Tue 11th Aug 2015
By Lesley Docksey (with thanks to Jay Tiernan and Andy Hamilton)
Dorset’s wildlife campaigners are working flat out to prepare for a possible badger cull – leafleting and informing the public, fundraising, sett mapping, buying necessary equipment to help them conduct wounded badger patrols in the dark and all the rest. A huge exercise in logistics which they hope will not be needed.
A few days ago the NFU announced it had formally requested Natural England for licences to cull badgers in Dorset. This is supposedly to control bovine TB. But are Natural England, Defra, the media and Dorset’s pro-culling farmers taking any notice of the figures that demonstrate how unnecessary a cull would be? No.
Let’s be clear, bovine TB is a problem, and for various reasons has increased in our herds since it was almost eradicated in the 1960s. But it infects maybe 0.4 percent of cattle in the United Kingdom. Many more cattle are needlessly slaughtered because of lameness, mastitis and other problems, a result of the demands we make on the animals.
The NFU has long been a champion of culling badgers. Though they state that ‘dealing with the problem in wildlife’ is just one of the many ‘tools in the box’ being used to control bTB, they don’t seem too keen on using those controls. As we shall see.
In 2012 Dorset farmer Paul Gould became chair of the Dorset branch of the NFU. He immediately called for a badger cull, since when there has been a constant stream of ‘news’ releases from him in the local media. This became manic when his own herd fell victim to bTB in April 2014. The NFU Chair Meurig Raymond visited his farm and between them they sold the story that only the badgers must have been the source of the disease.
But were badgers the source? Jay Tiernan and Stop the Cull did some research. They found that:
* Gould’s herd had tested free 6 months later
* That a neighbouring farm had had a bTB breakdown a few months before
* That the neighbour’s cattle used fields adjacent to Gould’s fields. Both herds could have had nose-to-nose contact.
* Both farms are now clear of bTB without culling badgers.
Naturally, none of this was mentioned by the NFU. Equally naturally, Mr Gould will be in charge of any badger cull that takes place.
Gould’s successor at Dorset NFU, Trevor Cligg, is just as keen for a cull, and has carried on the disinformation campaign to persuade Dorset how necessary a badger cull is. Considering how easy it is to disprove what he says, it is remarkable that he has been allowed to get away with such outrageous statements. For example:
In May this year, at an Environment & Wildlife general election hustings, he claimed that bovine TB was ‘rife’ in Dorset. In July on Radio Solent he said that “there are significant levels of TB in Dorset’s badgers.” No studies have been done that support this. Dorset’s badger vaccinators confirm they have never seen any diseased badgers, and that countrywide there has only been one incident of vaccinators calling out a vet – for a badger with a broken leg,
In August he claimed that “cases of TB have increased more in Dorset than any other part of the country in the last three years.” When challenged on this he said he was “using Animal and Plant Health Agency statistics”. But these are the figures which form Defra's bTB statistics, updated every month. And what do they say?
In 2014 a total of 31,733 TB-infected cattle were slaughtered in the UK. Dorset contributed all of 744 to that number, a tiny 2.3 percent. The total slaughtered in the Western Region was 17,017. Dorset’s share was 4.37 percent. How ‘rife’ is that?
Compared to this, the slaughter rates for Somerset were 1,576; for Gloucester 1,153; for Devon 5,861; and Cornwall 2,875.
As annual testing is now the norm for the Western region, the number of bTB tests on Dorset cattle has almost doubled since 2008. Between January 2012 and December 2014, this has resulted in:
* new incidents of bTB having dropped by 12 percent
* herds under restriction having dropped by 13 percent
* and the number of TB-infected cattle slaughtered dropped by 37.25 percent
All of this has been achieved without culling badgers. One should also point out that for almost all the Western Region counties, the slaughter rate has dropped over the same period, although in Somerset there are slight signs of an increase because of perturbation of the badger population, due to – badger culling!
These figures are totally at odds with what Trevor Cligg and the NFU have been claiming, and they prove that there is no justification for a badger cull in Dorset (or, I would add, anywhere else).
And what of all the other measures that can reduce bTB, like annual testing, strict bio-security on farms and markets, and strict cattle movement controls? How good are Paul Gould and Trevor Cligg at implementing the bio-security measures as advised by Defra? These would include fencing off badger setts, preventing wildlife access to farm buildings, and double-fencing fields to prevent physical contact between cattle.
Sarah King from Badger Guardians pointed to standards of bio-security on Paul Gould’s farm. “Mr Gould said on TV he’d done everything possible to keep badgers away from his cows. But this isn’t correct. Some of his cattle sheds are open to any wildlife which wants to wander in and badger setts on his farm haven’t been fenced off. He’s ignoring Defra’s key recommendations for minimising contact between badgers and cattle.”
And her colleague Andy Hamilton confirmed cattle belonging to Gould’s neighbour were still using fields next to Gould’s, and that no double fencing had been installed. He added that he had walked past Trevor Cligg’s farm just over a month ago. "No attempt had been made to prevent wildlife entering calf pens, clearly visible from the public road. Since neither past nor present Dorset NFU Chairmen has adopted Defra’s simplest recommendations it suggests they don’t believe badgers spread TB.”
Lesley Docksey © 09/08/15