A curious strategy indeed

By Andrew Gray (local userpage) (p1140372) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
In a week’s time there will be a Westminster Hall debate on badger culling – it’s not the first debate and it probably won’t be the last.  I would hope that MPs participating in the debate might read this essay by Anna Dale which I found very clear, very thorough and really quite shocking.

It appears that Natural England has been negligent in monitoring biosecurity levels on farms – good biosecurity is a condition of issuing licenses for badger killing.

Also Natural England appears to me, to have been unduly secretive about what it is doing – quite possibly because it is failing the public in ensuring the license requirements are being met.

In the last Westminster Hall debate on this issue Rachael Maskell, for the Opposition, said, ‘We need to see scientific evidence and a proper biosecurity strategy at the heart of addressing bovine TB‘ and it is far from obvious to me, after reading Anna Dale’s excellent essay, that there is a proper biosecurity strategy in place.

Defra and NE are letting down the public by not ensuring that there are strict and strong biosecurity measures in place.

If you live in a bovine TB area, and/or if your MP might be expected to take part in this debate, you might want to point them in the direction of Anna Dale’s essay.






PS Is NE fit for purpose?

PPS NE seems to have dropped mention of this blog from its media summary but I am gratified to hear that it circulates widely on email through the organisation every time this failing organisation gets a mention.

PPPS insisting on proper biosecurity measures, which NE haven’t done, will be regarded by many farmers as an example of ‘bureaucracy’ and ‘red tape’.






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31 Replies to “A curious strategy indeed”

  1. Men and women in black, the mysterious and secretive world of both Natural England and DEFRA continues to bedevil efforts to learn truths regarding the Badger Cull. Yet another component surfaces to undermine the government’s insistence in pursuing this brutal and ineffective remedy for eradicating bovine TB. Biosecurity, a requirement to obtain licenses to cull badgers, on each farm where badger culling takes place, has been poorly monitored and in some cases if at all. There is mounting evidence, both scientific and with methodology, that the cull is simply not working. Natural England, DEFRA, NFU and government seem very reluctant to justify, by hard evidence, the effectiveness of the current strategy of persecuting badgers. It is time for real hope and action to be taken against bovine TB on behalf of our beleaguered farmers, the badger cull, on evidence gathered and presented, is not the solution or answer.

  2. One point I've always wondered about is this: if a cow is found positive, and taken out of the herd to be culled, does someone go round the field to clear up all the manure ( not knowing which pile that cow has left) ? I am assuming the manure is still capable of passing on the disease for at least some time after 'deposition'!

    1. Environmental contamination with M. bovis may play a role in the spread of bovine TB. Survival of M. bovis in the environment is primarily affected by exposure to sunlight. Reports on the length of survival of M. bovis vary from 18-332 days at temperatures ranging from 54-75 F.

      1. Thanks for the info, Peter, that's quite some time for it to survive in the environment then. The centre of the pile won't be exposed to sunlight, I guess.

    2. Mairi,impossible idea,suppose it is winter and slurry has been scraped into a pit holding thousands of tons and in summer when on grass it would be impossible anyway,simply the amount and looseness of dung when on grass.

  3. One of my neighbours is a herdsman of some 30 years experience over two dairy farms in Cheshire. Whilst I've not witnessed him at work, he clearly cares passionately about his job and the animals he looks after. He like wildlife. He also has deep concerns about bovine TB, being on the front line and witnessing first hand the horrors of the disease. He clearly has a genuine personal commitment to biosecurity and I believe that he is quite fastidious. However, he is also continually frustrated by the farm owners lacklustre and irresponsible attitude towards biosecurity measures, where he is frequently asked to cut corners. He has finally had enough, to the point that he has just handed his notice in to his employer as a direct consequence of these issues.

    Whatever the NE bio security policy is (or isn't), it is only useful if farmers take responsibility. And it won't take many 'bad' farmers to make the whole process fall down.

    No wonder the NFU prefer the simpler approach of blaming and killing badgers.

    1. Farmers in the UK have never taken biosecurity seriously. I remember back when old Foot and Mouth was running rampant, and everytime there was a rumour that travel restrictions might be imposed the lanes would be full of sheep trailers rattling around at midnight as farmers still shuttled livestock to as many places as possible. Hell, there were doing it even after the restrictions went into place too. I remain convinced that it would never have spread as far and fast as it did if farmers were not determined to get one over on the inspectors and show they were kings of their little castle. There was never a law passed that farmers didn't set out to flout just for the sheer spite of it.

      1. Random,Just like always.Farmers you know are different to anywhere else or maybe you are just biased,last bit much more likely.

        1. I'm sorry if my lived experience conflicts with your ideological standpoint, but obviously you are never going to accept my experiences as actually having happened so perhaps it would be better if you just skipped my posts and moved onto someone else. It will probably be better for your blood pressure, certainly mine won't miss you popping up to call me a liar whenever I write about something which I've lived through which you do not want to have happened.

          1. R22,try writing fiction books about hating farmers,should be easy for you.

  4. I always make the point that Natural England has got some great and committed conservationists working for it, but unfortunately the higher levels of it's management are compromised i.e. they are subject to political pressure. It's easy to see how it works, especially with this government. Although though many senior NE managers are probably at heart good conservationists, this government has got them firmly under the cosh - with the threat of further cuts hovering over them. In other words it's political blackmail, do what we want, or we'll compromise your ability to protect biodiversity and habits. Therefore if NE wants to do it's primary job of conservation, it must seek to never incur the wrath of the government.

    It isn't really just this government. This situation has always existed to some extent. It's just taken to a more extreme level with this government. It goes back a long way. Often the conservation agenda gets in the way of vested interests and most politicians seem far more supportive of vested interests than the public interest. Governments live in fear of principled conservation scientists like the late Derek Ratcliffe, the former Chief Scientist of Natural England's ancestor, the NCC. So much did he enrage the last Tory regime that within days of Derek Ratcliffe's retirement, Nicholas Ridley, the then Conservative Environment Secretary, split up the NCC to neuter it.

    Yes our statutory conservation bodies have generally faired a bit better under Labour, but it's relative. Even then they've been compromised. Politicians in general tend to pay lip service to conservation, but if it gets in the way of their general agenda, then conservation loses out even if it means irrational decisions, the ignoring of scientific evidence, and the compromising of their legal duties. Okay, I'm just stating the obvious, and nothing I've said isn't anything that Mark or the regular readers of his excellent blog don't already know, but sometimes you just have to keep re-stating the obvious.

  5. If you check the ICO site, you'll see just how many judgements have gone against Natural England. Defra has lost more than it has won. There is a link. The line taken by Defra is to refuse, fight requests all the way and await direction by the ICO. That is now the line taken by Natural England on matters relating to the badger cull.

    Natural England has never pretended that the cull was anything to do with the science, their advice to Defra was that if you killed every badger it would still only reduce btb by 16% after nine whole years - cutting the proportion of UK cattle slaughtered ahead of schedule from just under 0.5% to 0.4% pa. The statutory test is unreliable in - on average- 15% of cases. So for every 100 head of cattle 15 can remain undiagnosed and left in the herd silently infecting others. The not yet statutory test is on average reliable in 96% of cases.

    This vast undiagnosed reservoir among cattle is the reason why killing every badger (or deer which MAFF in 73 noted were more common carriers) will not shift the needle on bovine TB among cattle.

    The Welsh Assembly Government stopped from culling by a successful JR, have gone down the biosecurity route and over eight years have reduced bovine TB by 41%.

    The Westminster Government which opted for the cull one balmy July weekend in 2011, saw and has all the same evidence yet has reached a very different and wholly unevidenced decision, preferring to throw badgers to the NFU to buy the votes of its members.

    If and it is a very big if, Defra, the NFU, the FUW and farmers in general wanted to address bovine TB, then they would learn from Wales, follow the evidence and step up biosecurity. They would also require the tougher diagnostic test in exchange for bigger compensation as a one off, then convert the present tax payer funded compensation scheme (with all its unintended consequences - read Trading Standards reports of compensation fraud) and replace it with a fully farmer funded insurance scheme, making any future compensation payment conditional on levels of effective biosecurity.

    Biosecurity is the basic stuff - e.g. keeping troughs and salt licks clean and free from cow manure (a known vector), this can be made easier by surrounding troughs with concrete or stone platforms to deter cattle from defecating in them.

    Biocontainment is more sophisticated but no less practical - keeping large herds milked and housed in smaller family groups, using proper non statutory disease surveillance, enhancing pre and post movement controls. And not treating cattle with indeterminate test result results as if likely infected and housing them separately with disinfected cordons around them.

    All possible and all effective. Shame the NFU, Defra and in its image Natural England all shy away from promoting the facts giving farmers a fighting chance to control the disease.

    A shame but no surprise.

    1. Rosie,in your comment you say something like if Defra,NFU,the FUW and farmers in general wanted to address bovine TB then so on etc.
      I assure you no one absolutely no one at all wants BTB problem solved more than farmers but it is actually very difficult for ordinary farmers to have any influence.
      You actually like a lot of other people question the usefulness of the test that is used but you would actually find that this test worked very well all through the second half of last century and I believe other country's have used it and controlled wild animals at the same time with results that make ours look terrible.

  6. Re whether or not NE is fit for purpose, big bits of it are, yes, and a great testament to its staff and directors, exceptionally hard working people of integrity for the most part. Sadly acting in spite of what a small but important part of its most senior leadership demands which is that NE should forget it's the Government's statutory adviser, and act as its cipher and merely a 'delivery body'. Delivery is the license to trade for any public body: subservience to party political will over scientific evidence is not. "We'll be good" is not the language of an effective, self confident statutory body.

  7. The funny bit is all the experts?????in almost all cases almost certainly never worked with cattle on farms with Badger setts on them and yet they know all the answers.
    Lets take one demonstration where one passionate lady who I am sure means well says that large herds should be kept in small family groups and milked and housed in these groups.
    Imagine a herd of 300 plus cows maybe 50 family groups and quite likely more groups than that even.Sorry never practical.
    The answers to this problem is certain not to be taken because it is either difficult or not acceptable to Badger pressure groups.The longer BTB hangs around more cattle and Badgers get infected.

    1. DA - I may be wrong, and it's just a guess, but I think there is a chance that the lady you mention is actually extremely well informed and hugely experienced in the ways of both cattle and badgers (and farmers!).
      At any rate, she gave a highly authoritative summary of the evidence (as opposed to the gossip).

  8. A2,you may well be right but the bit I quote is honestly so impossible that I was as polite as it is possible to be about some proposals and yet they say things that people believe and it seems you actually believe the bit I quote is possible in practical farming.
    No dairy farmer would consider it practical or even necessary.
    I believe the lady is wrong but I believe she means well and there are several other things in several other comments that are not practical on dairy farms.
    The only way to keep Badgers and cattle apart would involve cruelty to Badgers.
    Here is a question to all these people who know all the answers.
    How can it be any good that when cattle on a farm get slaughtered as BTB positive Badgers in a sett on that farm stay there to reinfect cattle on that farm.That has to be the height of stupidity.

  9. Don't take my word for it Mr Ames, learn from the excellent experience of Wales - no cull but 41% reduction in bovine TB. The test has never worked better than now, but now we know how many are missed thanks to better diagnostics. Biocontainment is in place and effective in several farms in the SW. Plenty of exceptional advice available from myhealthyherd.co.uk Sadly the logic of your response paraphrased as "it's all too much trouble" is that addressing the disease is less important than convenience - which feels true based on the faux outrage from the NFU and FUW whenever government broaches the subject. Australia beat bovine TB by culling whole herds - not just reactors - and all scrub bulls (feral cattle) and possums known for close interaction with livestock unlike badgers repeatedly shown by the evidence to avoid cattle (E.g. Woodroffe et al 2016). Facing facts is the only way to address bovine TB. Declaring the demonstrably effective methods as "too much trouble" is lazy at best.

  10. Cull NE then we can see the real target?

    Yes, I know we keep saying there are good staff at grass roots level and there are but they are as rare as breeding hen harriers on upland grouse moors?

    Retain NNRs as public land and let staff stay managing them, the issue as I understand it is the generous pay & pensions that the usual suspects wouldn't accept through TUPE.

    What else do they do, oh yes they hand out cash to land owners and agri-industry, well that can be done through a tender process as can independent compliance checking?

    Anything else, oh yes they issue licences to kill (no science needed): badgers, buzzards, potentially otters, hares?

    Review of SSSIs .... still awaited like too many other science based projects?

    Value for public money? Evidence please ....

  11. Mrs Wood,have searched for your figures on the internet and found nothing like you say.
    This seems to be the latest results.
    The 2015 slaughter figures showed significant regional variation.

    In Wales, there was an eye-catching 27 per cent rise in TB slaughterings to 8,103, reversing the downward trend of recent years.

    Badger people seem to never stick to the facts.Some of your suggested bio-security ideas are simply ridiculous such as emptying water troughs regularly.What if I empty a 200 gallon water trough fill it up and in the first night a Badger drinks from it.
    Go and work on a dairy farm where there are Badgers and learn all about it.

    1. Dennis A - let me start by saying that I greatly enjoy your comments and value your perspective here, especially your principled stance on raptor persecution. But whenever there is any discussion remotely critical of farming practices, a red mist mist seems to cloud your vision.
      Before you criticize 'badger people' for not sticking to the facts, you really should do your homework a bit more thoroughly. In Wales, the number of new TB herd incidents has fallen from a peak of about 110 per month in 2009 to about 60 per month by late 2016. Over the same period, the number of animals slaughtered for TB also fell, from about 1100 per month in 2009 to about 800 per month in 2016. Note that these reductions were achieved without a cull of badgers.
      It is true that the number of animals slaughtered for TB has increased substantially over the period 2014 - 2016. The reasons for this increase are set out in detail in:
      Several factors have contributed, but the main one is the large increase in the use of the interferon-gamma test in Wales since 2014, which is more sensitive in detecting TB than the standard skin test and detects more individual cases per herd breakdown.
      Detecting a higher proportion of infected cattle is a wholly positive development, even if it leads to more cattle being slaughtered in the short term.
      Please don't cherry-pick the first statistic you find that seems to support your view, and maybe an apology to Rosie/Mrs Wood would be a nice gesture.

  12. Mr Ames, WAG has the reduction figures showing bovine TB is at a 10 year low in Wales and Minister gave - then evidenced - the reduction over the past 8 years in January of this year.

    Almost all the figures are in the public domain - but the results of the English cull are not released. Privately some APHA officials point to Defra's nervousness about being exposed to JR. Others explain that the reduction by 16% of Bovine TB following a cull of 70+% pf badgers across at least 70% of 100 square km doesn't become fully apparent for 9 years but in places gets worse even within hard boundaries. Echoing precisely the statutory advice given to Defra in 2011.

    Having seen the evidence on both sides of the border, the success of the Welsh approach is no surprise and ought to trigger a rethink in England.

    That it won't is largely down to the nonsense spouted by and lazy intransigence shown by a small proportion of those supporting the farming industry. Even if readers don't agree that the taxpayer deserves better, one might have thought that they might think farmers do. Or shall we just let their businesses suffer in case the facts are an embarrassment to them?

  13. Mark,figures picked out to support Badger people can prove thier case in their opinion but the figures I put were obviously correct.
    As I pointed out almost all those talking about the cull have never worked on a dairy farm with Badger sett on that farm so their knowledge is to say the least very little.
    To suggest as Mrs Wood does that cattle should be kept and milked in small family groups is as one farmer said when I told her that suggestion bullshit.
    Some herds say 300 cows are not related at all just bought in from various sources so she suggests 300 groups presumably.How after a statement like that can anyone take any notice of anything she says.
    Why is there so much hatred of farmers in your comments that feature anything to do with farmers and it starts right in the first instance by assuming even that all farmers are in favour of a cull.
    Sad to say in general your commenters seem to imagine that farmers do not care about their animals getting BTB,how ridiculous is that. Even with the compensation farmers are tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket when animals get BTB besides the emotion of losing animals they look after everyday.
    There is actually little point saying anything that is opposite to what all the experts????say and believe even though I am probably in a minority of one on here who has actually worked with dairy cattle and Badgers on the same farm for forty years.
    The lack of knowledge about farming that these experts have is amazing.

    1. "... but the figures I put were obviously correct."
      What? I spelled out the picture in Wales as clearly as I could in my earlier comment. Words just fail me now. Did you read the report I gave the link to? What do you think it meant?
      I have absolutely no hatred for farmers, but I have been known to lose patience with the wilfully dense.

    2. Dennis,

      'You actually like a lot of other people question the usefulness of the test that is used but you would actually find that this test worked very well all through the second half of last century'

      I'm staggered that you think the current method of testing in England (SICCT) is satisfactory, in all honestly you must be the first farmer I've come across that holds that view. There must be nothing more heartbreaking for a farmer then culling valuable, sometimes irreplaceable, cattle only to then discover that the cows don't in fact have bTB. Why would anyone not welcome a test that is proven to be around 10% more sensitive?

      I'm sorry to say this Dennis, but you do seem very out of touch on this issue, and you do rather owe the well informed Mrs Wood an apology.

  14. The Badger cull isn't, as you might think, a victimless crime from the farmers point of view despite the fact farmers like Dennis won't recognise it. Every £, every hour spent debating what virtually everybody - including in their heart of hearts most dairy farmers - realises is a fringe issue is time and resources lost from actually solving the problem.

    Behind the red mist are some really crucial issues: macho farmers don't like to admit it, but the present business climate is disastrous. There is no way the Tory's perfect market is working for thousands of small producers faced with megalithic supermarkets locked in life and death struggle for market share. The solution for farming is intensify and intensify again, cut corners, cut costs, go down the American route of hormone yield boosters and near-crippled cattle that last only a couple of lactations. With the end of CAP we have a choice - is the countryside just another factory floor, where ethics such as animal welfare is just a victim of technology and economics, or should we recognise there is a bit more to it all than that ? To claim it is unaffordable simply doesn't wash - we spend less on food as a proportion of income than probably at any time since money was invented, and food poverty is down to (£150k/ pa CAP recipient) Iain Duncan-Smiths benefits policies, not food prices. When they carry on like Dennis its hard to swallow and recognise that we need to give farmers a fairer break - in exchange for the current lunacy which is starting to roll up the very means of farming production from disease to resistant weeds to soil loss.


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