ability of protesters to be able to more effectively monitor the effectiveness of a controversial Government policy is greater than the weight we give to the combined increasing risk of harm to farmers and the stopping of the culls.” (Emphasis added).
Anna won, and now we know – the public has the right to far more information on the environment than the authorities are willing to disclose. The public has the right to use that information to monitor activities that could, or is, harming the environment. This decision supports that right and can be used when pressing for more information.
This isn’t just about the badger cull. It’s about fracking, nuclear power, government policies on GM, pesticides, herbicides and destructive ‘development’ on SSSIs. It is about the people’s right to fight for the health of the environment they are part of.
Indeed, the decision says that almost everything that ‘protesters’ are doing in their desire to stop some action that harms the environment (and all it contains) is legal Nor does it compromise public safety – although it may compromise unscientific prejudice or profits.
And note this: while this case was being heard Defra was holding a public consultation on its plans to considerably alter the guidance and regulations of the culls. People did respond to this consultation but Defra took no notice and did what it wanted anyway. Had this judgment been available, we would have read and acted on this:
“The fact that the Government is now… carrying out a consultation on aspects of the Policy supports the need for respondees to that consultation to have access to as much information as possible so as to provide informed responses.”
Well, they wouldn’t want ‘informed responses’, now would they?
Thank you, Anna.
Lesley Docksey © 29 /03/16
(First published by the Ecologist)
The latest issue of the Radio Times must be making anti-badger culling people spitting mad. An article titled An Unlikely Star by Terry Payne, is advertising a programme, Land of Hope and Glory, being broadcast by BBC2 on Friday 4 March at 9 pm.
As Mark Jones (veterinarian and policy manager, Born Free Foundation) comments:
“The article paints a wholly inaccurate and biased picture of the situation facing cattle farmers affected by bovine tuberculosis.”
Jane Treays whose film it is has, on her own admission, set out to make a very partisan case for culling badgers. As quoted by Payne, she says:
“There is a massacre of our dairy herds going on and it is not being covered”.
The ‘massacre’ is the number of cattle being slaughtered because of bovine TB – around 30,000 a year (not all of which have bTB). What is never mentioned is the greater ‘massacre’ of cattle slaughtered for other reasons. For example, in 2008 75,000 were slaughtered because they were infertile.
Nor can Treays claim that the issue of bTB in cattle is not being covered. It constantly appears in the Western Region media (and elsewhere), in farming programmes on radio and TV and papers devoted to farming. And far more space is granted to the NFU and farmers wanting to cull badgers than is given to those people trying to argue on scientific grounds that badger culls won’t help the farmers or their cattle.
The ‘unlikely star’ of Treays’ film is Somerset farmer Maurice Durbin who has had TB on his farm since 2010. Faced with that information, Jan Bayley of the Animal Welfare Group commented:
“To have continuous incidents suggests that TB is endemic in his herd.”
One wonders whether the vets and Defra inspectors constantly visiting his farm had ever suggested as much. Mark Jones agrees:
“Bovine TB is a significant problem for our cattle industry. This problem has been exacerbated in recent years because of cattle farming and trading practices which are not focussed on disease control, and by successive governments which took their eye off the ball, particularly during the BSE and FMD crises. So much so, that in some parts of the west and south west the disease has effectively become endemic.”
In fact, the strong possibility of endemic bTB in herds is something that should be taken very seriously, studied and acted upon. Durbin has lost a third of his 320-strong pedigree Guernsey herd to the disease which, so the article says, is ‘often transmitted in the urine of badgers’. And note, not badgers possibly infected with bTB, just badgers. There are theories as to how transmission between cattle and badgers takes place, but nothing is proven.
Mark Jones adds:
“Many wild animals can contract bovine TB, and badgers can certainly carry the infection. But shooting large numbers of mostly healthy badgers will not help cattle farmers tackle a problem their industry has created.
“The fundamental difficulty with bovine TB is that the primary test used to determine whether cattle are infected only detects between 50-80% of the infected animals, leaving anything from one-in-five to one-in-two (that is anything between 20 and 50 per cent) of infected animals in the herd to continue spreading the infection. With ever larger herds this creates a huge problem, and is the reason so many herds suffer multiple breakdowns.”
Durbin’s farm has been ‘effectively closed for all this time’. Of course it has. Mark Jones continues:
“The testing limitations mean that, in order to control the spread of disease, very strict testing regimes must be introduced and adhered to, movement restrictions on known infected herds and farm biosecurity measures must be rigorous, and enforced risk-based trading is essential to ensure clean herds do not become infected from herds, which though declared ‘disease free’ actually still harbour infection.
“These are the measures which enabled bovine TB to be successfully brought under control back in the late 1950s and 1960s during the so-called ‘area eradication strategy’. Under that scheme, the number of cattle slaughtered because of bovine TB was reduced from a peak of 25,000 in 1959, to less than 10% of that figure a decade later. It’s worth noting we didn’t even know badgers could be infected with bovine TB until 1971.”
“We hear lots about the inhumanity of culling badgers, but nothing about the 30,000 cattle that are being shot each year because of TB.”
Being shot? Does Treays know anything about the slaughter of cattle in abattoirs? She claims that she ‘loves’ badgers and that it was right that they had become a protected species but:
“… now it is out of balance. The job of protecting them is done.”
Seeing that badgers are still dug out of their setts for badger baiting, most would disagree with that. She continues:
“No one is speaking up for the dairy industry… We have got to have a more reasoned debate.”
The NFU is constantly bleating about the state of the dairy industry, the price of milk, the threat of bTB and the necessity of culling badgers. But it refuses absolutely to have a reasoned debate with the scientists.
Yet as Mark Jones says:
“Playing the ‘badger blame game’ will not solve the bovine TB problem for farmers. The ‘massacre’ of cattle must of course be tackled, but not by massacring badgers, which won’t help struggling farmers and may well make things considerably worse.”
Payne’s article ends:
A tearful farmer Durbin is clear where the blame lies. “It’s the bloody do-gooders. They interfere with everything we do.”
By ‘do-gooders’ does he means scientists, vets and wildlife experts?
Lesley Docksey © 26/02/16
The government’s badger culling project is getting more unscientific by the day, or should one say by the square kilometre?
A few days ago Natural England announced that, for this year’s badger culls, a ‘total of 29 applications or expressions of interest for a badger control licence’ have been received, from Cheshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Somerset, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. According to south-western media, 25 of these applications are for areas within Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset. Which leaves just 4 covering the other 5 counties!
Consult and ignore
When the government held a public consultation on badger culling, the previous Labour government having decided, as a result of the Randomised Badger Culling Trials, not to implement a cull, it received 59,000 responses, very many of them raising serious scientific concerns.
Regardless, the government announced in 2010 that ‘a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control’ would be introduced; their ‘rules’ stated that culling must take place over a minimum area of 150km2 so ‘we can be confident it will have a net beneficial effect’. This despite the Randomised Badger Culling Trials having concluded culling badgers would ‘have no meaningful effect’ in preventing the spread of bovine TB. Goodbye, science.
In the autumn of 2015 another public consultation was held about proposed changes to the criteria governing culling. Those results were ignored too, Liz Truss happily announcing that ‘further statistical analysis’ of the RBCT (whose results have been constantly misquoted by the government) and ‘post-trial analysis’ allowed for the minimum culling area to come down from 150 km2 to 100 km2 .
The RSPCA, in its response to the government’s 2010 consultation (a must read), pointed out that the post-trial analysis had already been considered by the previous government when taking the decision not to engage in badger culling. Yet again, the Environment Secretary is misrepresenting the facts.
Even worse and despite the firm recommendation of the RBCT to confine culling to a 6-week period (causing the least pertubation of badger populations possibly spreading the disease), she made it far more convenient for the farmers. Basically, apart from the closed season when cubs are being reared, it’s now almost open season.
Cullers don’t like small areas
However, culling contractors prefer large areas, hoping that the sheer miles involved will discourage those people trying to defend badgers from the guns. According to NE, the applications cover areas ranging from from 135 km2 to 655 km2, with the average area being approximately 330 km2. (For those who walk, drive and think in miles, those figures are 52.1, 253.8 and 127.4 square miles respectively.)
How can one achieve an even half-accurate estimate of the badger population in an area of 127 or 252 square miles that could contain major differences in geology, soil and landscape? Yet it is on this dodgy estimate that the number of badgers to be culled per year is decided by Natural England. But NE doesn’t have the staff to cover the ground and farmers consistently overestimate how many badgers a sett holds.
Many do not understand that a single group of badgers may have more than one sett. Or that a long established sett may have over 30 entrances/holes yet no more than 5 or 6 badgers in residence, the average family group being 5.9 badgers. One farmer’s over-estimate for the number of badgers on his land amounted to three badgers per acre. Rabbits maybe. Badgers no.
Is culling badgers the only option?
No. In 2011 the European Commission carried out an audit on the UK’s efforts in controlling bTB in cattle. The report was damning, highlighting many areas where testing, cattle movement controls and biosecurity measures were quite simply inadequate.
The UK produced some defensive comments on the report (the word ‘wildlife’ appeared just once, and badgers not at all) and then a proposed plan to deal with the situation, implemented in 2013. But until England follows the route taken by Wales (e.g. annual TB testing on all cattle, not just in selected areas), England’s farmers will still struggle to gain control over bTB.
Biosecurity on farms is an absolute must if one is serious about controlling any form of disease (bird or swine flu for example) that might be transmitted by wildlife or stock on neighbouring farms, particularly when one considers that intensive farming methods compromise the immune systems of the animals, making them more vulnerable to infection.
But how many farms do you have to see with your eyes wide shut before noticing that too many are still lax in their biosecurity controls, putting not just themselves at risk, but also those farms in the area that do take matters seriously. And easy as it is to blame the wildlife, the far greater risk comes from herds where bTB is endemic. The farming industry, not badgers, needs to bite the bullet.
Infected Badger Populations’
Defra talks about ‘infected badger populations’, but in all this pseudo science there is no effort to investigate how much bTB really is present among badgers. During the first two years of culling in Somerset and Gloucester, no badgers were tested for bTB. Rumour has it that an independent laboratory is now thinking of doing such a study on badgers in one of the Western Region counties but surely, if the government wants to go on claiming this is a ‘science-led policy’, it must conduct its own rigorous, unbiased and transparent investigation.
It won’t, of course. Such a study would only demonstrate that badgers are nowhere near being a major part of the problem. Further, any government-funded reports that don’t agree with its policies may be muzzled. One can expect neither sense nor science from a government that appears to be allowing the closure of the National Wildlife Crime Agency. For the majority of us, culling badgers is one of those crimes.
Lesley Docksey © 22/02/16
In May 2013 there was a meeting at Dorchester town hall to discuss the impending badger cull and the possibility of it coming to Dorset. All eyes were focused on the stage, were the stars of the movement against the cull – including Brian May and the head of the RSPCA – spoke. But it was in the crowd, listening quietly and unassumingly, that the real lynchpin of the group to protect Dorset’s badgers sat, she just didn’t know it yet.
Sue Chamberlain came to the very first meeting of what became Dorset for Badger and Bovine welfare and she didn’t miss a single one from that moment. In fact it was Sue who organised the meetings; setting the dates, letting people know, answering the emails, posting on facebook, circulating minutes… and that was just the beginning. We cannot overstate just how much Sue did to grow, maintain and keep the group grounded. Sue was our rock; our administrator, our merchandise queen, our fundraiser, coordinator, liaison with the authorities, the person who got things done, who made sure that when the badger cull came to Dorset that everyone knew where they needed to be in order to save as many animals as possible. Sue could be out in the field one night, and on the phone dealing with any problems that arose all the next day. Nothing was ever too much trouble, no problem was insurmountable.
This is all the more remarkable given that Sue was fighting her own private battle against cancer, and on Wednesday 13 January it became the fight she could not win and the animals and a great many people lost a true and brave friend.
Sue, we love you and miss you. Rest well, you more than earned it.
Roll it out across the country, with far fewer criteria to control the gunmen, that’s what Liz Truss wants.
The Environment Secretary’s statement to parliament on the 2015 badger culls in Somerset, Gloucester and Dorset, naturally made when MPs were about to go home for their Christmas jollifications, would have been laughable if it wasn’t such a dire repeat of the previous two years’ misinformation and bad science.
She cites the Chief Veterinary Officer as saying ‘that industry-led badger control’ – a chilling term – will achieve disease control benefits. She says the government’s approach to dealing with bTB has worked in other countries. It hasn’t. The only country that has seriously culled its badger population is Ireland, and the facts from there are very dodgy.
The one welcome announcement was that they are finally going to introduce statutory post-movement testing for cattle, something many farmers have been crying out for. But even that only goes so far.
An unsubstantiated claim by Truss
Answering MPs’ questions, Truss claimed that more than half of England (the Low Risk Area) will officially bTB free by 2020, but ignored the fact that:
Asked by Labour MP David Hanson how many of the thousands of killed badgers had been tested for bTB, she first blamed Labour for creating the problem of bTB and then said, “I am following the advice of the Chief Veterinary Officer, who says that culling is an important part of dealing with it. Why do Labour Members not congratulate the hard-working farmers in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset who have delivered this year, and who are helping us to deal with this terrible disease?”
Untested badgers were not mentioned (bar one in the first year of culling, none have been tested).
Neil Parrish, the pro-culling Devon Tory MP said that “In Gloucestershire and Somerset, there has been a very beneficial reduction in the number of cattle suffering from TB in the badger culling areas.” He then asked, “When will the Secretary of State be able to release the figures that will show what is happening?”
Maybe when the moon turns blue, because if there genuinely were figures to support his statement Liz Truss would have been touting them around every media outlet she could find.
Let’s use some facts
Truss claims that the badger culls in Somerset and Gloucester (their third year of culling) and Dorset (experiencing its first) have been successful. What does that mean? Successful in killing lots of badgers? Or successful in lowering the incidence of bovine TB among cattle?
The culls are being carried out in very small areas of each county (Somerset approx. 4% of the total land mass, Gloucester approx. 7% and Dorset approx. 8%). One really cannot claim that culling badgers in such a small percentage of land is affecting the TB rates enough to be counted as ‘successful’.
Defra’s own statistics show that annual testing of cattle and other bTB control measures in Dorset was reducing TB without culling. And there is evidence, slight it is true, that perturbation of badger populations in Somerset has resulted in new incidents of bTB around the edge of the culling area.
This evidence comes from a website that maps bTB outbreaks in England for the last 5 years. It is worth noting that according to this map there was a total of 9-10 farms in the North Dorset culling area that had bTB breakdowns in 2015, only three of which were still under restrictions at the time of the badger cull. Compared to the spread of incidents in parts of Devon and Cornwall, this looks pretty sparse, and makes one wonder just why Dorset was allowed to have a cull.
The NFU was not happy when campaigners found and used this site. But it is factual, unlike claims based on hearsay rather than figures.
In 2014 the then Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was foolish enough to repeat to a farming journalist, as fact, something a Gloucester farmer had claimed; that since badger culling had started there had been a huge increase in ground-nesting birds (dead badgers don’t eat birds, and it’s not a staple food for live ones). This was news to the RSPB and embarrassing for Defra when they were queried about it.
This is, if course, a ‘science-led’ control of badgers
These culls are no longer pretending to be ‘pilot badger culls’, due to run for four years before being rolled out across the country. Until they are completed there can be no properly assessed scientific evidence that culling badgers will result in less bTB. To have any roll-out without that evidence is utterly unscientific. Nor is it bovine TB control. It is just ‘badger control’.
Defra launched a consultation on 28 August 2015 on their plans to ‘update’ the criteria for culling even more badgers. The 2015 culls started just three days later, on the August Bank Holiday.
They solicited responses by emailing over 300 ‘interested parties’. Others had to find out for themselves, which meant that some badger groups only had a few days to send in their responses before the month-long consultation closed.
There were 1378 responses, 90 percent of them from the public. Farmers and farming organisations accounted for just 3 percent. The fact that the 2010 consultation on badger culling elicited over 59,000 responses demonstrates how unpublicised government consultations can be, particularly when they don’t want to hear the answers.
Three proposals were offered:
The length of the culls should not be limited to the current 6 weeks
Having dismissed those who were against badger culling in principle (“many responses appeared to have been submitted in response to campaigns…”), it must have been clear to Defra what the majority opinion was:
All three proposals could increase the perturbation of badger populations, leading to increases of TB in cattle (as proved by the Randomised Badger Culling Trials). All three proposals were moving away from the criteria set by the RBCT – a legitimate argument seeing that the government relied heavily on the RBCT to justify culling badgers, while happily misquoting its findings.
There were also worries on welfare issues and the possibility that local populations could be wiped out. Of the several hundred responses to each question, only 40-46 people broadly supported the proposals mostly, judging from the reasons given, because they would hamper those trying to protect badgers.
To all of which Defra replied that the responses “have helped inform the Secretary of State’s decision to implement the proposals”, which is a horrifying prospect for England’s badgers. It will almost amount to badgers being shot wherever and whenever the gunmen choose. And, seeing that the government has refused to release the true costs of culling badgers, it will cost unknown sums in policing. On only one thing have they given way – they have apparently agreed to test culled badgers for bovine TB.
And what will they do if it is found that too few badgers have bTB? Apart from staying very, very silent. Or make use of that statement (attributed to Truss) about failing defences in last month’s disastrous floods:
“Our defences worked really well right up to the point at which they failed.”
Lesley Docksey © 04/01/16 (First published by The Ecologist)
It is with real sorrow that we have to announce that our wonderful administrator Sue Chamberlain died on Wednesday 13th January 2016.
She had been ill since Christmas. She was the person that the whole Dorset for Badger & Bovine Welfare group revolved around, organising all our activities and events, arranging our meetings, running our stalls, emailing us all, posting endless useful information on our Facebook. Whatever needed doing, she did it. She was a true badger champion, a true friend to our wildlife and she will be sorely missed by all of us.