This autumn, trials will go ahead in the South West of England to test the suitability of controlled shooting as a method of culling badgers in an effort to combat the problem of bovine TB (bTB) in England, to test its practicality and cost.
Inevitably, we are encouraged to take sides: do you support badgers or cows and farmers? However, in all this, it is possible to support badgers, cattle and the rural economy, and I have written about this to my MP, all 'my' MEPs (some make this quite hard), and signed Brian May's petition. The Wiltshire Wildlife Trust has a clear view on TB in cattle / badgers. Here's the gist ...
Wiltshire Wildlife Trust is very conscious of the hardship that bTB causes in the farming community. Indeed, the Trust itself is a farmer and has lost 11 cattle to bTB, 5 of those just last week (18 September 2012). The need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease is vital.
However, the predominant scientific view is that the cull will not work and could make the situation worse. A sustained programme of biosecurity measures and vaccination should be at the centre of efforts to tackle this terrible disease. The Trust is keen for the farming community, conservation organisations and the Government to continue to work together to confront bTB through the following measures:
- Biosecurity: All possible measures should be pursued to prevent disease transmission on-farm.
- Badger vaccination: Support landowners to use the injectable BadgerBCG vaccine. We also urge Defra to continue development of an oral badger vaccine.
- Cattle vaccine: Complete development of a cattle vaccine and secure change to EU legislation; vaccination is currently prohibited because the skin test which tests for bTB in cattle cannot distinguish if cattle are infected with TB or have been vaccinated. Cattle that test positive for bTB cannot enter the food chain.
The Independent Scientific Group’s (ISG) report on Cattle TB set up by Government (and led by Lord Krebs) to research the effectiveness of culling concluded that culling disrupts badger social groups, resulting in the spread of the disease to cattle in land adjacent to the cull. Over almost a decade of the trail, the ISG showed that one farmer’s gain from culling could result in adjoining farmers’ losses due to the effect of perturbation. The Group concluded in its final report (2007) that it was “unable to conceive of a system of culling, other than the systematic elimination, or virtual elimination, of badgers over very extensive areas, that would avoid the serious adverse consequences of perturbation”.
Badgers typically live in social groups of four to seven animals with defined territorial boundaries. In a stable badger population, there is limited movement from one area to another. Once most badgers are removed from the cull area, it opens up a new territory, allowing badgers to come in from surrounding areas. Immigrant badgers pick up the infection from abandoned setts and un-culled infected animals. With lower badger numbers they will move around much more than they did before the cull and this then distributes the original infection over a wider area.
There is further, useful (as ever) comment on Learn from Nature.