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.
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)?
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.
This should give them something to think about. Well done and thanks for putting this together. My response said much of the same but in a lot less words.