01 August 2011

The issue - a Badger Cull; To me - answer is Black & White

Firstly I'd like to thank all organisations for the information available, which I've been able to find about the Badger Cull; and a special thanks to Violet from the RSPCA for contacting me and supplying information so that I could write this blog with as much accuracy as possible.

It completely dumbfounds me that, even though there is overwhelming evidence against culling, that it has even got to the stage of needing a decision to be made, to 'test' theories, by killing these amazing creatures in the first place. 

During the Welsh appeal court hearing it was clarified the government was only expecting a tiny 9% reduction in bTB; and two of the three judges said this didn't amount to a "substantial" reduction in disease - and that's what's required in law to kill badgers, which are a protected species. 
So if a cull 'could' deliver a 9% cut, would it not be more cost effective, fairer on the badgers, the cattle and the farmers to concentrate on the 91% which everything else would deliver and come closer to the eradication of this disease? Another point raised in all the scientific evidence is the fact that any type of cull could actually increase the spread of the disease and actually make matters worse...this being the case, how many badgers would have to be murdered to achieve the 9% reduction?

Below is a copy of a Wildlife Trust document part of a Final Report from EFRA

Badger Cull - Latest from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee report on badgers and cattle TB
The Wildlife Trusts national position, supported by Durham Wildlife Trust, is outlined below.
The Wildlife Trusts accept bTB in cattle is a significant problem for farming in the UK and that urgent action is required to combat the disease.  The Trusts particularly recognise the important role the livestock industry can play in the environmentally sensitive management of the countryside, and the serious disruption and anxiety caused to farmers experiencing a herd breakdown.
The Wildlife Trusts are pleased the EFRA committee agrees that the following measures must be rigorously enforced to control bTB:
  • More frequent cattle testing, with more frequent and targeted combined use of the tuberculin skin test and the gamma interferon test
  • The evaluation of post-movement cattle testing
  • Greater communication with farmers on the benefits of bio-security measures
  • The deployment of badger and cattle vaccines, when they become available
  • Continued work on the epidemiology of the disease.
However, The Wildlife Trusts believe that a cull would be impractical due to the conditions suggested by the report: 
Culling would need to be:
·         Over large areas (at least 265sq km, nearly the size of the Isle of Wight) – land ownership is so fragmented that this would be impossible
·         For sustained periods of time (at least four years) – it would be impossible to prevent badgers moving into culled areas for this period of time
·         Be co-ordinated – co-ordinating culling amongst so many landowners, particularly when some would not support a cull, would be impractical 
·         Be carried out competently and efficiently – having so many different landowners and managers carrying our culling means it would be impossible to ensure minimum standards of competence or efficiency
·         Be undertaken where there are natural boundaries to dispersal – badgers are known to cross man-made natural boundaries such as major roads and waterways

The Independent Scientific Group, set up by Government to look at this issue, concluded that, because they could see no situation where the conditions could be met, culling provides ‘no meaningful contribution’ and is ‘not cost effective’ as a control measure for combating bovine tuberculosis.
Can we combat this disease by cattle control measures alone?
Bovine TB levels in Northern Ireland have fallen by almost 40% since 2002 from a herd incidence of 9.93% to 6.23% in 2006.  Statistics suggest that the disease is continuing on a downward trend.  This has been achieved through strict enforcement of cattle based control measures and no culling of badgers.
Do we allow access to our nature reserves for badger culling?
We have a presumption against culling wildlife on all our reserves.  

So why again, with all this evidence and advice is the government taking a re-active stance and focusing on the 9%, rather than a pro-active stance and focusing on the 91%?

Badger facts:

Common Name European Badger
Scientific Name Meles Meles
Life Span Up to 14 years
Body Length 65-80cm, (25 inches - 31 inches)
Weight 8-12 kg
Physical Description Eurasian badgers are easily recognisable by the conspicuous black and white stripes running from the nose to the shoulders. They are stocky animals with short black legs and silvery grey backs.
Diet Badgers feed on earthworms, frogs, rodents, birds, eggs, lizards, insects, bulbs, seeds and berries.
Behavior Badgers are nocturnal and emerge from their setts at dusk. They live in family groups, of up to 12 individuals. Badgers live in underground burrows called setts which consist of several chambers, passages and entrances and are used by successive generations of badgers.

So the government have announced that they will go ahead with the widely ill advised badger cull. The details of how the government proposes to go about this cull are even worse than we imagined. They are relying on ‘ifs’ and making assumptions not based on evidence. At least 70% of the badger population in many areas will be killed many of them healthy. This decision comes in spite of scientific evidence* which shows that culling is a misjudged effort to control bovine TB; and will be of little help in reducing the disease long term and could actually make things worse!

My advice to all who oppose any kind of cull is to sign, shout, write and make voices heard in every corridor of Parliament. There are many organisations with campaigns against the cull; and it doesn't take long with a Google search to find many more than I have suggested:

  • the RSPCA are asking supporters to express their outrage at the decision in a tagging campaign via their main facebook page which will act as a petition of sorts. It is vital that we send a strong message to the government that bad science must not prevail. You can find more information at http://www.facebook.com/RSPCA They also have serious concerns on the licensing of farmers and landowners to free-shoot badgers. Shooting badgers is difficult as badgers have a very thick skull, thick skin and a very thick layer of subcutaneous fat and because of the short, squat body and the way their legs work, free-shooting means a high risk of wounding the badgers instead of killing them, causing a slow, painful death. The RSPCA believes that badgers are being made the scapegoats for a rise in bovine TB in cattle.

    • The government has announced plans to start culling badgers. There's been a big debate among 38 Degrees members about these culls. Some of us believe killing badgers would be wrong under any circumstances. Some of us believe that if the science really proved that shooting badgers could make a real dent in the cow TB problem, it would be a tragic necessity. But 87% of us agree on this: the government's current plans to shoot England's badgers simply don't stack up. The government’s own scientific advisers warn that it won't solve the problem of TB in cattle, and could even make it worse.Government scientists say that if a cull isn’t carried out “in a co-ordinated, sustained and simultaneous manner according to the minimum criteria, then this could result in a smaller benefit or even a detrimental effect.” The government is consulting on the plans right now. If we don't stop them, badger shoots could begin in a matter of months. Can you take 30 seconds now to add your name to the petition? http://www.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/badgers-petition
      • Brian May & Save Me - The present Coalition Government is preparing to grant farmers licences to kill our British badgers, in an attempt to control the spread of Bovine TB (bTB) in cattle. Morally, this is an indefensible atrocity - especially since it is due to cattle-farming that this disease has infected our ancient Badger population - which dates back to a time before Humans inhabited the British Isles. But it is also a scientific certainty that this CULL cannot work, and may well make matters worse for cattle. Thousands of innocent creatures are about to be slaughtered for nothing. http://www.brianmay.com/save-me/badgers/DEFRA_E-mailer.html

        • The League Against Cruel Sports opposes the proposed badger cull on two main grounds. Firstly, a cull would fly in the face of scientific evidence about how to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis, and could even exacerbate the problem. And secondly, authorising a cull would create a new bloodsport by licensing the shooting of badgers for gun-toting volunteers. We are calling for a badger vaccination programme instead of a cull. Just enter your details below to register your support for vaccinations and not extermination. We need 100,000 signatures to start a debate in parliament on the issue - but we think that's too easy so we want a million. Will you help us reach our target? https://www.e-activist.com/ea-action/action?ea.client.id=122&ea.campaign.id=10568

        Test kit - no bTB here!
        One more issue concerning the proposed cull and how it hasn't been thought through, is a question about the impact on wildlife rescue organisations; and within this area the many more questions that need answering. Every year wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres across the whole country take in orphaned and injured badgers; these need releasing once either reared or treated. The proposed cull makes a complete mockery of what these organisations are trying to achieve. All centres test the badgers in their care for bTB before release. Will there be protocols in place to ensure that badgers proved not to carry the virus are not shot? What are rescue centres going to do with the badgers - do they keep them until cull is over? Do they go against protocol and release them away from areas they originally came from? Badgers live in family groups, of up to 12 individuals; they are territorial animals and each social group has its own distinctive scent. Individuals can not be released away from their original sett as this will possibly lead them to attack from others in that territory. How can these organisations, with their ethics, values and protocols, be 'forced' to release these animals into areas that the result of successful treatment and rehabilitation is to be immediately shot dead in the wild on release? In the whole scheme of things, rescue centres probably only deal with a small percentage of Badgers as a percentage of the English population; however, the cost to these centres is one that will not be replaced; not just in monetary terms but also in time and resources. Most of these centres run because of monetary donations from the animal loving public, because of food, equipment and staffing donated by the tax paying, animal loving public. Is all this time and money, voluntarily given by the public, also being considered in the total cost of an experiment that is opposed by a massive proportion of the same members of the public; the same public that these political parties want votes from? I totally understand the farmers dilemma; bTB is obviously a serious concern to their livelihoods. However, the bigger picture needs looking at seriously, forget about the small 9% and concentrate on working with the farmers, conservation groups, government bodies and concentrate on the solutions to tackle the 91% before a real tragedy takes place. Once dead the badgers cannot be replaced, lets not wipe out a creature we have taken years to protect.
        In my mind there is only one answer - and it's black & white. 
        !!!!Please save the badger!!!! Make your objections heard!!!!

        Additional Info:
        •       Indiscriminate killing could mean that 70% of local badger populations could be wiped out, many of them healthy
        •       Government has chosen to ignore science and public opinion and approve free shooting of badgers
        •       40,000 recorded objections to a badger cull in England from the RSPCA alone
        •       Free-shooting means a high risk of wounding the badgers instead of killing them, and causing a slow, painful death
        •       Independent Scientific Group: ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.’
        •       A 2006 consultation showed 95% of respondents were opposed to a cull
        •       Research over a decade cost taxpayers £50 million and cost the lives on 11,000 badgers is being ignored by DEFRA

        *The Independent Scientific Group on cattle TB (ISG) published its final report in 2007.  It was the result of
        painstaking research over nearly ten years, cost the lives of about 11,000 badgers and cost taxpayers £50 million. It concluded that killing badgers could actually increase the spread of bTB in the area around the cull, making matters worse rather than better – a process called perturbation.  It said, “badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain”