If you can, please share this blog, or alert others to it. After the spectacular failure of the two pilot culls in 2013, and given that DEFRA has had to revise downwards its figures for 2012/3 on incidents of bovine TB, we need to press for an end to this wholesale, barbaric and senseless slaughter of badgers.
SEPTEMBER 2016: DEVASTATINGLY, despite all the efforts of those of us who oppose the badger cull, it's now being rolled out in 7 more areas, one of which is our own patch in South Devon. If you feel angry, upset and helpless, as I do, here's one small way to help offset it: http://www.thevillagefarm.co.uk/helpsaveourbadgers/
... and we may need similar help ourselves on our much smaller patch of land.
If you're on facebook, there are many anti-cull groups. Do find one and join it.
JANUARY 2016: so far the badger cull – which has not been effective – has cost £23 MILLION. That's right. Soon, the Government will roll out the cull over 9 counties, with the aim of killing approx. 40,000 badgers. And guess what? It will fail to curb the spread of bTB. DEFRA have a public consultation site, but ONLY UNTIL 16 March 2016. You need to speak of why you don't support the cull: vaccination is cheaper and more humane; badgers have a right to live; the case is not proven; the risks of shooting on public land to people and other animals, etc. The site is here: http://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/5K77G/
DECEMBER 2015: The Government has given the go-ahead for the badger cull to take place over nine counties, unconstrained by time limits. So far nearly 4000 badgers have been killed, at a cost to the taxpayer calculated by The Mirror to be around £7,500PER BADGER.
JANUARY 2015: DEFRA is intending to go ahead with badger culls again, this time probably in Devon and earlier in the year, despite all evidence that shows it's ineffective. It's also unbelievably costly. An implication of the date change is that many more cubs are likely to be culled. WHAT is this about? UTTERLY unacceptable. If you feel so too, please sign this petition asap: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/932/972/289/uk-stop-badger-cull-and-save-the-animals/?taf_id=13308770&cid=fb_na#
APRIL 2014: Most recent info is that Owen Paterson has put on hold further culls in the Westcountry (see first para), but will continue with those already in motion in Som and Glos.
There's an excellent article on the failings of the badger cull and Owen Paterson's inability to recognise the facts in The Ecologist, here.
Bovine TB and the badger cull
The badger cull, rolled out in Devon and Cornwall this summer, 2014, after its inconclusive and controversial trialling in Somerset and Gloucestershire in 2013, is a highly complex and emotive issue.
It’s one that has brought out more public opposition than almost any recent issue, with 80% of the British public polled coming out against the cull. The anti-cull petition, raised by Brian May, ex-Queen guitarist, had seen a quarter of a million signatures by June 2013. The hope was that it would stop the trial culls. It didn’t, and these happened – but turned out, for many reasons, to be largely ineffectual in terms of their aims (number of badgers killed), and utterly inhumane in their application.
It’s also, of course, devastating to farmers to lose whole herds of cattle to TB; especially when the herd has been built up over generations. Some farmers face bankruptcy if their herd is slaughtered as a result of positive TB tests. Current policy dictates that after a positive test, a farm must effectively be locked down, with infected cattle carted off to be destroyed, along with, in many cases, same-herd animals who are later found to be clear of the disease. The financial and emotional toll on farmers is huge. Worse, an average of 20% of the test results for bTB is incorrect*.
There is a lot of information out there on the internet. My concern here is to present an overview of the main facts. (A great deal of the legwork for all this has been put in by Ama Menec, founder and chair of the active Totnes Badger Vaccination Action Campaign Devon-wide badger vaccinations.)
The rationale for the cull
The badger currently has ‘protected species’ status.
The argument for the cull is that badgers carry the bTB bacterium which then infects cattle. We know that both species, along with several others, can carry, and succumb to, bTB. Independent vets and scientists have pointed out that we don’t know, however, that this is a one-way transmission; and that it is as likely to be the other way round.
What’s more, the Government’s own 9-year scientific study, undertaken by the chief vet, Professor John Bourne, and overseen by Lord Krebs, concluded that the badger cull would not be likely to be effective; or at least not until a minimum of 70% of the badger population had been eradicated. (This was far from achieved in the pilot culls in the summer of 2013; see below.) See also: www.bovinetb.co.uk/article.php?article_id=41
The evidence that badgers can pass bTB to cattle was the work of one scientific experiment so contrived as to never be possible in real life. 4 badgers were purposely infected with bovine TB by forcing them to breathe in live bacteria as a vapour (which is the main form of transmission). These badgers were then imprisoned in a very small shed with 8 young calves for many months. This experiment has not been repeated by any other scientist, and the result of this one experiment by Professor Cath Rees of Nottingham University has been used by Owen Paterson to claim up to 16% of outbreaks of bovine TB in cattle being caused by badgers. Ama Menec discussed this with her at this event. http://www.badgergate.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Vaccination_flyer_- 1.pdf at London Zoo in October 2013.
The RSPCA says: ‘More than 30 of the top animal disease experts describe the cull as a “costly distraction” that risks making the problem of tuberculosis in cattle worse and that will cost far more than it saves.’ As an aside, right now, the RSPCA is threatened with a possible clampdown on its ability to prosecute in cases of cruelty, after bringing a case against David Cameron’s (illegal) hunt (the Heythrop Hunt pleaded guilty). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/10612063/RSPCA-risks-losing-power-to-prosecute.html
Nonetheless, DEFRA under Owen Paterson went ahead and authorised a cull last year, with the NFU and Natural England being responsible for its implementation. (It will not be a surprise to many to know that the people involved with the cull are those who are also most frequently involved with illegal hunting with dogs, and with the pro-hunt Countryside Alliance.)
However it is transmitted, TB doesn’t normally kill a cow; what it does is put the milk and meat offline for sale – although in fact we know that bTB-contaminated meat did enter the foodchain, probably predominantly in schools and hospitals, last year, and even though we know the risk of a human catching TB from cattle is less than 1%.
Even more ironically, cattle that have been vaccinated against TB cannot be sold for meat.
The actual risk to humans is minimal; pasteurizing milk or cooking meat properly guards against humans ingesting and being infected with bTB even if the source animal is infected. ‘The Health Protection Agency has confirmed that the risk to humans is negligible (so small or unimportant as to be not worth considering)’. http://www.bovinetb.co.uk/article.php?article_id=24
And we do have a bTB cattle vaccine; currently being field-trialled, it could be available for this summer; but DEFRA will need to give it the go-ahead.
The pilot cull
The trial culls were carried out in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
The Gloucestershire pilot badger cull, licensed by DEFRA to Natural England, achieved a reduction of not quite 40 per cent in badger numbers over more than 11 weeks of culling, DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson admitted. (The intended, and needed, total, was 70%.)
The cull was halted just five-and-a-half weeks into what was originally intended to be an eight-week extension to the initial six-week pilot. An overall total of 921 badgers were killed over 11-and-a-half weeks. This represents a reduction of just 39.19% in the estimated badger population of 2,350 before culling began; significantly short of the original target of a 70% reduction in badger numbers, despite the fact that the pilot was almost doubled in length. (Farmers’ Guardian, 2 December 2013.) DEFRA is still determined, however, to continue the cull.
‘Humane’ killing and a significant omission
It should also be noted that although the apparent rationale for the pilot culls of badgers by shooting was to ‘test the humaneness or otherwise’ of the method (how many badgers does one need to shoot to find that out?), it would also have made sense to have tested the badger corpses, to see what percentage was actually carrying the virus. This would be the only indicator of DEFRA’s assertion that badgers are transmitting the virus to cattle. This testing was not at any point carried out, surprisingly; and their bodies were cremated. (See this earlier post: http://roselle-angwin.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-badger-cull_27.html)
Of the humaneness of the method, Ama Menec says: ‘The remit of the 2 pilot badger culls was to test the humaneness of killing by shooting free running badgers. Humanness was to be established by listening for screams and other sounds of distress as the badgers died, but only 0.1% of all kills were observed by independent monitors and half of those were actually telephone interviews with individual cullers after the shooting for the night had finished.’
Since Ama compiled the data, two new items that further undermine the rationale have entered the arena. The first is that DEFRA admitted that they had got the statistics on the actual incidence of bTB wrong: there were fewer incidents than their publicity had originally stated, in 2013:
‘The number of herds that are not officially TB Free (non-OTF) due to a TB incident has been significantly revised downwards for 2012 and 2013. There has been a small downward revision in the number of new herd incidents.’ (February 12th 2014; https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/incidence-of-tuberculosis-tb-in-cattle-in-great-britain)
The Ecologist of 14th February 2014:
‘In mid-January DEFRA silently released the news that it had been overstating the figures for the incidence of bovine TB due to “glitches in data entries” since September 2011.
‘The numbers of herds “not Officially Free of BTB due to a TB incident” – non-OFT for short – would have to be revised significantly downwards for 2012 and 2013.
‘And just this week, with just as little noise, fanfare or press release, the revised numbers appeared.
‘While there were some minor revisions to the numbers of new-herd incidents and the number of herds under movement restrictions, the real shock comes in the figures for the non-OFT herds.
‘During the very period that Paterson had claimed that BTB incidence was increasing, the number of non-OFT herds - those considered to have BTB or to be at serious risk of BTB - dropped.’
The second news item is this. The Ecologist continued: Figures released from Wales show that their vaccination policy, coupled with biosecurity measures, has brought the incidence of bTB in Wales down by 24%. (http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/2281811/defras_astonishing_new_tb_figures_an_end_to_the_cull.html)
The financial cost
The cost of vaccinating is significantly lower than that of culling badgers. The Farmers’ Guardian of January 6th 2014 says: ‘Wildlife charity Care for the Wild has released figures suggesting culling badgers in the two pilot areas of England last year cost £7.3 million, which equates to £4,121 per badger culled.
‘Vaccinating badgers in the five-year Government funded Welsh badger vaccination programme was calculated at £662 per animal in its first year.’ (http://www.farmersguardian.com/home/hot-topics/bovine-tb/badger-culling-more-costly-than-vaccination-charity-claims/61178.article)
Wales.gov.uk says: ‘An injectable badger vaccine, BadgerBCG, became available for use in March 2010. Research has demonstrated that vaccination of uninfected badgers can reduce the severity and progression of bovine TB in those badgers. Vaccination does not provide complete protection against infection. However, it is not necessary for all individuals to become immune before infection can no longer sustain itself in a population. The principle is to vaccinate a sufficient proportion of uninfected badgers so immunity is developed at the population level. Repeated vaccination of a population should result in a decrease in the level of disease, over time, and the potential for the onward spread of infection to cattle and other badgers.’
Clearly the biggest side-effect of the cull is the potential loss of an ancient and iconic British species. It has also been pointed out that, far from eradicating the disease in badgers, culling will likely result in a further dispersion of the badger population.
This ‘perturbation effect’, as new and perhaps infected badgers move into old and now vacant setts, could result in further spread of bTB.
What’s more, as Ama has said, ‘The removal of the protected status of badgers will enable developers to build on green belt land, thus raising land prices. If a developer is not obliged to do an environmental audit, and does not have to build an artificial sett to re-house badgers the way is clear to just bring in the bulldozers.’ http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/licence-to-trash-nature- campaigners-warn-of-new-scheme-that-would-allow-housebuilding-in- biodiverse-areas-8919217.html
During the Somerset badger cull dozens of non-target species were shot, including many owls, mostly tawny owls but also one or two barn owls too. The cullers were using animal sounds to communicate with each other in the dark, mostly using tawny owl calls. The RSPCA has some of these owls; most were removed before the RSPCA could collect them.
Many farmers who oppose the cull fear to speak out because of possible ostracization or reprisals. Farmers also fear a consumer backlash. Many of us who oppose the cull have stopped buying dairy products and meat from farms and producers who are in favour of the cull. This will clearly have an effect of farmers’ income, and even the British economy, if we shop for imported dairy produce and meat (and there are of course also risks involved in that).
‘They fear such widespread killing of wildlife could trigger a “PR disaster” for an already beleaguered industry, particularly following the fallout from the recent horsemeat scandal, not to mention memories of the foot and mouth debacle – with its images of burning carcasses – still lingering in the public’s mind.’ (* http://www.eco-storm.com/2013/06/dissident-farmers-speak-out-against-badger-cull/)
A cull hits the local economy very hard, particularly the tourist industries that many rural communities, including farmers, rely on. When the public hears bullets with an up to 2 mile trajectory are being used to kill British wildlife, they have no desire to take their annual holiday close to a badger cull zone.
The reliance on tourism in Devon and Cornwall is considerable, and is an extremely important part of the rural economy. In 2013, the badger culls started on an August bank holiday; one of the busiest days of the rural tourism industry’s year.
When the Welsh government first proposed a badger cull in Pembrokeshire there was a sudden and dramatic fall in visitor numbers to the area. When they announced they would go with a 5-year badger vaccination programme instead, visitor numbers rose to higher than the previous levels. http://www.assemblywales.org/22._tourists_against_the_cull_and_yvette_brown.pdf
The role of the NFU (National Farmers Union) as put forward by Ama Menec
It should be said straightaway that there is a small but vocal group of farmers who do not support the cull (see * above). Also, only a small percentage of farmers are actually represented by the NFU.
However, the NFU has become the body through which the cull is implemented.
- The NFU only represents only 18% of British farmers. The remaining 82% have no official representation. At least 50% of the NFU’s leaders are bankers and financiers, not farmers.
- The NFU mostly represent large agribusiness.
- They are not elected by the British public and as such are an unelected quango within our British government.
- You cannot see the NFU constitution unless you are already a member of the NFU.
- Members can vote in leadership elections but it is not compulsory for the management to listen to the view of their members or take account of their vote.
- Our government has handed over the pilot badger culls to the NFU to run and oversee.
- Their principal income is through monetary services such as selling insurance. This source of revenue has been greatly knocked back by the badger cull as customers vote with their feet and have gone elsewhere for their insurance, as this is their only method of being able to express their disgust with the badger culls. This has been particularly noticeable in the market traders’ insurance part of their business, most especially farmers’ market traders who have turned away from the NFU, and who are meeting the public daily most of whom are against the badger culls.
- The NFU offices are in the same building as DEFRA and the two departments have adjoining doors.
- The NFU also has very strong links with the Countryside Alliance which, like the NFU, is a non-elected lobby group.
- The Countryside Alliance is committed to the overthrow of the hunting with dogs ban and the protected species status of badgers http://www.countryside-alliance.org/ca/campaigns-hunting?p=1 and http://www.corporatewatch.org.uk/?lid=2619
- The badger culls in 2013 started late because the NFU found it difficult to get the 70% minimum land area taking part. In an effort to recruit more land, there is anecdotal evidence of farmers being threatened with physical violence and with having their feed supply terminated.
- Once the culls were underway, because the cull quota wasn’t being reached, more pressure was exerted on the remaining 30% who refused to take part to get them on board. This included trespass by cullers onto land not taking part in the badger cull just to get the numbers up.
- The majority of the cage traps used in the badger cull were supplied by the NFU, stamped with their initials; the remainder were provided by the AHVLA, who used the same staff and traps used to train badger vaccinators. http://www.fwi.co.uk/articles/29/03/2012/132178/we39ll-pay-to- cage-trap-badgers-nfu.htm
- Hundreds of these cage traps were taken out of West Somerset into North Devon at the end of the Somerset badger cull. Sales of cage traps for badgers have since gone through the roof in the West Country, to the point where none can be bought from farmers suppliers in Devon as both they and their suppliers have sold out. Farmers have obviously realised this is the only way to successfully kill their badgers, even if it is illegal, and there have been reports of stockpiling of cage traps in North Devon in preparation for a badger cull in Devon.
- Despite already being banned as particularly inhumane, the NFU have encouraged DEFRA to explore gassing as a means of eradicating the nation’s badgers. The AHVLA (part of DEFRA), are presently carrying out experiments on gassing badgers. This article explains why gassing should not be used: http://leanonus.co/blog/badgers/
The real culprits
The change from small rural farms to large-scale industrial intensive farming methods has had a devastating effect on the welfare of our livestock (and our wildlife), and therefore on the food produced from it.
There is the high administration, on all but organic farms, of hormones, antibiotics, growth-promoters and so on.
There is the intensive breeding of bigger animals, with a higher milk-yield, and often a more frequent milking regime.
There is the cost in terms of physiology to the cow of carrying a bigger and heavier udder to meet quotas. This has an effect on the bone structure and the hoof of a cow.
There is the fact that many dairycows spend their whole lives, and others their winters, on concrete, in stalls that were built for a smaller cow, away from natural light, air, and grass.
There is the emission of 60 litres of slurry per cow per day in such close quarters, plus an almost equal quantity of mucus, in both of which disease is carried.
All of this will affect the animals’ ability to withstand disease.
There is the high level of maize in their feed, which is known to undermine their immune systems (this is true too of badgers, who love maize).
And for grass-fed cattle, there is the fact that the drinking troughs are rarely, if ever, cleared out and cleaned.
There are also biosecurity measures that are frequently ignored in cattle transportation, in cattle markets, on some farms, by cullers.
What we can do
- Keep ourselves informed. Check out the RSPCA campaign: http://www.rspca.org.uk/getinvolved/campaigns/badgers
- Consider inviting Steve Jones, of ‘not in this farmer’s name’, to come and talk to a group. A farmer himself, Jones is extremely well-informed and articulate on the actual causes of bTB in cattle. Read his article here http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/28/badger-cull-bovine-tb and then check out his website: http://www.not-in-this-farmers-name.com/
- Spread the word
- Buy organic dairy and meat where Soil Association certification means that higher welfare standards are guaranteed, and talk to the producers and suppliers about the issues. Find out their policies on the badger cull
- Better still, become vegetarian or vegan; reduce your reliance on animal products
- Add your name to cull protest sites, petitions, etc and your numbers to protests
- Write to your MP, and Owen Paterson
- Anyone keeping cattle, or with badger setts on their land: consider, if you don’t already, using or putting out mineral licks for both cattle and badgers. this will help up their immune systems.
- The Eurasian badger (Meles meles) is an omnivorous native mammal, (not carnivorous as reported in some of the press), which has lived in the UK for 250,000 years. In other words, badgers have been here in the UK as long as humans.
- Most badgers live for around 4 years in the wild.
- They are a social animal living in clans with a dominant pair who do most of the breeding for the group. They do not breed like rabbits; there is a strong social hierarchy that prevents this. Cubs are born in ones and twos not in huge litters, and the delayed implantation of sow badgers ensures all cubs are born at the same time. The average number of cubs born is a sett is around 4 per year.
- Badgers are fiercely territorial, marking the borders of their land with scent to tell neighbouring clans that this is their land. These borders are checked regularly and scent marking refreshed. Badger culling breaks down all social barriers and encourages movement of badgers across the county; the ‘perturbation’ effect.
- Badger setts can be in continuous occupation for a very long time, which is clear evidence of long standing stable social groups. Large setts can be well over 1,000 years old and the existence of badger setts can be traced in all British town names which include the word ‘Brock’.
- Badger numbers do fluctuate with seasonal and climatic changes, and the availability of food. Their main food source are earth worms and other soil based invertebrates. If there is flooding of land they are forced to move on if they cannot access their main food source, as was seen in 2012 with the flooding of the Somerset levels, where badgers moved to higher land, sometimes into towns.
- Badger numbers are not ‘out of control’ as often reported by West Country newspapers and the farming press. For centuries badgers have been persecuted for ‘sport’ in badger baiting, leading in the 1970s to a very near extinction in many parts of the UK. This was addressed by the ‘Protected Species’ act. Since the 1970s the numbers of badgers has recovered to the optimum number that can be supported by the local food supply. Given the hierarchical nature of their breeding, where mostly the dominant pair breed, badger culling, particularly where one or both of the dominant pair are killed, will lead to further dramatic fluctuations in the badger population.
- There is no such thing as a ‘hard boundary’. Badgers are primarily suited to digging, but they can run well with turns of speed up to 30 mph, climb very successfully and can swim across rivers if they need to, including tidal estuaries.
- Badgers only produce around 1/2 a teacup cup full of faeces and urine per day. Their faecal deposits form part of their territory boundary markings as ‘latrines’ and are deposited in small scrapes in the ground, usually under trees where the undergrowth is sparse or non existent. These latrines are shared by other members of the same clan.
- Badgers are very hygienic animals and will air their bedding material in the sun to remove pests before taking it back into the sett. They are known to use strongly scented material such as wild garlic in their bedding to deter fleas.
- Around 50,000 badgers are killed on the roads in the UK every year. Tests of these badgers have found bTB rates to be very low indeed, with rarely ever any visible evidence of the disease.
- Badgers are often accused of causing the decline of the British hedgehog population, by those determined to demonise our native badgers. This accusation is denied by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, and it is worth pointing out that badgers have co-existed with hedgehogs for many millennia. The decline of the hedgehog population directly corresponds with increased intensification of farming, increased use of fencing, rising traffic levels in the UK and the rise in the use of pesticides.
- Farmers and gardeners are often annoyed by badgers digging holes in their search for food. However, the farsighted will realise the badgers’ search for grubs and other soil-based invertebrates is often more helpful to us than harmful, feasting as they do on leatherjacket and cockchafer grubs and other ‘pests’ of the soil and crops.
(Roselle Angwin, for the Totnes Badger Vaccination Action Campaign [TBVAC Devon-wide badger vaccinations], and incorporating data from a comprehensive survey and summary by TBVAC’s founder and chair, Ama Menec. You can see Ama's speech at the Birmingham badger event here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1TtnTbhjgw&feature=youtu.be)