Badgering for unfair culls
Wednesday 26th August 2015
Dorset farmers, aided by the NFU, are blaming wildlife for bovine TB despite their own mistakes, explain JAY TIERNAN and LESLEY DOCKSEY
THE unscientific badger culls will soon see a third year of killing in Somerset and Gloucestershire, with the government and the National Farmers Union (NFU) insisting it must be done because badgers infect cattle with bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
All farms with an outbreak of bTB are placed under restrictions including cattle movement controls. Coming on top of the costs and upset of TB testing, restrictions cost farmers money. They are unpopular, but they work.
Despite the failure of the 2013-14 culls, and ignoring majority scientific opinion that supports controls on cattle rather than wildlife, it seems that the culling will extend to Dorset, the NFU having announced it has submitted a formal request for licences to cull there.
On becoming chair of the Dorset branch of the NFU in 2012, farmer Paul Gould immediately called for a badger cull, based on exaggerated claims of the connection between badgers and bTB. His successor Trevor Cligg carried on the disinformation campaign to persuade Dorset how necessary a badger cull is.
Facts have been abandoned. In May Cligg said bTB 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.
Will farmers doubt him? Not if they believe what one farmer recently stated as a fact: that you know if there are infected badgers living in a sett because “their lavatories are outside.” But all occupied badger setts have their latrines close by.
Badgers are clean animals who won’t dirty their living space. Are humans judged diseased because we use lavatories?
Cligg also claimed that the rate of increase in bTB in Dorset is worse than anywhere else in the country. Clearly Defra’s statistics for Dorset are not good enough. They show that the number of bTB tests on cattle has almost doubled since 2008. They also show that between January 2012 and December 2014:
– New incidents of bTB have dropped by 12 per cent
– Herds under restriction have dropped by 13 per cent
– The number of bTB-infected cattle slaughtered dropped by 37.25 per cent, and
– Of the 31,733 infected cattle slaughtered last year, Dorset accounted for a tiny 2.3 per cent.
All this with no badger cull. Annual testing and cattle movement controls that prevent the disease spreading are working. Such methods almost eradicated bTB in the 1960s. It can be done again.
Those are the facts. Now for the false claims.
Cligg and Gould, assisted by NFU Chairman Meurig Raymond, have been ramping up the disinformation for some time. Local media have been full of sob stories about the bTB outbreak on Gould’s farm.
Gould is now in charge of organising the Dorset cull.
Having noticed the statements made by the NFU, Stop the Cull decided to test the facts behind Gould’s claims, made last year, about his infected cattle.
“These cows were grazing in a field that has no other cattle nearby,” said Gould. “But we have badgers on the farm.
There is a sett 50 yards that way [Gould pointed across the yard] and there is around 100 yards of badger sett in that hedge.”
His son Andrew said that as he rounded up the young heifers for their bTB test, two badgers were running around the cows’ feet.
This seems unlikely. Badgers are not known for running around cattle, in the daylight and in the presence of humans.
Raymond pitched in: “The terrible situation Paul finds himself in reinforces the need for action to be taken on all fronts to tackle bTB … This disease has come from one place — and one place only.”
Stop the Cull used the new bTB mapping website to see if Mr Gould was still struggling with bTB. What it found was surprising. Mr Gould’s herd tested clear of bTB just six months after having the infected cattle killed, and have remained disease-free.
So cattle controls do stop the reinfection of bTB.
But where did the disease come from? According to the NFU it could only be badgers. Further research showed that a neighbouring farm’s herd had gone down with the disease just months before (also now clear without badger culling). So should we blame badgers? Stop the Cull took a closer look at an aerial photograph and was surprised again.
The neighbouring farm’s breakdown was now significant. The fields that farm’s cattle use are only separated from Gould’s cattle by a hedge. A gap in the hedge line between the fields may be a water trough. The signs are that the neighbour’s cattle are going to that gap frequently. Whether the gap is a trough or a wire fence, it is a place where the two herds have face-to-face contact, the most common way of passing on tuberculosis.
Also, local information suggests that, despite the bTB outbreak, biosecurity measures are still lacking on Gould’s farm, and the neighbour’s beef cattle are currently in a field adjoining Gould’s dairy cattle.
The evidence does not support Gould and Raymond’s claims. As there was an obvious local non-badger source of infection, will the pair now concede that killing badgers is a waste of time? Or will they carry on hoping to convince people that it’s not down to bad farming practice but the fault of the badgers?
So there you have it. Total disregard for the scientific data and official statistics: at best, wild unsubstantiated claims; at worst, downright distortion; and all because blaming wildlife is easier than letting better farming practices, testing and cattle controls sort out the problem.