Badgers

Let’s be clear about one thing right from the start – badgers play an important role in spreading bovine tuberculosis (bTB) to cattle herds. But we’ll come back to that.

This week should see an English government announcement on badger culling.  The announcement must come very soon if it is to happen before the Parliamentary recess and Defra is running out of road.

Long gone are those very early days of May 2010 when the Agriculture Minister James Paice, himself a farmer, spoke with enthusiasm at the Devon County Show about how a badger cull would go ahead.  This was the Minister’s payback to the farming community and an attempt to show how different the new Defra team would be from the old townie Labour bunch.  But since then Ministers have had to come down to earth (or sett) and realised that the science on this subject is just the same for a Blue/Yellow government as it was for a pale Pink one.

There is no point in arguing, as some still do, that badgers don’t transmit bTB to cattle – they undoubtedly do.  And cattle transmit bTB to badgers , and badgers give it to other badgers and cattle give it to other cattle – such is the nature of an infectious disease.

If we could painlessly magic away every badger in the West of England we would see a fall in bTB incidence and the background level would reflect the role of other wildlife vectors such as deer and also the role of cattle movements in spreading and bolstering the disease.

But the details of badger behaviour mean that it is pretty difficult to remove them from an area – they are nocturnal and live underground after all – they aren’t sitting up and asking to be shot, trapped or gassed.  And badgers live in social groups – which are really quite interesting but we don’t have the time to go into that now – which, if disrupted by culling tend to split up and result in wandering badgers spreading across the countryside.  The last thing you want if you are culling disease vectors is that the ones you don’t cull go on their travels.

It’s very unlikely that even the most well-organised and expensive culling programme will kill every badger in its area of operation and so for every cull there is a residue of mobile badgers and, of course, it tends to stir up the badgers on the edge of the cull area too.  So for any cull, the benefits (as far as reduced bTB is concerned) are reduced by the edge and perturbation effects.  The more efficient the slaughter, and the bigger the area it covers, the bigger the positive impact on reducing bTB (and the bigger the badger body count).

So, we should consider the government’s proposals on which they have consulted. Back in September last year Mr Paice was still sounding very keen on badger culling and talked about taking urgent action and publishing a bTB eradication programme early in 2011.

The proposal included a ‘Big Society’ proposal – it involved farmers getting together to apply for licences to cull badgers in their area.  The prospect of gangs of farmers tipping out of the pub of an evening and organising a badger cull in the valleys of the West Country is quite chilling.  Particularly when it is coupled with the enthusiasm with which some farmers speak of a cull.  There is little regret for the necessity of a badger cull in some of the farming pronouncements and little grasp of the conditions necessary for culling to be a success in terms of bTB reduction.

At the moment many farmers imagine that it is on their farms that culls may take place, but remember, any control zone has an edge – and those farmers on the edge of the control zone will be disadvantaged by the control benefits realised by their culling neighbours, so any culling disadvantages some dairy farmers unless you set the bounds of the area so wide that it includes the whole country.

It seems to me that a culling programme could reduce the incidence of bTB if done well but I wonder whether it will be done well if carried out in a Big Society way.  But even if it does have some positive impacts for some farms there are still moral considerations about killing large numbers of a native species, there are the issues about what other measures need to be introduced and there is the issue about how long culling needs to be continued.

Some will oppose a badger cull whatever the science says about its partial beneficial impacts on reducing the incidence of a nasty cattle disease and an economic burden (and emotional burden too) for the farming community.  I wouldn’t say that badgers are more important than cattle nor that a badger’s right to live is absolute, but many like myself will only be prepared to see thousands of badgers killed if we believe that this will do some good and be part of an effective bTB control programme.

The government lost many potential supporters, albeit reluctant and grudging supporters, of any badger culling when Mr Paice scrapped five out of six planned trials of vaccination just over a year ago.  This was presumably when Defra heads were still full of post-election euphoria and pre-CSR funk.  Vaccination has to be a part of long-term the solution even if culling may be part of the short-term solution.  And more effective measures to prevent badgers and cattle coming into contact with each other, for example in cattle sheds, are needed too.  And better and more effective controls on cattle movements have to be implemented.  But at the moment the government doesn’t look like it has a solution that addresses the real needs of dairy farmers, only perhaps their emotional needs for a badger cull.

If Defra goes ahead with a cull then the questions that need to be asked, simply in terms of the effectiveness of the proposed culling, are; will it work and for how many farmers?  how many farmers will be disadvantaged by a cull? how much public money will go into it? does that money represent good value for money? is culling part of a coherent programme to reduce bTB?  when will bTB be eradicated from English dairy farming?

Let’s see what the government comes up with and watch for legal challenges that will almost certainly follow.  Mr Paice’s enthusiastic May 2010 comments on culling going ahead may persuade some that the science has been made to fit the policy rather than the other way around.

The government does not need another public outcry emanating from Defra policy to follow that over forestry, and if people care deeply about who owns Sitka spruce trees they are likely to be even more exercised about farmers killing their badgers.  Will there be badger-cull saboteurs in a similar way to hunt saboteurs and what does that mean for public safety if people with strongly held differing beliefs are wandering around in the dark, with some of them having loaded firearms?

And if farmers voluntarily sign up to carry out badger culls then there will be calls from consumers for badger-friendly milk.  Why should the consumer not be able to exercise their Big Society influence and reward those farmers who do not cull Brock?  How soon will there be segregation of milk supplies with different milk tankers visiting cullers and non-cullers?

In almost every discussion about this issue, including this one, the rights and wrongs of culling cloud the real issue – what is an effective programme of work which has a good chance of drastically reducing the incidence of this terrible disease?  But that is right because killing animals has a much greater moral component to it than does improving the fencing around your cattle shed or the bureaucracy of cattle movements.

And it really isn’t easy.  This is a pretty intractable subject.  Something really should be done but it would be good if it were the right thing and no-one has a very coherent view of what that might be.  As someone said to me last week – the Government is between a Brock and a hard place (or is that a hard Paice?).

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69 Replies to “Badgers”

  1. Just a yell of protest about your idea of farmers rolling drunkenly out of the pub and off on a badger shoot - over the top - supposed to be trained groups aren't they?

    My view is that you don't need to kill all the badgers in an area - reducing their population slowly and steadily over a long period will gradually reduce overcrowding and TB. That's what happened before when we almost wiped bTB out in the UK

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  2. I fear you may be right in that the government appears more concerned with appeasing some of their constituents than doing what is 'best'.

    Some people think that democracy is where politicans do exactly what people want, whether that is culling or not culling badgers - I'd actually prefer our democracy to be one where we place our trust in a small number of elected people whose job it is to carefully make the best decision based on the best scientific evidence available!

    On the proposed cull, I'm not sure how the government can justify a 'shoot on sight' policy based on the evidence they cite to support it - that intensive culling over a large area, with clear geographical boundaries (as in the Irish trials) reduce the incidence of bTB. I could be wrong, but like you I think big society style groups of farmers are unlikely to achieve this. It isn't dead badgers per se that upsets me (after all, there are 350,000+ of them), but the thought of badgers dying for no cause other than political expedience.

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  3. A very good blog as usual Mark. Two thoughts; if there is to be any culling, which I personally would not support, then it must be done by a properly approved and licensed organisation(s) and not by farmers themselves. Secondly, any culling must be a stop gap measure prior to vaccination taking place. What a terrible decision by Mr Paice to stop almost all vaccination trials, because vaccination must be the real answer. How do you persuade these politicians to take the long view and not the short sighted easy way out?

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    1. Alan - many thanks! The short-term/long-term issue is crucial I think - I'm glad you agree.

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  4. The alternative would be remove all cattle in a TB area. Everyone knows that many farmers are coming out of dairy especially in areas where no TB is found. Concentrate the 'get out' in TB areas and give the money that would be wasted on a cull to those farmers that were thinking of getting out. With prices of grain and oil seed, grassland would be turned into arable which in turn would reduce the Badger population. In the mean time keep up the research for a vaccine.

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    1. John - well that is an interesting idea. Or concentrate forestry grants in those areas to increase woodland?

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  5. While I can agree to some of what is said here, the idea of farmers rolling out of the pub to shoot badgers is a daft one. There is no reason why farmers can not be properly trained and certified, they are no more irresponsible than any other group in society and statistically, far more responsible than most other groups.

    However the key point that I would like to take from this is the recognition that some culling of badgers is essential in the short term if we are to bring this under control. If you would support a cull of some sort I would be interested to learn more of how you would implement it.

    Thank you Mark.

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    1. There is indeed no reason why farmers cannot be properly trained and certified. It's a bit like getting your driving licence - most drivers drive well - or try to at least - but a few don't and act like idiots. it's the risk of idiots you have to worry about. Same with farmers, firearms and badgers?

      I'm interested in the evidence that farmers are 'statistically, far more responsible than most other groups' - where does that come from please?

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      1. Sorry any police area crime figures will show you that the majority of rural crime, which is significantly lower than urban crime levels is directed at farmers not by farmers.

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  6. Hi Mark – I trust both you and yours are well

    There’s a horse running today and it reminded me to re-visit your blog – it’s called “Ho-ho-ho”.

    Really Mark – we have no choice – apart from – do we gas, shoot, trap or poison the diseased badgers that act as a reservoir of bTB!

    We are in the position of bTB costing the nation £1 billion over next 10 years because the Labour Party accepted a £1 million bribe from the Political Animal Lobby and in 1997 kicked it into the long grass and imposed constraints on the so-called ‘scientific’ RBCT exercise.

    If Labour had grasped the nettle (instead of the £1m) bTB would have been sorted out in just a few years.

    The scientific fact is that if there were no badgers – there would – very soon - be no bTB (in cattle).

    The Labour party has enabled the disease to spread tom alpaca, pigs, dogs etc but most importantly – wildlife-wise – to deer!

    Of course the culling exercise will be done well – it’s going to save the livelihoods of all those farmers involved. Once underway – hotspots will dramatically be reduced and - within TWO years there will be a very significant reduction of bTB in cattle – bTB will drop like a stone – the tipping point will be reached – and down it will plummet – it’s just science. There won’t be any 20% culling rates like there was in the appallingly 'managed' RBCT.

    Perhaps the best example is that of ‘Thornbury’ – where once the diseased badgers were culled – bTB vanished for 10 years!

    Much tosh is being spoken about ‘vaccination’ – well – it ain’t really gonna help – see www.warmwell.com for a scientific explanation – 6th July – Dr Ruth Watkins and http://bovinetb.blogspot.com/ - the latter refers to the left-wing loonies in DEFRA like Macdonald who helped mislead the Nation on vaccination (with the connivance of the left-wing loonies of the BBC) in a “DEFRA” statement made prior to the Public Consultation.

    Mark – you are a science-trained dedicated nature lover and self-confessed Labour Party member Mark and I do worry about you!

    Best regards

    Trimbush

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    1. Trimbush - welcome! i would have put money on you appearing on this site today. Now please behave!

      You mustn't worry about me - sweet of you though that is!

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      1. Thank you Mark - Newt (above) converses regularly with Charles Henry on the Farmers Guardian blog - latest badger story re NFU / badgers - may I suggest you visit - Charles appears to a very sensible chap with whom, incidentally, I agree 100%

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    2. You say the scientific fact is that if there are no badgers there will be no bTB in cattle. That may be a fact but not really a logical, good argument for a cull. It's also a scientific fact that if there were no cattle there would be no bTB in cattle, but I don't think you're suggesting culling all the cattle.
      Also, If bTB has spread to deer, dogs, alpaca and pigs then surely exterminating the ENTIRE UK population of badgers wouldn't stop bTB? And is the cost of cattle free bTB worth losing an entire species of native wildlife? It seems that the onyl sure way to remove the bTB from badgers is to kill all of them countrywide.

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      1. We cull all the cattle found to have TB

        "It’s also a scientific fact that if there were no cattle there would be no bTB in cattle" - you say - but we would still have an ever growing incidence of bTB in deer pigs dog cats etc..

        Nobody's suggesting that we exterminate all badgers - but for sure - if we don't get a grip the spread will not be just to cattle - see very latest Farmers Guardian article below:-

        "BOVINE TB has been identified in pigs kept on three farms in Wales in recent months - highlighting the fact that pigs are also susceptible to the disease.

        According to the Welsh Assembly investigations are underway to establish if any other pig herds linked to the incidents are infected.

        Animal health officials say that pigs kept outdoors in areas where TB is prevalent in cattle and wildlife are likely to be at increased risk of exposure to infection than those which are housed.

        Compared with infected cattle, however, pigs are far less likely to transmit infection to other animals.

        Although pigs can be skin tested, TB testing of pigs is not undertaken routinely, with slaughterhouse surveillance being the main way of detecting the infection.

        The carcases of all slaughtered pigs are routinely examined by Food Standards Agency staff at abattoirs and Veterinary Laboratories Agency premises when lesions suspected of being due to TB are detected in a carcase.

        Further infected pigs have been identified on the farms concerned by follow up TB testing.

        There is a legal obligation on herd owners and vets to report any suspected cases of TB to their local animal health office."

        If New Labour had been responsible and mature about this issue bTB cross-infection would now be very very low - but of course - like every other area of Govt impact - the Coalition is having to deal with the mess that was left by the previous Administration - education pensions health etc etc etc. even the News Int debacle - which should have been dealt with by Messrs Blair & Brown - Murdoch was described by a New Labour insider as the "25th Member of the Cabinet"

        Enough to make one weep!!

        It's going to take this Country 50 years to restore the balance!

        bTB will take TWO / THREE years!

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  7. Mark - you say - “And if farmers voluntarily sign up to carry out badger culls then there will be calls from consumers for badger-friendly milk.

    Why should the consumer not be able to exercise their Big Society influence and reward those farmers who do not cull Brock?

    How soon will there be segregation of milk supplies with different milk tankers visiting cullers and non-cullers?”

    Mark - The EU won’t ban so-called ”religious slaughter” and we won’t even indicate which piece of beef was killed by slitting the throat of a cow without prior stunning

    The EU law says we need a policy (implemented) for dealing with bTB and will not permit cattle vaccination

    What chance ‘blacking’ the milk?

    Come on Mark – time to get real - and your political bent is showing!

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  8. This is a bizarre, almost fact free debate. As Mark says, Badgers undoubtedly play a part in the spread of TB - but the principle part ? and a psrt that can't be tackled anything other than a cull which almost certainly won't work ? Surely its time for all concerned to list ALL the factors responsible for spreading TB and ALL the possible actions. If we don't learn how to approach complex problems with sophisticated solutions we are in real trouble.

    The information on vaccination is interesting. If vaccination doesn't work for TB then it obviously isn't going to solve the problem. If it works a bit it's a potential player in a more sophisticated mix with other approaches like lower/better controlled movement of cattle and on farm biosecurity. However, as with FMD I've heard rumours that the main concern is that it would prevent beef exports. In 2001 the same argument was used. We seem to have ended up spending £4 billion of this nation's wealth to protect a £200m/pa export warket - which the French promptly closed anyway.

    And, as I've said before, this is not a victimless crime - the relentless focus on the Badger cull is undoubtedly putting back the prospect of getting TB under control. And it won't look that way either to poor Mr Paice who has got himslef in a right tangle - he survived his forestry excursion somehow, will he come through the Badger cull in one piece ? I doubt it.

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    1. " ........ but the principle part? - you say

      There ain't no principle part - the two species are locked in a 'deadly embrace' - unless the cycle is broken it will go on - culling diseased cattle AND culling the diseased badger reservoir is the solution

      It really is that simple and it's been proven to work - ie when badgers were properly controlled the number of cattle slaughtered each year due to bTB numbered just some 400

      AND - some farmers have already taken the law into their own hands and initiated a badger 'cull' - and they report (Farmers Guardian blog) total success - with no positive bTB tests for over 18 months over quite a large area.

      These are facts!

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      1. A few years ago, post FMD, Panorama featured a farmer who claimed to have killed a badger because it had bovine TB. (The badger shown in the footage had no physical signs of bovine TB at all.) The same farmer went on to appear on BBC's Spotlight news on a regular basis claiming that the humane culling of diseased badgers had reduced bovine TB. But when the Badger Trust got hold of the actual TB figures for the parish and those surrounding it, it showed the disease had gone up, with the usual clearly defined spike following restocking with untested cattle in the wake of FMD (an NFU policy which spread bovine TB further than ever before).

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        1. I’ve just spotted Aaron’s item

          I can’t comment on the incidents / comments of the said farmer but am ‘happy’ to accept the restocking “spike” – which indicates a sharp rise in local cattle with bTB followed by a (sharpish?) drop – if that’s an acceptabl description of a ‘spike’

          These incoming diseased cattle would have been identified and culled – removed from the herd. The spoligotypes detected in the transported diseased cattle most likely / certainly would have been different from those within the local badger reservoir.

          From Parliamentary Questions:

          “Spoligotyping is used to determine molecular type for all isolates of the bovine tuberculosis bacillus (M. bovis) obtained from badgers and cattle. Variable Number Tandem Repeats (or VNTR), a technique able to subdivide some spoligotypes, is also used. Generally the different strain types of M. bovis that these techniques identify exhibit distinct and probably longstanding geographical clustering. Within each geographical cluster the same strains tend to be found in badgers and cattle “
          .
          It was found in 2002/03 that some FMD restock reactors did not carry the strain of the consigning farm, but had picked up the Cumbrian variety. (AHVLA info)
          “M. bovis isolates are routinely typed using a DNA fingerprinting technique called spoligotyping. In Great Britain 30 different spoligotypes have been identified in cattle and16 in badgers. Of those in cattle, 12 of those account for 99 per cent. of the isolates.”

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          1. It's incorrect to say that the spoligotypes would be different from those in the alleged "local badger reservoir". VLA maps showing spoligotype distribution are rather crude macro level maps. Many spoligotypes are found in many places.

            However, the frequency of spoligotypes varies, with some occurring more frequently than others. Trimbush makes the mistake of assuming that the imported cattle are not local and therefore must have a different spoligotype. However, research by the Uni of Oxford found that most cattle movements were relatively local. In effect, there is are metapopulations of cattle at regional level; my anecdotal experience suggests that the metapopulation of cattle (and their spoligotypes) is linked to the structure of local cattle markets where the majority of exchanges have taken place.

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  9. Wonderful !!!

    Here we are discussing bTB in cattle and badgers and on the current Farmers Guardian bTB blog they're discussing Owls both Little and Tawny !!

    Brilliant !

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  10. An interesting sett! of contributions - first why debase an important debate 'farmer coming form the pub etc' - that aside, let us look at a fact or two:- there are guesstimated to be twice as many badgers as foxes in UK, so the population is rising no surprises there, as they are heavily protected. TB aside why are hedgeghogs and bumblebee populations declining - bagders are implicated. I am not sure shooting is the complete answer? Gassing with carbon monoixide is an option though unpopular. Defra has bio-degradeable product which was designed for Rabies fox control a single kill biodegradeable micro-encapsulable product with the toxicity of strychnine - certainly a possibility, but the powers that be are worried about non targets [little lives in a sett with badgers maybe the odd fox]. It would necessitate filling in the setts [a good move as it would eliminate the baccillus] however the product is not cleared for mammals in EU, not too big a hill to climb? Vaccine - the veterinary guru Prof Joe Brownlie [he of BVD fame] asserts that it is unlikely to be as effective as it is made out to be, becasue it is very difficult to target a wild animal, catch it and vaccinate it. Lastly, those who oppose a solution that involves any form of control are not very honest - TB is a large part of the problem, even in the days before protection which was for welfare reasons, the badger was not endangered. The Badger is a top predator and should be managed as there are too many [why else are they living in non typical habitats middle of fields and hedgerows]? Surely since man has put his fingerprint on the countryside that management must be extended to where ever it is needed, not be selective at the whim of different pressure groups?

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    1. If there are "too many" badgers, Birdseye, how many is just enough? The difficulty for you is that it's not possible to set or deliver a defined limit on the population.

      There is scant evidence that the badger population has grown in the last five years, but I would still counter that around 300,000 animals is a modest number (compared to, what, more than 10,000,000 cattle?). Moreover, badgers tend to self-regulate populations through fecundity rather than cycle (like some small mammals) through unregulated population boom and bust.

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      1. Tuberculosis itself is in itself a population size / condition indicator

        This tiny island has more badgers that the rest of the Europe added together

        I believe that the biggest contributor to badger population is not fecundity - ie the potential reproductive capacity of an individual or population – it is disease!

        Ernest Neal quotes a lady writing in 1941 that her ‘home-bred’ badger “Diana” lost some cubs to – diagnosed by Sir Frederick Hobday – “THROATS” – said then to be a form of laryngitis. This is almost certainly today’s Tuberculosis.

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        1. There is a gulf between what you believe and the facts. There is no correlation between badger population size or density and the prevalence of bovine TB. Moreover, long term Govt studies of badger populations even show that bovine TB does not affect badgers' breeding and is not a significant cause of death for badgers.

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  11. No Trimbush, I don't think so - non-science perhaps. When you've still got Badgers getting into feed troughs and feeding off the same concentrates as the cattle - something which can be stopped physically - it is stretching it to suggest lethal control is the only solution,and stretching it even further when we know that control probably won't work and even if it does will leave the farming community at popular as News International.

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    1. Really you should check what you say before you are informed that you are wrong.

      DEFRA's recommended height of cattle troughs = 30 inches

      Parliamentary questions very helpfully pointed out that badgers had been filmed accessing troughs at over 40 inches, "at which height cattle could not feed".

      And your point is.......?

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  12. Those of you interested in the item submitted to this blog and subsequently moderated out / removed by Mark can access the content via the Farmers Guardian's latest bTB article re NFU etc

    Very disappointing indeed !

    Peter Brady
    S E T T
    Strategies for the Eradication of Tuberculosis Transmission

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    1. Trimbush - please don't, rather randomly, criticise the RSPB on this site - I don't work for them any more. Criticise me as much as you like - but keep it fairly polite please.

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  13. Another good summary, Mark.

    I admit that I do care very deeply about wildlife and my instinct is very much against a badger cull, but I am not a 'bunny (or badger-)hugging' caricature, as those of us who wish to protect wildlife are often characterised. On the contrary, I am completely aware of the damage that some wildlife can do to a landscape, crops or a farmer's livelihood if not kept in check. Like it or not, our landscape has been irrevocably changed by us - including the elimination of top predators - and it will never return to a wilderness ecosystem while we're around, so we need to accept that ultimately the somewhat artificial 'balance' of nature is now in our hands.

    Which is why we must use the power we've given ourselves responsibly. We need to think and act very carefully indeed when attempting to restore or maintain 'balance' - either by culling animals that prove to be a problem, or by reintroducing them as well. Every attempt to control the environment must be thought through, organised, nationwide, and science-led. And, obviously, we all need to agree what that 'balance' truly is - what our overall aim for the countryside should be; after all, our landscape and wildlife belong to all of us, not just the farming community.

    While many on different sides will argue about what that balance should be, the science is clear in indicating that an uncontrolled, haphazard approach to culling badgers won't create any sort of balance, and may well end up being inhumane, ineffective and ultimately more costly to both farming and wildlife in the long term, spreading the very disease it was intended to reduce.

    Added to this is, for my part, the most worrying thing in all this: the threat of a return to the Victorian approach to wildlife - the destruction of anything that is perceived as 'inconvenient' to generating profit.

    Let's hope that, whatever happens next, all forms of wildlife do not begin to suffer again in the name of political and economic expediency.

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    1. You say
      "While many on different sides will argue about what that balance should be, the science is clear in indicating that an uncontrolled, haphazard approach to culling badgers won’t create any sort of balance, and may well end up being inhumane, ineffective and ultimately more costly to both farming and wildlife in the long term, spreading the very disease it was intended to reduce"

      Precisely - the above is a perfect description of the RBCT performed by Pro Bourne and that is why the methodology will be geared to 100% culling in specific hotspot areas - not the 'as low as 20%' that the RBCT exercise produced Bovine TB in cattle will then - as it has before - drop like a stone!

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  14. A balanced blog and I, like many, who know something about the countryside agree that some controls are necessary. I don't though subscribe to the vilification of a species for commercial reasons. It stinks and quite frankly is immoral. If that makes me a loony lefty then so be it. I am deeply sceptical of the claims of people like Trimbush. There's being passionate and down right insulting. I have no time for it and such an approach just looses all credibility.
    I am no expert and am not convinced anyone has the right answer. The farmers I have spoken to have as diverse views as comments on this blog. I prefer to start from a position of culling as a last resort rather than the final solution when there isn't even a consensus in the farming community.

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  15. Hi Mark,

    A well put argument. The Badger Trust, amongst others, has long argued that the question is not "to cull or not to cull", but "what is the best way to reduce the incidence of bovine TB".

    Taking the view currently put by Govt scientists - that bovine TB will be reduced by 16% (range: 8-24) if a badger cull is implemented - that still leaves a whopping 84% to be addressed through cattle measures. Yet the reality that the primary reservoir of bovine TB actually resides in cattle, not badgers, is never addressed.

    The testing regime for bovine TB control is based on herd testing and parish testing.

    But herd testing means that we miss the wood for the trees. The reality is that the UK herd is effectively a meta-population; around half the animals move from one location to another every year. There is constant mixing and movement of bovine TB through livestock movement and through cattle-cattle contact, especially with follows getting nose-to-nose contact on leased or fragmented patchwork pastures sold off or rented as farms consolidate.

    Meanwhile, the Veterinary Laboratory Agency has found that the mystical "closed herd" is effectively non-existent: it was unable to find sufficient genuinely closed herds to conduct a study into their disease-control benefits.

    Meanwhile, changing the testing frequency of parishes after breakdowns have increased is too late. By then, undisclosed herds have spread infected livestock elsewhere.

    Another issue is the inadequacy of the TB test. The other week, Countryfile farmer Adam Henson took delivery of new white park cattle and spoke about his hope that they would be in the clear after a TB test. But TB testing doesn't guarantee that the animal is "clean". It's staggering how often farmers (and vets) put faith in the TB test and how many farmers talk about bovine TB as though it's not a seriously infectious disease amongst cattle.

    The farming unions should be careful what they ask for. Historically, blaming badgers has allowed farmers to keep wringing compensation out of taxpayers. Now, if the Govt lays the responsibility for badger culling at the farmers' door (you want it, you pay for it), it will be handing over responsibility for what farmers claim is the root of their ills.

    The Govt will be free to cut back on compensation and tighten up on testing. Ironically, Prof David King's claim that the disease will continue to grow is right, but only insofar as it's already out there, spread by cattle and waiting to be discovered by increased testing as happened in Wales.

    Killing badgers is wrong-headed and misses the root cause of the bovine TB problem. But as a political expedient, they may prove to be an essential scapegoat.

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      1. Thanks Mark. Like so much else, this is really an economic argument with the money - not science - driving the debate to maintain the status quo for farmers. The current structure of the cattle industry is driving the growth of the disease. Science has made a really positive contribution to our understanding of this complex problem, but many close their ears to its evidence. My biggest regret is that many fellow vets are so complicit in this wilful ignorance. Frankly, it's an embarrassment. Back when Nick Brown caved in to the NFU and allowed the mass movement of cattle without TB testing, post FMD, the UK was a laughing stock amongst vets abroad. And look how farmers have paid the price; TB is everywhere. If annual testing was implemented tomorrow I wouldn't be surprised if they found more than a 1,000 undisclosed herds ridden with the disease.

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        1. Aaron will no doubt remember Prof Harris of Mammal Soc / Bristol fame - his suggestion to MAFFs Nick Brown was to cull hotspots immediately (1997) and hard. I still have copies of his letters to Mr Brown.

          Aaron - how do you explain Thornbury then and Ben Bradshaw's response to a written Parliamentary Question - saying that no other factor - other than culling badgers - resulted in 10 years of freedom from bTB in cattle?

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          1. Ah so sorry Aaron, this is not a balanced view at all, you are claiming that bovine TB is a cattle disease. Not so, it is named bovine merely because it was first identified in cattle. Actually it is a mutation of M. tuberculosis (hope I spelt it right) a disease first identified in man. All these bacteria belong to the same family and attack all mammals.

            In 1985 we got down to a small number of hotspots, three I think, in Devon and Gloucestershire. Everywhere else culling cattle and badgers had removed M bovis. In 1985 we were classed as disease free. Then we protected the badger - a good thing in my opinion and one I too fought for, but it was a mistake as M. bovis was still in the wildlife reservoir.

            From there, it has spread ever out, north and west.

            To assume that this is all down to cattle movements (some of which of course it is) misses the whole point. If it were just cattle movements, M bovis would appear wherever cattle are kept. If you follow the maps of spread, it passes from one farm to the next, not from where one cow is kept to the next.

            As Mark quite rightly points out, there can be no doubt that badgers are playing a clear part in this. To address only the disease in cattle is to misundertand the nature of the disease.

            And no it is not all about money. There are plenty of money problems in farming that the government ignore or even make worse. The issue here is one of public health. M bovis kills people too!

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          2. Thornbury is a classic example how poor "science" can lead to disastrous policy. Thornbury had no effective control or statistical power. It's not really clear what badger numbers were; they re-colonised after the first gassing and it is difficult to conceive that badgers did not continue to recolonise thereafter.

            It was also undertaken at a time when the dynamics of the livestock industry were different. For example, is the limited incidence of bovine TB due to changes in badger numbers or to the particular aspects of livestock movement and management in that area at that time?

            But more importantly, what is the economic argument from Thornbury? Even if we assume, as you appear to, that the TB incidence in Thornbury was due to badger culling, what was the cost of that culling over the entire timeframe of the project, and what was the benefit? Also, a tax payer might reasonably ask, who should pay those costs?

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    1. In all Badger Culling trials in this country other than the RBCT debacle (Thornbury, Avon; Steeeple Leaze, Dorset and Hartland, Devon) and in the Republic of Ireland (East Offaly and the Four Counties) culling success has been over 80%. In the trials using gassing in the mid 70’s, 100% removal was achieved resulting in complete cessation of TB cases over 10 years before other infected badgers moved in to start the problem again (Thornbury) and 7 years in the other (Steeple Leaze). At the latter the farming group switched to arable after that time.

      Culling efficiency is everything when dealing with a wildlife reservoir host such as the badger which is organised into hierarchical social groups. Due to the confined air space in the sett, mutual grooming, communal sleeping and the gregarious nature of badgers, once there is a diseased badger in the sett all inmates will become infected. Most infections remain in a dormant phase with maybe only one or two developing progressive disease straight away. But the dormant cases may break down and develop disease as a result of stress caused by malnutrition, intercurrent diseases or social disruption. This is how poor culling approaches spread disease. So culling must always be aimed at complete removal of all the social group or sett occupants.

      Thus I would recommend gassing whole setts in hotspot areas - proven protocols!

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      1. Saddly this is all very true. I don't like the idea of gassing at all and never have, however you simply can not get away from the fact that it worked! In 1985 we were disease free, this was done by the ring culling of infected setts. For those who don't know - and I know Trimbush understands this - where a bTB hotspot was discovered, the local badger population were gassed and some dean badgers sent for analysis. The cull then moved out in rings from the centre of infection until no infected badgers were found.

        This was very efficient in removing the disease, but expensive and time consuming. So money does come in to it. Gassing was also politically incorrect as it was considered to be inhumane.

        All killing is not without pain.

        However, gassing worked and worked well.

        The RBCT was based on trapping (which was considered more humane) but conducted in a very poor and unprofessional way - 40% of all traps were interfered with, 12 % stollen. Consequently it caused perturbation. I'm not surprised! Only a fool would think otherwise! If I was a badger I would have run away too!

        Dead badgers are not perturbed.

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  16. I had considered a response and contribution to the 'debate' on here, but Aaron has just about summed-up my view and I can add nothing more. Thank you Aaron for putting into words, what would have taken me too long (bird ringing finger nails make typing difficult and reduce the visibility of the lettering on my keyboard)!

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  17. Well there's nothing like a little bit of proposed wildlife 'management' to get the comments count up is there. Some interesting comments. This is an emotive issue. Bovine TB undoubtedly causes real angst and real impact on the farming community in the south and west. At the same time we are talking about the logo of the Wildlife Trusts and probably the most popular mammal in the country.

    the Government seems to have got itself into a tight corner on this one. 'Between a brock and a hard Paice', as others have commented.
    So the coalition has said it will persue a policy of science led badger control. The science is clear, for culling to be effective it needs to be across substantial areas, for several years, organised and if not simultaneous then certainly very well co-ordinated. Failing to do so risks making matters worse, surely something no one wants.
    Some will dispute the science or describe it as a pinky/leftie/communist plot or whatever. The fact is there is a body of peer reviewed science by a respected and eminently qualified group of scientists. Others, including David King, have confirmed that it is the best information we've got to go on.
    But there's a snag, the scientists used a programme of cage trapping and humane dispatch. This is an expensive process and the Government doesn't have much money so it decides to give the task to the farmers. Now as they have even less money than the Government the idea of shooting free ranging badgers is thrown in to make things affordable. Only trouble is there is little or no science behind shooting free badgers. The work that has been done, was by the Game Conservancy Trust and this looked at sighting frequency only, there has been no testing or trialing to properly assess the impact of shooting on badger social groups and the rather inconvenient issue of perturbation. I don't see any way that the Government can claim to be pursuing a 'science-led' policy if it opts for free shooting.
    Also the Trust's conclusions suggested that badger shooting was really a fairly specialist task and for various reasons it would be best carried out by trained contractors. This is all rather inconvenient for the Government because it drives a coach and horses through their estimates of the costs of shooting. It suggests that free shooting is anything but free.
    Vaccination is by no means free either, it is expensive, it will take time and but the science that has been carried out to date is encouraging. Great shame the present Government pulled the funding for five of the trial areas, and great credit to the National Trust for stepping in and committing resources to vaccination on one of its estates in Devon.
    The big plus point about vaccination is it doesn't disrupt badger social groups. I hope that it could something social groups of humans could get behind.

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    1. Referring to Sir David King - Christopher Booker wrote in the Telegraph -

      "Until the 1980s, the culling of infected badgers reduced TB in cattle virtually to zero. Since killing badgers was outlawed, our badger population has soared and TB in both badgers and cattle has reached epidemic proportions.

      According to Government figures, the total bill to taxpayers of compensating farmers [ and paying for testing, slaughter and sampling - ed] for the slaughter of their TB-infected cattle will, within six years, have risen to £2 billion (this year alone payments have risen by 40 per cent).

      More than 400 of Britain's most experienced vets, including our leading veterinary scientists, have told the Government that the only way to halt this disaster is a systematic cull of infected badgers.

      As was confirmed by the former chief scientist, Sir David King, the so-called Krebs trials, used by the Government to justify its policy, were so unscientific that they might have been designed only to show that culling doesn't work. "

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      1. I just looked up Christopher Booker. He appears to be a fan of intelligent design. It's a shame you can't hear my laughter through this blog!

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      1. Ah yes the old vaccinate ploy!

        The BCG is a failing vaccine. It has been around since the early part of the 20th century, which is a very long time for a vaccine against a bacteria. In evolutionary terms 100 years in the life of a bacteria it is like a mammal species being around for several million years. Evolution has taken place. The vaccine is a similar but less harmful bacteria that is injected live into its host. The host then forms immunity to the vaccine bacteria and fights all other M. it meets.

        M. bovis has evolved, those strains that are challenged by the host's immunity have died out or are dieing out. Those strains that are not challenged by the host's imunity have multiplied.

        At best the BCG is only 80 % efficient. At worst it is 0 % efficient. By vaccinating infected badgers, you do nothing for them but you help the bacterium that are not challenged by the BCG to have the room to multiply. To put it simply, vaccinating infected badgers will destroy what is left of the strength of the BCG and we are at least ten years from the next vaccine.

        Finally, badger cubs remain in the sett for up to 6 weeks before they emerge in spring. As Trimbush states, the badger sett is a perfect environment for propogating and spreading M bovis. How are you going to vaccinate these cubs?

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  18. 'How many is just enough - Aaron Blair asks. Answer - when there is no visible damage from badgers and when they return to live in their normal habitats. The population evidence maybe scant, but it is guesstimated to be around 700000 by none other than Prof Harris Bristol. The self regulation fact WAS true until we started substituting forage maize for grass silage, that tipped the balance for badger cubs in the hungry gap September/October so I am sorry natural regulation is no longer possible.

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  19. Mark / Trimbush, We are here again. I am not a scientist. I like badgers. But it is clear from the well argued comments above that a range of options is the only way forward. As a layman, logic tells me that if we cull TB reactor cattle then why shouldn't we cull TB reactor badgers and that probably means testing first. I think that is where I stop, I do struggle with mass culling given that there will always be problems around the edge. Back in the 80s I did visit a local testing centre which was run very efficently. Traps were stolen but any option will have its failures including culling. Trimbush, I do worry what S E T T is. You state it is ' Strategies for the Eradication of Tuberculosis Transmission'. I have no problem with that title but would like to see what your range of options is. At the moment from all your entries on here and previous blogs I can only see 1 strategy, surely SETT is considering other options.

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    1. Hi Bob

      There are other options depending on where you are in the UK - some say for example 'create a firewall between Scotland and England' - That's fine - but it is the hotspot areas that need addressing - the disease is so deep within the badger population in these areas that ONLY the culling of badgers will prove effective

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  20. The proof of the pudding?

    Aaron – how do you explain Thornbury then and Ben Bradshaw’s response to a written Parliamentary Question – saying that no other factor – other than culling badgers – resulted in 10 years of freedom from bTB in cattle?

    Game Sett & Match?

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  21. December 10th 2007 – EFRA Committee

    Fellow bloggers will recall Jeff Rooker (Labour) MP – MAFF / DEFRA minister – now Lord Rooker

    He said:-

    * Defra has to formulate a comprehensive strategy. "The issue is bTb. We have a reservoir in the wildlife and disease in a food producing animal. And it is growing".

    * "We are in real trouble. AHOs and VLA tell me that the disease is virtually impossible to eradicate in cattle while there is a reservoir in wildlife".

    * "In the hot spot areas, AHOs tell me that 70 percent of the cattle breakdowns are badger related. They are on the front line".

    * Cattle movements geographically are important, but "both VLA and AHOs tell me that the molecular structure [of the bacteria] is unique to areas. If the issue was cattle moving Tb around, then this molecular spread would be obvious".

    * Scientists not arguing about the science of culling [ badgers], but how to do it.

    * "The present situation is unsustainable. Whatever policy government come up with, they will not pay for it. This is the end of the line for taxpayer's money".

    * "Culling as done by the RBCT does not work. The implication is you don't do it that way".

    * The rest of mainland Europe is fine with test and slaughter - they don't have a wildlife reservoir of disease.

    * "Government cannot reasonably withold licenses from applicants under section 10 (9) of the Badger Protection Act"; the Act was to protect the badger before it became known that the animal was a reservoir for bTb. Moratorium 'may have been illegal', but was never challenged.

    * Zoning and cattle cordon sanitaires would destroy the industry. "The cost to the farming industry [of bTb] is horrendous, both financially and emotionally. It is very frustrating for farmers and the industry".

    * The spread of bTb in "Midlands and SW hotspots has grown, but not as a result of trade".

    * "bTb is the most serious disease that Defra face in terms of costs and resources. This cannot carry on".

    Come on Lord Rooker - we need your input

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  22. I forgot to say that Jeff Rooker has visited fellow cattle farmers in my region (North Staffs) - he is a decent man, a good man, a truthful man - an honourable man and despite the political pressures of being a Labour Party Farming Minister - he recognised the truth.

    Other Members of the Labour Party do not have the strength of character - despite their education and training - to do the same.

    Shame on them !

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  23. And finally ? :-

    THE TRUTH ABOUT THE KREBS ‘SCIENCE’

    Memorandum submitted by P Caruana (BTB 33)

    House of Commons - Environment, Food and Rural Affairs –
    Written Evidence Page 1 of 3 14/02/2010 -

    “My name is Paul Caruana and I work for the a Defra Wildlife Unit (Polwhele) that is currently wrapping up the Krebs Trial. I have worked in the Unit for twelve years; five as a fields person, four as a Field Supervisor and the last three as a Field Manager (Higher Scientific Officer). I have been involved in the live testing regimes of the early 1990s, the Badger Removal Operations of the mid 1990s and the current Krebs Trial since its inception. I feel that my experience as an ex-RAF Logistics Officer and as an individual that has had a lot of ‘hands on’ experience could be valuable to any balanced and rational debate affecting the future handling of the current TB epidemic.”

    1. Badger removal operations worked well when the land being culled was made fully available, not just the area dictated to us by vets.

    2. Where badgers were totally removed from a farm, that farm, after it had its infected cattle culled, often stayed clear of TB for up to 10 years.

    3. We stayed on farms for up to three months to ensure that ALL badgers were caught; unlike the Krebs eight days per year trapping regime.

    4. You do not need large scale culling for it to be effective if the culling effort is robust from the start.

    5. Krebs had too many anomalies and weaknesses in the strategy for it to be successful. It took us four years to steer away from trapping setts that had been interfered with by Animal Rights Activist, to being able to trap badgers anywhere in order to eliminate them. That is only one of a raft of operational problems we faced and had to endure.

    6. Limited trapping; eight days per year with Krebs; has little effect if carried out late in the year; the effect being that areas went almost two years without an effective cull.

    7. The costs for a future culling policy must NOT be based on Krebs costings. The Wildlife Unit have many great ideas on how to reduce costs vastly should the State remain involved in it. Give the Unit the chance to see how innovative it can be when it comes to reducing operating costs. Krebs was ridiculously expensive for what it delivered.

    8. The Public and the NFU are demanding that “professionals” remain involved to ensure adequate training is given to those with the task to do, and to ensure that animal welfare and humaneness remains a number one priority. Overseeing the task will give some comfort to those who fear that this might not be the way.

    9. Compulsory entry onto farms is a must when considering what Policy to adopt. Making farms who receive Government subsidies participate in one of its schemes must be made compulsory. Krebs has proven that wide scale non-cooperation does make it nigh on impossible to operate effectively.

    10. The Krebs Reactive strategy was prematurely ended in my opinion. The results used also showed us that, in areas we had never operated in (areas J2 and H1 which had a very limited cull) also displayed the same increase in TB outside of the areas. That has to have another logical reason for the increase, as it clearly was not badger culling related. This point has yet to be satisfactorily answered.

    11. The combined knowledge of the staff involved in all of the previous culling strategies has never been utilised or sought when putting together a Policy. Why can’t the common sense approach ever be used when facing problems such as TB. We feel that we have the answers, if only somebody would listen to us. Details of the possible ways of operating are being submitted to the TB Consultation committee.

    12. Be prepared to change a policy, to let it evolve, is a must. All strategies have seen staff restrained in what they would like to do, often flying in the face of common sense. Taking the risk; isn’t that what it often needs to make things work properly? We have been shackled for too many years by rules and red tape. Now is the time to be radical and make things change for the better.

    Bovine Tuberculosis, sometimes found in cattle is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis. . Infection caused by this bacterium has now been identified in virtually all mammals, but most are only spill-over hosts. . The major vector and reservoir species in the UK has now been identified as the European badger, Meles-meles. . Its largely subterranean lifestyle is an ideal incubation environment for this very slow growing, insidious bacterium. . There is no realistic treatment for any infected animal, and unfortunately the only humane solution for any infected animal is euthanasia. . This bacterium has been in the environment for thousands of years and the current BCG vaccine for human tuberculosis Mycobacterium tuberculosis, first used in 1921, is now weakening and becoming increasingly ineffective. Unless an effective alternative for humans can soon be found the world is facing potentially great unknown difficulties with these bacterium. and unless an effective, appliable vaccine for any reservoir species in the wild can be found; which is at the present unlikely, the only remedy is control of numbers by culling.

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  24. There are many flaws and unanswered questions regarding the current policy (www.bovinetb.co.uk) - the current UK status of the disease is is based entirely on an imperfect test and cull policy. Should there be a complete rethink? I suggest those with an interest in the subject read and comment on the discussion document at www.rethinkbtb.org I understand a second edition of the document (which considered all comments received to date) will be published shortly.

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  25. Aaron has (still) failed to explain Thornbury and Ben Bradshaw's reply. So Aaron – how do you explain Thornbury then and Ben Bradshaw’s response to a written Parliamentary Question – saying that no other factor – other than culling badgers – resulted in 10 years of freedom from bTB in cattle?

    As Lord Rooker says :- Cattle movements geographically are important, but “both VLA and AHOs tell me that the molecular structure [of the bacteria] is unique to areas. If the issue was cattle moving Tb around, then this molecular spread would be obvious”.

    The following is part of the abstract from the paper "Estimates for Local and Movement-based Transmission of Bovine Tuberculosis in British cattle" (Green et al) which was published in 2008.

    "Both badgers and livestock movements have been implicated in contributing to the ongoing epidemic of bovine tuberculosis (BTB) in British cattle. However, the relative contributions of these and other causes are not well quantified. We used cattle movement data to construct an individual (premises)-based model of BTB spread within Great Britain, accounting for spread due to recorded cattle movements and other causes.

    Outbreak data for 2004 were best explained by a model attributing 16% of herd infections directly to cattle movements, and a further 9% unexplained, potentially including spread from unrecorded movements.

    The best-fit model assumed low levels of cattle-to-cattle transmission.

    The remaining 75% of infection was attributed to local effects (badgers) within specific high-risk areas."

    "There is no correlation between badger population size or density and the prevalence of bovine TB" - you say Aaron

    Pure coincidence is it? The badger population at least doubles and TB goes down does it? I don't think so.

    What's a 'hotspot'? Aaron's obsessing is like Martin Hancox - most remarkable! You'll be telling me you vote Labour next!

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  26. “Estimates for Local and Movement-based Transmission of Bovine Tuberculosis in British cattle” (Green et al) which was published in 2008 available via Warmwell

    http://www.warmwell.com/cattlemovementsgreen2008.pdf

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  27. So, what was the cause of the Thornbury success? Whole herd slaughter? Cohort slaughter? Zoning and movement restrictions, licensing and more cattle measures? Biosecurity and stricter testing? Change in the weather? All measures offered by the Badger Trust.

    "No confirmed cases of tuberculosis in cattle in the area of the Thornbury operation were disclosed by the tuberculin test in the ten year period following the cessation of gassing" Hansard: 28th Jan 2004 col 385W [150573]

    The fundamental difference bewteen the Thornbury area and other areas in the south west of England, where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area" (Hansard 24th March 2004: Col 824W [157949]

    Q E D

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  28. Excuse the length of this blog but it is fundamental to the issue.

    Dr. John Gallagher, former head of MAFF Veterinary Investigation Services for Devon and Cornwall, and former Independent Advisor to MAFF's Chief Scientist Group, questioned the 'robust' basis of the RBCT.

    "... from 80 per cent to 40 per cent of infected badgers were dispersed to spread their infection, making this more a study in dispersal of TB rather than a culling trial to control it. "

    and:

    "In the MAFF annual report of 1995, the chief veterinary officer stated that 90 per cent of outbreaks were considered due to infected badgers and this was also affirmed by MAFF’s senior TB epidemiologist. Indeed, in the two gassing trial areas the complete cessation of TB in cattle following removal of the badgers indicated that they were the sole source of infection. Thus there, and throughout the areas where TB infection is endemic in badgers, cattle have been acting as sentinels of active disease in the badger.

    But the ISG say they had been unable to quantify the role of badgers in cattle outbreaks, although they did admit they can be a source of infection for cattle."

    A paper presented to the BCVA Congress held in Killarney whose authors described the basis of the RBCT and compared its mathematical modelling input with the actual 'complex epidemiological data' gathered over decades and held by VLA and some Animal Health offices in the SW.

    This shows that from 1986 - 1995 analyses of data held by the Epidemiology Unit, Weybridge

    The paper concludes:

    "The apparently arbitrary assumption of origins in the ISG model, are likely to have resulted in a serious distortion of the disease model. Giving equal weighting to cattle to cattle transmission, contiguous spread, and diseased badgers as sources of outbreaks seems a remarkable and disturbing assumption which was based only on concern that the ISG was unable to determine which proportions of the outbreaks were due to which source.

    TB99 forms deal with the reasons which could be responsible for our TB breakdowns. Completion of the forms for the ISG took about four hours, as they were more detailed than the usual epidemiological assessment which has been completed at every breakdown, for decades. This had a tick box list of possibilities, with bought in cattle, common boundaries and cattle contact, shared mechanical equipment etc. among the table together with badgers, other wildlife and residual infection. The possibilities were 'High', 'Low' or 'Nil'.

    The personnel completing these forms, and the TB99s for the RBCT, were highly trained veterinary practitioners, with back up support for the data from government agencies such at the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS), Cattle Tracing Service (CTS), Ordnance Survey office and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA).

    Having been 'gathered by the ISG', they chose to ignore it.

    Within the section concerning the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, the ISG describe their epidemiological base, stating that they included:

    "........ local infection across farm borders, infection from animals bought, in particular but not only, from high incidence areas and infection from wildlife, especially badgers. [] In the following calculations, we assume all three sources to be roughly equally important." (ISG 7.24 p148)

    So, far from using that robust, complex epidemiological data contained in the TB99 forms to actually see what was going on, the ISG 'roughly assumed' two parts cattle, one part badger. Professor Bourne went so far as to describe such epidemiological evidence as 'apocryphal' - of dubious provenance, not considered genuine, or of dubious authenticity.

    The ISG preferred it would appear, to assume and 'roughly estimate' disease transmission opportunity, and base their calculations of its spread and control on that.

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  29. Ha -ha! The man Aaron - he awakes!

    Thornbury? - " "Poor science" Aaron says - but take a large area overrun with diseased badgers - gas all the setts - re-gas them when recolonised - result 10 years of no bTB in cattle. Simple!

    Laugther? my goodness - industry dynamics?, controls?, badger numbers?, livestock management?, farm management? costs? benefit? Cobblers!

    Aaron - come on you can tell us all now - you're having a larf aren't you - you must be - you say:-

    "Even if we assume, as you appear to, that the {lack of ..} TB incidence in Thornbury was due to badger culling" -

    No - really Aaron - you must stop it - my sides ache with laughter - even the DEFRA minister Ben Bradshaw said in the Commons:

    “No confirmed cases of tuberculosis in cattle in the area of the Thornbury operation were disclosed by the tuberculin test in the ten year period following the cessation of gassing” Hansard: 28th Jan 2004 col 385W [150573]

    "The fundamental difference bewteen the Thornbury area and other areas in the south west of England, where bovine tuberculosis was a problem, was the systematic removal of badgers from the Thornbury area. No other species was similarly removed. No other contemporaneous change was identified that could have accounted for the reduction in TB incidence within the area” (Hansard 24th March 2004: Col 824W [157949]

    Wake up man! - Smell the coffee!

    Sadly Aaron - it's people like you (and the Badger Trust) that will be responsible for the 'badger' population being subjected to being 'cleansed' to a greater extent than would be otherwise - the longer it takes to address the issue the greater the proportion of the badger population it will be necessary to cull!

    Game over Aaron - You cannot be serious! - You are Joanna Lumley and I claim my £5.

    Really - unbelieveable - and stop taking those tablets!

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    1. Trimbush; I hadn't realised how much you missed me. There I was, off leading a productive life. I returned to this blog to see if any new, well-reasoned argument had been presented, only to find that you have regurgitated huge chunks of online content found elsewhere. Sadly, life's too short to comment on it all.

      However, I would caution against taking the statements of Ministers of State too seriously. They do not write the statements themselves.

      Take the statement "no other contemporaneous change was identified" from Ben Bradshaw. It is in the same vein as another phrase often heard in Parliament: "there is no evidence that...".

      In both cases, the crafty phrasing of the statement leads the reader to assume that alternative evidence was actually sought. There were no scientific controls to compare against Thornbury and consequently no such comparisons were possible. Had the Thornbury trial not been the travesty that it was, the Krebs' trial would not have been required.

      I think it's worth adding that neither Ben Bradshaw nor Lord Rooker have a background in science, let alone epidemiology. I think this has worrying implications.

      For example, Lord Rooker was "told" by animal health officers that 70 per cent of TB cases were "badger related". Had he considered this claim from a scientific point of view, he would have asked on what qualitative evidence this 70% figure was based. The fact that he was prepared to parrot the claim at a Select Committee hearing without the quality of evidence is, in my humble opinion, indicative of the quality of his judgment - and of others who continue to squawk it (given Mark's background, I think an avian analogy is appropriate here).

      Animal health officers are in no position to make assumptions about the cause of herd breakdowns. The fact that they even try to make those assumptions demonstrates the poor training in epidemiology received by vets. It's not a significant part of their curriculum and, if it were, they would know that it's not possible to track the dynamics of a complex disease like bovine TB with a thin veneer of anecdotal evidence.

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      1. Hi Aaron - I see you are still taking those tablets - which continue to define you as a "disease denier" I think your your argument is nano-thin - you do not have a good reason to explain the success of the Thornbury!

        Can you answer the following? Apoligies Mark for repetition!

        Dr. John Gallagher, former head of MAFF Veterinary Investigation Services for Devon and Cornwall, and former Independent Advisor to MAFF’s Chief Scientist Group, questioned the ‘robust’ basis of the RBCT.

        “… from 80 per cent to 40 per cent of infected badgers were dispersed to spread their infection, making this more a study in dispersal of TB rather than a culling trial to control it. ”

        and:

        “In the MAFF annual report of 1995, the chief veterinary officer stated that 90 per cent of outbreaks were considered due to infected badgers and this was also affirmed by MAFF’s senior TB epidemiologist. Indeed, in the two gassing trial areas the complete cessation of TB in cattle following removal of the badgers indicated that they were the sole source of infection. Thus there, and throughout the areas where TB infection is endemic in badgers, cattle have been acting as sentinels of active disease in the badger.

        But the ISG say they had been unable to quantify the role of badgers in cattle outbreaks, although they did admit they can be a source of infection for cattle.”

        A paper presented to the BCVA Congress held in Killarney whose authors described the basis of the RBCT and compared its mathematical modelling input with the actual ‘complex epidemiological data’ gathered over decades and held by VLA and some Animal Health offices in the SW.

        This shows that from 1986 – 1995 analyses of data held by the Epidemiology Unit, Weybridge

        The paper concludes:

        “The apparently arbitrary assumption of origins in the ISG model, are likely to have resulted in a serious distortion of the disease model. Giving equal weighting to cattle to cattle transmission, contiguous spread, and diseased badgers as sources of outbreaks seems a remarkable and disturbing assumption which was based only on concern that the ISG was unable to determine which proportions of the outbreaks were due to which source.

        TB99 forms deal with the reasons which could be responsible for our TB breakdowns. Completion of the forms for the ISG took about four hours, as they were more detailed than the usual epidemiological assessment which has been completed at every breakdown, for decades. This had a tick box list of possibilities, with bought in cattle, common boundaries and cattle contact, shared mechanical equipment etc. among the table together with badgers, other wildlife and residual infection. The possibilities were ‘High’, ‘Low’ or ‘Nil’.

        The personnel completing these forms, and the TB99s for the RBCT, were highly trained veterinary practitioners, with back up support for the data from government agencies such at the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS), Cattle Tracing Service (CTS), Ordnance Survey office and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA).

        Having been ‘gathered by the ISG’, they chose to ignore it.

        Within the section concerning the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, the ISG describe their epidemiological base, stating that they included:

        “…….. local infection across farm borders, infection from animals bought, in particular but not only, from high incidence areas and infection from wildlife, especially badgers. [] In the following calculations, we assume all three sources to be roughly equally important.” (ISG 7.24 p148)

        So, far from using that robust, complex epidemiological data contained in the TB99 forms to actually see what was going on, the ISG ‘roughly assumed’ two parts cattle, one part badger. Professor Bourne went so far as to describe such epidemiological evidence as ‘apocryphal’ – of dubious provenance, not considered genuine, or of dubious authenticity.

        The ISG preferred it would appear, to assume and ‘roughly estimate’ disease transmission opportunity, and base their calculations of its spread and control on that.

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  30. Good grief Trimbush you really are so full of it I haven't the time or inclination to read all that claptrap. All of the 'studies' you quote were so poorly organised, without scientific control ie areas where no culling took place as a comparison (due to the fact that they actually weren't scientific studies at all remember), hence the need for the RBCT. Indeed, Thornbury trial carried out reactive culling in its 'control' areas, shown by the RBCT to increase tb, so it's an interesting mix of unfortunate and poor science. Especially when you consider that it seemed as though tb was already going down in the region before the culling started. Much like it is in Wales where cattle controls have reduced tb without killing any badgers.
    Basically, you keep culling, you keep increasing the tb in the badgers. That's not going to 'cleanse' anything.

    I'd just like to make a couple of points clear for anyone who has bothered to scroll past all your ramblings.
    1. The skin test we use is not effective. Only up to about 70- 80% effective at identifying infected animals. In other European countries where tb is under control this test is used as a herd test (which is its recommended use). ie, if one cow in a herd is a reactor, the whole herd is removed. Here we just leave the other missed cattle behind to reinfect the herd. This should be the first thing addressed. Better testing.
    2. The cull issue is not whether badgers now have tb, it's whether culling them will help (unless of course you consider killing almost half our badger population ethical in exchange for more money than we spend on preventing HIV each year). But actually, culling badgers increases the % of remaining badgers that have tb. In fact, this is probably at least in part a reason for the increase you keep blaming on legal protection. Culling has formed some part of btb control from 1975 until the end of the RBCT (2005). I've been looking at cattle movements too. Interesting spike after foot and mouth there, and I also find it interesting that by far the majority of cattle movements are within your own hotspot areas. Now until pre-movement testing, that really does seem like you could be restocking with um, infected stock there. Ever heard of feedback mechanisms? Seems since that control came in the SW has seen a drop in incidence of herd breakdowns!
    Which brings me to my final point.
    3. Tb is not really a public health issue, no matter how much you scream that it is. In 2009 only 25 cases of btb in humans were recorded in the entire UK. I can't tell you how far down the list of public health concerns that is, it would take me a very long time to scroll all the way down and my tea is ready.
    Couple of things to think about below;
    How is it that 0.025% of our UK herd (25,000 of over 10million) are costing us nearly 100 million a year? Because we are subsidising an industry that is at the absolute limit in terms of its intensification and cannot continue in its present form. Nor, I'm afraid should it.
    As for removing all badgers in an area, a) I'd like to see you get around EU law on that, and b) gassing, is inhumane due to the complexity of badger setts and therefore the chance of brain damage.
    No-one really knows how many badgers there are. And quite frankly if there were too many they wouldn't breed. That's the beauty of delayed implantation.
    Your problem is your earthworms you see. Too many of em. We need a cull.

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  31. Ha - delayed implantation is it Jess?

    I don't think you actually understand - however - the game is up !!

    Statistical Communications in Infectious Diseases

    Extract from ‘recent’ Research (2010) using RBCT data by ISG Member Prof C Donnelly + 1

    “The analysis of the proportion of cattle herds with newly detected TB infection in a year, showed strong support for the model including significant frequency-dependent transmission between cattle herds and significant badger-to-herd transmission proportional to the proportion of M. bovis-infected badgers.

    "Based on the model best fitting all the data, 3.4% of herds (95% CI: 0 – 6.7%) would be expected to have TB infection newly detected (i.e. to experience a TB herd breakdown) in a year, in the absence of transmission from badgers.

    “Thus, the null hypothesis that at equilibrium herd-to-herd transmission is not sufficient to sustain TB in the cattle population, in the absence of transmission from badgers cannot be rejected.

    “The results demonstrate close positive relationships between bovine TB in cattle herds and badgers infectious with M. bovis. The results indicate that TB in cattle herds could be substantially reduced, possibly even eliminated, in the absence of transmission from badgers to cattle.

    Donnelly, Christl A. and Hone, Jim (2010) "Is There an Association between Levels of Bovine Tuberculosis in Cattle Herds and Badgers?," Statistical Communications in Infectious Diseases: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 3. _DOI: 10.2202/1948-4690.1000_Available at: http://www.bepress.com/scid/vol2/iss1/art3

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