What I have learned about the badger cull.

BadgerRepresenting a rural community, I have heard first-hand from farmers about the hardships associated with bovine TB outbreaks on their farms. Movement bans, below par compensation for slaughtered animals, even the loss of historic bloodlines all seriously impact on farmers’ ability to trade and make a living. I have heard about the anxiety caused waiting for animal test results, hoping to remain clear or return to TB free status after an outbreak. It is clear that the disease has a major impact on farmers, farming and the tax payer with the current impact on the public purse reaching £100m per year. In my view action is needed. The desire for action in the farming community has translated into the Coalition Government’s Pilot Badger Culls. In order to test the efficiency of the potential for a widespread badger cull to reduce TB in cattle, two areas were selected, one in West Somerset, the other in Gloucestershire. Defra, the Government department leading on the cull, initially authorised culling to commence in 2012. The NFU, however, decided that it was too late in the year to be confident of removing 70% of the badger population, a key requirement of the pilot cull. This stipulation was further complicated by the fact that the groups managing the cull had inadequate knowledge of the existing badger populations. In short, you can’t guarantee that you’ve culled 70% of the badgers if you don’t know how many there are at the outset. So the cull was postponed until 2013.

I get the impression from listening to those opposed to the cull that, following 2012’s postponement, many thought that was probably it for the cull; that it wouldn’t then take place. So when rumours began to surface in August that the cull in Somerset would start at the end of the month, there was a sudden upswell in activity by those campaigning against the cull. And then it began. A few days before the cull began I received a message from a protester asking me if I knew that the culled badgers were NOT to be tested for bTB. I thought that they must be mistaken. Why on earth would Government pass up such a unique opportunity to assess the prevalence of the disease in the species? Yes, they must be mistaken. Initially I found it difficult to obtain any confirmation on this point but, being a regular Twitter user, I could see that Defra and the NFU had begun tweeting furiously in support of the cull so I posed them the question on Twitter. The NFU pointed me to a website, which was of no help whatsoever. Defra didn’t respond at all so I called the office of David Heath, Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton & Frome and a Defra minister. They gave me the number of the press office at Defra. I called and left a message saying that as a Councillor in the cull area, I was disappointed that no-one would answer my question. Very quickly I received a call back from Guy Robinson, Special Advisor to the Secretary of State at Defra, Owen Paterson. As we spoke, I did a quick Google on Mr Robinson and discovered that he had recently been drafted into the Department from Crosby Textor, the firm controlled by controversial Conservative Party election campaign manager, Lynton Crosby. In recent times, Mr Crosby has been linked to Government moves to drop plain cigarette packaging and the Government’s promotion of fracking in the UK.

Mr Robinson confirmed that there would indeed be no testing of culled badgers. I was, and remain, incredulous at this omission. I asked him why not. He said that the cull was never designed to assess the prevalence of disease “We already know badgers have TB,” he said. “The cull is designed solely to assess the humaneness of the technique of free-shooting as a means of culling,” he went on. “Yes, but why not test while you’re at it? The protesters will inevitably point up the failure to test as fear on the part of Defra that they won’t find much. Do the testing just to remove that plank of the protesters argument,” I ventured. But he was adamant that they had no interest in doing this. He said that the Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) showed that badger were a vector for the disease. I pointed out that the data from the RBCT was 7 years old and surely it would be good to use this opportunity to update the science. I then asked whether Defra would allow a third party to test carcasses for bTB. He said he would get back to me. He never did and, despite repeated attempts to get a response, I’ve heard nothing. The failure to test the shot badgers is staggering and opens up the whole programme to the legitimate accusation that Defra are scared that it would show derisory levels of infection. Why else would they not do it? A sensible organisation would do it for political reasons if nothing else; unless they know they wouldn’t find much infection. And Defra’s refusal to allow a third party to do the testing gives the lie to the argument that it’s about a lack of funding.

I hadn’t previously heard this argument; that the pilot cull was solely to test the humaneness of the culling method. This seemed to be new. And then I got to thinking about last year’s postponement. Remember, the delay was based on inadequate data on badger populations in the two proposed cull zones. If the purpose of the cull was solely to test the culling method, why do they need to cull 70% of the badgers? Clearly the idea of the cull was to assess whether the spread of disease could be stopped. So the argument that they won’t test because the cull is just for testing the culling method is nonsense.

Before the cull began I did wonder whether the modest projected impact on bTB was worth the expense and upset it would inevitably cause but the bombshell that culled badgers were not to be tested for TB caused me to investigate further. The more I dug and the more I have learnt, the more flawed the whole programme appears.

The Government has pointed to the RBCT as providing scientific support for the cull but it appears to do no such thing. In fact Lord Krebs who led the research stated that “On the basis of our careful review of all currently available evidence, we conclude that badger culling is unlikely to contribute positively, or cost effectively, to the control of cattle TB in Britain.” It doesn’t seem to get much clearer than that. The RBCT did suggest that where 70% of badgers in a local area are removed, TB in cattle may be reduced by up to 16%. So, that looks like culling may be of some use, doesn’t it, even if marginal? But what these bald figures hide is that this does not represent a 16% reduction in absolute terms but a 16% reduction in the trend increase. And to exacerbate the shakiness of this claim, the RBCT culling was achieved by ‘trap-and-shoot’. In this way, animals could not crawl away injured. Animals could also be removed to a secondary location for dispatch so as not to scare away and disperse other badgers in the locality. Imagine firing at one badger in amongst a group. No matter how clean the kill, the other badgers will scatter and, if Defra are to be believed, may well carry the disease to new locations. Defra may have you believe that the sound moderators fitted to the rifles will prevent other animals being scared away but this is nonsense. I shoot. I have rifles. With sound moderators. The type of rifle required to shoot badgers cannot be moderated to a sufficient extent that the sound would not scatter the remaining animals. It seems quite likely that any reduction in cattle TB achieved by culling badgers by free-shooting will be less than achieved by trap-and-shoot.

A further question that arises from the statistics offered up by Defra is that if the best we can hope for from a near obliteration of local badger populations is a 16% reduction in the rising incidence, what is causing the rest of the cases? The NFU claim that farms have implemented excellent biosecurity to minimise cattle to cattle transmission but if that’s true where on earth is all the TB coming from? The whole issue seems so little understood that the idea of these culls is entirely premature at best and a hopeless waste at worst.

Recent newspaper reports (Western Morning News 12/9/13) suggest that the cull is not going at all well and that, two weeks into a 6 week programme designed to kill 2,081 badgers in Somerset, they have bagged less than a hundred. If, as they now say, the cull is designed to test the efficacy of the method of killing then such pitifully small numbers can surely not provide a statistically meaningful sample. Even if all the planned 5,000 are killed, only 120 are scheduled for examination to assess whether they died quickly and cleanly. And what’s worse, the marksmen are responsible for selecting which carcasses to forward for assessment. They’re hardly going to send in botched jobs for analysis are they? The whole thing is a shambles and I no longer feel able to remain silent about it. On-farm TB clearly has devastating impacts but I am far from convinced that culling badgers will make any meaningful difference and perhaps no difference at all or even make the problem worse.

Having researched the issue extensively over the last 2 weeks it seems clear to me that the badger cull has nothing to do with trying to tackle TB. This would appear to be supported by the fact that many of the cull proponents now seem to be promoting alternative arguments in favour of reducing badger population; they’re eating all the hedgehogs, they kill ground-nesting birds, they undermine our land etc. And there lies the nub of it in my view. Badgers are seen by many farmers as a pain and they would dearly like to have fewer of them digging away on their land. The case for culling to address TB is so weak I can see no other explanation.

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72 Responses to What I have learned about the badger cull.

  1. Alan Lee says:

    I find it very convenient that while this cull is being operated,that Owen Paterson is planning a trip to Russia to try to convince that country to import British beef, which has been banned there for the last sixteen years because of BSE. This having been agreed as clear now, leaves BTB the main problem with export. if our Government can show that they have been seen to do something about this i.e. culling badgers, the whipping boys in all this. they can then make a great deal of money.

    • Lois says:

      So let me get this straight….you don’t want your government to get more money? You do realise that a richer government is better for the whole country? bTB is costing the taxpayers a lot of money and anything that can stop it makes will eventually cause the taxpayers to pay less money. If Britain is able to eradicate bTB and gain more money from beef exports that would make the country richer and in turn increase the money available to spend on things like education and healthcare making the country more profitable….you don’t want this?

  2. Clued-Up says:

    I’m hoping a good investigative journalist will be able to unearth why the NFU leadership and hunting and shooting set are so dead set on killing badgers.

    Farmers themselves seem to have mixed feelings about the cull – many of them are against it, some feel neutral, others support it. The NFU didn’t consult their own membership (18% farmers) to see whether they wanted their subscriptions wasted on this project. The 82% farmers not in membership had no voice.

  3. Gareth William Evans says:

    Good piece and just goes to prove, you can’t rely upon the Government to do the right thing.

  4. Fran jones says:

    You write as a man who can sort out the truth from the smoke and mirrors. Your article seems honest and fearless a rarity in these days of government lackys tip toeing round afraid to upset their paymasters. Do you feel you should make these comments and then do no more? I think that the only next course is to take action to stop this cull which is entirely wrong. I hope you do this.

  5. Rose Chapman says:

    A very eloquent and down to earth article. I am amazed at how dishonest some of the people that are in charge are. I’m sad for our wildlife, that so much is being destroyed, especially this badger fiasco, it is so cruel, inhumane and unethical, and should not be happening in our beautiful countryside. I agree with this article, the cull has nothing whatsoever to do with bovine TB. What can we do to stop the slaughter?

    • Donna Cairns says:

      Until someone with enough clout can stand up and make them listen, the only way to stop the slaughter is to get out to the cull zones, walk the footpaths by torchlight or sit in a remote dark wood to stop the shooters!!

  6. Andy Milsom says:

    Great article – well written and argued. I hope the badger debate finds it’s way into mainline politics as it helps to expose the tactics by which vested interests promote their policies.

  7. Sara Palmer says:

    At last a politician who analyses the facts and makes an informed statement. Ridiculous that this is so refreshing.

  8. John Bull says:

    Good article, Mike – thanks.
    Mike, this senseless waste of time and money is upsetting people, keeping them away from their work, costing us all a fortune and undermining our faith in Government. I am insensed at the lies and deception that’s gone on from DEFRA and Owen Paterson.
    Mike, we need more champions. Please will you help.
    I have been to camp badger, and talked in depth with the cull activists; they are kind, intelligent, lovely people, who have given up their time to walk the fields at night, every night. We need to help them nail this stupid cull down, once and for all.
    Thanks.

  9. Shirley Godwin says:

    Ecellent article, well written and above all true factual account of it all. Perhaps National Newspapers should all be publishing this?

  10. Alan Petrie says:

    Wonderfully written article and the truth behind the cull very well explained. We all know it is wrong but how do we get it stopped?

  11. Jacqui says:

    A really well written article I am just so astounded at the way the government has managed to go ahead with this cull, I to have studied all of the evidence from all sides and my conclusion is that the government are corrupt, my eyes have been well and truly opened to politics and all I can see is a totally corrupt government who do not listen to the people they are supposed to represent, it is scary and makes me feel uneasy and at times makes me ashamed to be part of this human race.
    This cull is disgusting the underhand tactics are shocking Thank God there are people willing to put their lives on hold and fight against this cull.

  12. It seems to me that not matter how many intelligent and articulate articles are published, the government are not prepared to listen. I’m going to send this to my local MP and hope that he reads it and takes action to help stop the cull. It’s utter madness.

  13. Nigel Miller says:

    An excellent article. It is refreshing to find someone in authority who has actually taken the time to look into the details and formulated their own opinion rather than just rely on official DEFRA and NFU statements and statistics. I myself have no doubt that badgers DO transmit bTB, what is questionable is what percentage of the population are actually infected. We all know that thousands of badgers are killed by cars every year on our roads, why can these corpses not be tested for bTB to obtain a clearer picture of the overall infection rate ? Surely that is a more scientific approach than the cull which does nothing except prove the accuracy of a man with a rifle !

  14. Liz Corbett says:

    Please, please, please, Mike Rigby, do not just comment and stop at that – something needs to be done – now!

  15. Nigel Ross says:

    An excellent, well researched and written article. I hope all that read it will voice their opposition by signing the e-petition to stop the cull now. Please note this is not Brian May’s petition which closed having attracted in excess of 300,000 signatures – this is a new one demanding the cull, having already proven to be unscientific and inhumane, is stopped now. http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54685

  16. Martin Wood. says:

    Just a few thoughts……nobody has ever shown me any conclusive link between Badger TB and Bovine TB. The cost of the cull exceeds the coat of compensating farmers for infection. Why has no attempt ever been made to vaccinate badgers ? Why not just vaccinated cattle ? Why do we vote for these idiots whose reasons for doing everything they do are based on financial gain for themselves and their friends ????

  17. Paul Caruana says:

    The cull WILL kill thousands of healthy badgers. The RBCT, for which I was the field manager, proved to us then that over 85% of those culled will be healthy. I have pleaded with the Minister to introduce the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction(PCR) technology to fight this awful disease. Test live badgers, euthanise the infected, vaccinate and release the non- infected and bingo – problem solved !! ?

    Slaughtering 34,000 cows each year is a monstrous waste. We have to have a well balanced and sensible policy to overcome this disease. Live testing of badgers took place in 1994, so why not now ?

    You are right about the testing of culled badgers for bTB. It isn’t going to happen. Why ? Cost is one concern. The main reason ? Over 90% of those culled will NOT be infected and there would be a huge public outcry and rightly so. We don’t cull healthy cattle; why do we cull healthy badgers ?

    • Rose Chapman says:

      You are right about not testing the badgers, they know that it will be a small percentage with TB, it is definitely not cost as groups have offered to do it free of charge.

  18. Thea Hollebone says:

    Thank you for your clarity and honesty.

  19. Old Daisy says:

    Sad to read “action must be taken” but then no hint by the end of what this action should be other than don’t cull badgers for a series of confused reasons.
    Firstly, in the pilots, there will be no PMs for TB. For excellent reasons eg, disease levels here are known, cost, laboratory availability & human disease risk (no third party has come forward to suggest they would cover the estimated £500,000 cost).
    Second, pilots are to test both humaneness & also efficacy at fairly rapid removal of 70% of the badger population. Humaneness (& to a degree effectiveness) cannot be statistically measured but will be assessed by an independent expert panel.
    Third, perturbation is nothing to do with scaring badgers by gunshots.
    Fourth, the RBC trials peaked at 50% reduction in cattle Tb after 7 yrs (16% after nine), so it might be within the wit of man to thus improve on this often quoted 16% figure.

    Where the blog makes a good point is that Defra’s communication of policy has been sadly lacking and allowed fiction to fill the vacuum, which can be exploited by some to advance their own agendas.

    • Mike Rigby says:

      You may very well be sad to see that I have not provided a full action plan. Perhaps when I have the resources of Defra, I’ll be able to do this. However, even with the meagre resources of a private individual it is simple to demolish the paper-thin case advanced by Defra/NFU. You say that disease levels are known yet the data from the RBCT is approaching a decade old. Surely you would wish to take the opportunity to get up-to-date data? This is supposed to be a pilot after all. And best of all, assessing infection levels would deny the protesters what is far and away the strongest plank of their argument. Or maybe public opinion is irrelevant. Were any organisations invited to undertake bTB testing of culled badgers? If not, your argument is hollow. You say that the cull is designed to test ‘efficacy’. Not according to Mr Robinson of Defra and the NFU. “It’s solely to test humaneness.”. But then the arguments expressed by the proponents do seem awfully fluid.
      You are of course correct re perturbation. It is a more complicated issue than an over-aggressive edit made it appear. I have removed the reference.
      I am not sure of the point that you are attempting to make re the estimated 16% reduction. That’s the figure that came out of the RBCT.
      As for Defra’s poor communication, I would venture that given the weakness of their case they have most likely opted to say as little as possible, which, in the circumstances, is probably wise.
      If you wish to continue contributing, please supply a valid email address.

      • Sue Hughes says:

        I too will send your article to my MP who never addresses any of these points which I have put to him. When I was with the badger patrols last week I was told of another reason for the cull. Some farmers are anxious to sell off land for building houses but the presence of active badger setts prevents them from doing this, the badger being a protected animal. You might like to see if there is any truth in this rumour.

        • Mike Rigby says:

          Hi and thanks. I have heard the ‘house building’ theory a number of times and genuinely believe that there is nothing in it. As a qualified town planner and local Councillor I keep a close eye on changing planning regulations. While much of the planning policy guidance in England has been replaced with the simplified National Planning Policy Framework, which does relax planning controls, I don’t think we are about to see a rash of developments on farms. Local Councils are charged with producing ‘Core Strategies’ to set out where new development will be sited. The vast majority of such new development will be located in the principal towns with a supporting role played by the major and minor rural centres, which comprise the larger villages. There is very little prospect of any significant development in very rural areas. So I think the housing theory is very likely a red herring.

  20. Margaret Parsons says:

    Shooting is not humane, it may kill some outright but many it doesn’t, these animals slowly die over weeks from starvation and gangrene. I remember as a child talking to my uncle who had a farm in North Wales, during the war they were overrun with foxes but as there was no hunting they got supposed marksmen to come and shoot the foxes. Over 2 days yes they did kill a lot of foxes but over the following weeks they found a lot more who had suffered terrible deaths from starvation and gangrene because they could no longer feed themselves. Anyone who has seen gangrene will tell you that the pain is horrendous even when very strong painkillers are given, animals which are shot are not given painkillers, they have to suffer the horrendous pain until they eventually die in agony. My uncle never allowed a gun on his land after that fox cull.

  21. louise says:

    I too have given this issue much thought, im beginning to think this is a planning issue….the Govt wants hundreds of thousands of new houses built, you cant destroy an active sett ….yet no badgers…no issue with planning. Smoke and mirrors…..less habitat for ALL wildlife not just badgers. Shame on this Government!!

    • mag says:

      I think you are correct this cull is a planning issue, the Government wish to build thousands of new houses and most in the south of England.

  22. Rose says:

    Thank you for writing this! You have outlined the situation really well.
    I echo the others who ask for you to use your influence to get the cull stopped immediately!
    I have studied the subject, and have no doubt that this cull has nothing to do with bovine TB. The badgers are being targeted and used as scapegoats to satisfy farmers and landowners with pheasant shoots who find them a nuisance. They have no impact on the disease as they are mostly healthy, hence the absence of post mortem testing.
    The whole system is wrong – even if cattle have bTB they can be cured (ref Newman Turner’s ‘Fertility Farming’). Why are all these cattle getting slaughtered? The meat from slaughtered cattle is still in the human food chain, according to reports, and with apparently low risk of infection to those consuming it, according to DEFRA. Many cattle that are killed don’t even have the disease, and will not get it even when they test positive, and many of the tests are falsely positive anyway. I personally knew a dairy farmer who lost his cows and made this comment – “Furthermore, like many other cattle farmers in the UK, I was confused by the perfect condition of the TB reactor cows, since I had always assumed that TB was a debilitating disease. Although these cows had reacted to the skin test and were therefore deemed to carry TB, I began to wonder whether they had successfully adapted to the infection by knocking out the greater majority of the invasive mycobacteria. In this respect, The TB slaughter programme could actually be annihilating the resistant animals – culling the genetically robust individuals that we really needed to be keeping as breeding stock for future generations.” His name is Mark Purdey, and he researched the subject and found that soil quality was affecting pastures and the health of animals who grazed them. Here is the link to his work. http://www.markpurdey.com/articles_tuberculosis_alert.htm
    I think this is of huge importance, and shows there is a cost effective and cruelty free way to manage this disease. Please read and share, and lets stop this barbaric and unnecessary slaughter which is dividing the countryside – I know the rifts being caused because I live in West Somerset, and am witnessing it for myself.

    • jenny barnes says:

      Thank you rose. I still do not understand the risk to humans of having cows with tb. Milk is pasteurise,meat is cooked. Animals can be vacinated. Is there evidence of slaughtermen contracting tb from infected animals. Is this purely so we can make an economic claim that our herds are tb free and get more money for them. Do other countiries go to such lengths? It is most confusing for members of the public like me to see the justification for destroying badgers or cattle when treatment can be given to infected cattle. No more raw milk no more culls and no need for compensation.

  23. Heather Keith says:

    Please get media attention with this article….It is heart breaking whilst out on badger patrol hearing gun shots then knowing that one of our badger friends has been shot, possibly injured. Please help further.

  24. David Edwards says:

    Excellent, rational, researched article Councillor Rigby.
    Touches all points that I have puzzled over and utterly blows out of the water any arguments made by Defra.
    This whole exercise is both a tragedy and a travesty.

  25. Rethink bTB says:

    One of the best written pieces on the cull that we have seen. You may be interested in our paper which looks into the other issues so conveniently ignored because of the disproportionate focus on wildlife reservoirs. We also make some suggestions for a way forward. See our report (2nd edition) which can be downloaded at: http://www.rethinkbtb.org/a_better-way.html

  26. Mike Hamblett says:

    Thanks Mike Rigby.You’ve t ried to be fair, butis such a dog s breakfast ,(there is something horribly primitive about this baying for blood).

  27. amanda says:

    sadly yet again the government has ignored the concerns and outrage of the countries people, I firmly believe the cull is a lead into other avenues, where as with active setts they cant build new homes, farmers wanting to sell of lands for building would happily support the cull, badgers are not the only species that carry TB, but the setts are protected, so kill the badgers no need for the setts, this government should be displaced as our country is dying as quickly as when thatcher was in power, sad for us that lib dems agreed the coalition with conservatives, so the lib dems are as much responsible for the cull, LEAVE OUR NATIVE SPECIES ALONE, man kind is a killing machine willing to destroy other forms of life for gain made worse by so called government groups supporting it

  28. Paul Walsh says:

    Thank you Mike for a reasoned article. It’s shocking that the shot badgers won’t be tested for bTB. “Old Daisy” states

    “pilots are to test both humaneness & also efficacy at fairly rapid removal of 70% of the badger population. Humaneness (& to a degree effectiveness) cannot be statistically measured but will be assessed by an independent expert panel”

    The “humaneness” of this cull has been called into question and as for the efficacy – that’s obviously not being achieved if the numbers of shot badgers are anything to go by. Are there any reliable figures to indicate what percentage of the badger population is infected? How can killing 5,000 animals and not testing them possibly establish effective removal of infected animals?

    I am vehemently opposed to any kind of cull and believe the money being wasted on this would be put to better use in pushing for tighter movement controls and vaccination. Surely the most effective way of dealing with bTB in cattle and badgers is by the removal of infected animals and the vaccination of others?

    In looking for information on thesubject of badgers and bTB I came across the following which may be of interest:
    Intractable Policy Failure: The Case of Bovine TB and Badgers

    and draw your attention to the section The Problem of Evidence

  29. monklink says:

    Statistically male vets diagnose more cases of bTB than female – why should that be? Also years ago when bTB was much rarer the badger population was much larger – how does that figure? So where’s that £100m/yr going exactly? To the companies supplying the tests and developing the new vaccines by any chance? Incidentally the NFU only represent a % of farmers, the industrial biotech oriented.

  30. Ness says:

    Wonderful
    I wish more MP’s and influential people would come out, they seem to almost secretly support the anti-cull lot but leave it at that (apart from Dr.May of course)
    I think the issue isn’t just the lack of testing of the dead badgers but what appears to be corporate policing from certain estates in the area, people being detained by the police so that a NFU member can speak with those detained. In videos regarding this, the people are not trespassing and are keeping to public bridleways and footpaths.
    Also the sheer hostility and aggression from the shooters, shooting above people’s heads and ramming cars off the road if opposed to the cull.
    We remain the ones with our heads held high while those in favour just about break the law in every given way.

    My concerns now are regarding gassing and how Defra today (Monday 16th Sept) are skirting the issue quite seriously on their twitter feed. The most they will say is that it is ‘banned as it is not humane in it’s CURRENT form’ without even stating Article 8, appendix III and VI of the the Bern Convention where is it totally banned without question and regardless of situation. It is, at the end of the day, a chemical weapon and one that should only be used in expert hands and certainly NOT the hands of the shooters, farmers and [some] thugs that are shooting currently.

    Finally, although my own MP is against the cull (and a Conservative) he has stopped responding to my emails regarding the cull. I did write to him regarding Mr David Heath and the looseness of the truth he tells regarding info requesting under FOI about the cull and how he lied to another MP (who’s name escapes me at present)
    This makes me think (rightly or wrongly) that despite all the black marks against his name for voting against the party line, he may have his hands tied and therefore cannot respond any more. THANK YOU though for stepping up and speaking your mind against this.

    At the end of the day, we would wish our Environmental Minister would be just that, considerate of the environment. We would wish our buzzards and other raptors weren’t being killed and that he would stand up and talk fiercely against this action. We would wish they’d find a way to preserve our bees and other insects without calling for the use of pesticides that are known to kill them. We would hope he would support alternative energy instead of opposing it. We would hope nature reserves stayed just that, with nothing being built on them. We would hope they would stop voicing how much they want to get back to hunting foxes as well. But alas, it simply isn’t to be

  31. Fred Nye says:

    What a refreshing change,a politician who has got a mind of his own,& does’nt toe the line when he sees bullshit.

    • Ken Fitzgerald says:

      I agree fully with this observation. Our own MP, who it must be said always responds to emails and letters, just quotes the party line.
      He clearly belongs to the ‘ I will follow the whip as directed’ school.
      This country is held up as a great democracy, that too is rubbish ! We are nothing but an Oligarchy, with elections every few years, that install another, or return the same old Oligarchy to power.

  32. Blake 2pi says:

    I think it’s a bit unfair to blame the NFU completely on the massive waste of time that last year became (they of course are partly to blame, and are most certainly carry a lot of blame in other departments). Natural England were the ones that after giving the all clear then pulled the trigger on improved population surveys at the last minute. They had the whole summer to get the count in, but no they waited until all the media events had died down and winter was approaching.

    As seen in the RBCT PARTIAL culling only serves to increase perturbation which means more TB for badgers and cattle alike. Hence why testing the culling method of free-shooting to test it’s humaneness needs to be coupled with larger wide scale culling i.e. effectiveness or if not cage trapping. Whether free-shooting is capable of this or not remains to be seen.

    The problem when one looks at TB in the badger species is that;
    RTA: 15% (1 in 7)
    RBCT: 16,6% (1 in 6)

    However, the only “reliable” way to test badgers is through post mortem analysis. “Reliable” as these results have been proven to be inaccurate by a long way;
    http://veterinaryrecord.bmj.com/content/163/16/473
    So it missed around 50% of the cases so we’re looking in the region of 1 in 3 badgers having TB.

    Now from this it’s estimated that 50% of cases are caused by this;
    http://www.bovinetb.info/docs/estimated-proportion-of-confirmed-herd-breakdowns-attributed-to-infectious-badgers.pdf

    The 16% seems at odds with this but one needs to be careful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a statistic more abused than the 16%. It’s important to realise that this is an average over time (9 years in fact);
    http://archive.defra.gov.uk/foodfarm/farmanimal/diseases/atoz/tb/documents/bovinetb-scientificexperts-110404.pdf
    Within this time we saw perturbation (the increase of TB in cattle due to increased badger activity) and then the post cull reductions;
    http://www.plosone.org/annotation/listThread.action?root=3161
    These reductions are in relation to similar areas as modelled in the RBCT. It’s important to note that this isn’t just a decrease in the trend but, these are large decreases in the actual incidence.

    The 16% figure is not the only contribution to TB in cattle from badgers. The 84% includes the perturbation effect caused by badgers. The brilliance of Krebs science lies in it’s simplicity. Eliminate the suspect cause and measure the effect. Unfortunately the RBCT failed in this aspect in order to measure effectively what badgers contribute to TB in cattle. It was made perfectly clear that elimination of badgers in even small areas was not politically acceptable by the politicians of the day. The badgers in the RBCT were no way near “obliteration,” but this still produced pretty big reductions. What would happen if a proper badger cull was allowed;
    “ Synthesis and applications. 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. The results are based on observational data and a small data set so provide weaker inference than from a large experimental study.”
    http://www.bovinetb.info/docs/Association-between-Levels-of-TB-in-Cattle-Herds-and-Badgers.pdf

    But the point of this issue is that in order to eliminated the transmission of TB from badgers to cattle we do not need to eliminate the badger species. And this is where the real debate starts;

    We have two tools (in vaccination and culling) in which to deal with TB in the badger species. Both are currently pretty blunt and hence need to be sharpened. And this is where research needs to be focused. Whilst this isn’t the cull most of us want to see (and I have my own suspicions), it’s still building up our tools and knowledge of culling. If free-shooting is;
    [] Effective and humane – The cost of badger culling has been dramatically reduced and this reduces the effectiveness of illegal activities in order to make culling less efficient.
    [] Only humane – We have a tool that can cull the trap shy badgers.

    But ultimately culling needs to be more focused onto infected setts (detected with PCR) with the option to apply vaccination into the probable clean setts.

    Vaccination may or may not be able to get ontop of TB in the hotspot areas, but it most certainly needs to be deployed as a matter of urgency in the Edge and their bordering Low risk areas in order to stop the geographical spread. And therefore whilst I am pro-cull I’m also hoping people will join me and get behind these vaccination projects;
    http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/appeals/badgers

    Now lets look at what Defra is doing;
    https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/strategy-for-achieving-officially-bovine-tuberculosis-free-status-for-england
    So that’s little to no badger controls (vaccination or culling), but one massive authoritarian power grab that will allow them to close down farms as they wish. You say what if TB is marginal in badgers? I say what if TB in badgers has increased? That not only further implicates the badger in the spread of TB, but further demonstrates the corruption from within Defra. It’s their incompetence which has inflicted TB onto tens of thousands of badgers to endure and die from this disease, seen hundreds of thousands of cattle slaughtered and cost the tax payer £500 million as well as the loss of many good farming businesses over the last decade alone.

    • Helen Wood says:

      Utter drivel.

      Scotland has the same alleged infection rate in badgers, but no concomitant rise in cases amongst cows. If badgers were to blame (going out with stepladders to cough on cows), the rate would be the same. The difference is that Scottish farmers have cleaner farms.

      Bad farming causes the spread of TB, badgers don’t. That’s why DEFRA is afraid to test their victims for TB. Of course, when DEFRA have been caught selling meat from cattle they ordered destroyed to remove them from the food chain, the last thing their little scam needs is a perceived reduction in TB.

  33. dave says:

    And all this split because man is brainwashed in drinking another’s milk that was meant for another species, who is the intelligent one????

  34. Natalie Schell-Offley says:

    An excellent article, showing understanding and seemingly not blinded by political gain. I will certainly copy this to my MP, Nick Harvey, who unfortunately very much seems like a lapdog of the Tories. Please, please, please, Mike Rigby, do not just comment and stop there – follow through and lead the way forward to end this cruel & pointless cull.

  35. clare snape says:

    I live in Wales next to a farm, and the farmer raises cattle. His wife has told us on so many occasions that farmers can inoculate their cattle against TB, but will not because of the cost. There is the possibility that the quality of the beef could be affected. Don’t you think that it would be better to explore that avenue of possibility than to persecute our natural wildlife. It all comes down to profits. Why should an injection against TB be any more of a threat to meat standards as the injections they have for worms and other parasites. It’s disgusting and when they have wiped out our badgers and realise it’s made no difference, then what?

    • Mike Rigby says:

      Absolutely, Clare. We ought to be exploring the option of vaccinating wildlife and cattle before considering any form of wildlife culling. If meat from cattle infected with TB is allowed to enter the food chain, how can meat from cattle vaccinated against TB be a problem? The EU is held up as a block to this but the problem is that the EU is held up as the source of all evil by Owen Paterson so it’s difficult to assess whether they are genuinely standing in the way of this. From the figures I’ve seen, it would be cheaper overall to vaccinate than to cull badgers, a process which seems to be unravelling quickly.

  36. Sarah Poupard says:

    Typical Tory policy to look after the landowners. These peeps have no regard for animal welfare or wildlife. They want to bring back fox hunting, turn a blind eye to other blood sports and now they’ve invested heavily in the killing of innocent badgers, based on spurious reasons that they spread bTB with no hard evidence to back up their political nonsense. I believe strongly that animals have a right to exist. I ditched the dairy and I’m now a vegan. I will not support the farming industry in the name of exploiting one animal for our addiction to milk, while another animal species is hunted and shot for merely existing and made into a scapegoat.

  37. Elizabeth Owens says:

    Thank you so much Mike Rigby for your honest article, it is so refreshing to hear an honest, clued up politician, I do hope that you can take it further and get this senseless inhumane cull stopped.

    • Mike Rigby says:

      For me, it’s all about the evidence. If, as a local Councillor, an officer presented a report based on evidence so thin as that presented in support of the badger cull, I would have to question their continued employment.

  38. monklink says:

    TB is fundamentally a disease of poor living conditions. Vaccination does not address this underlying issue, another disease will just come along. Herd densities need to be addressed and overwintering conditions.

    • Gillian Lee says:

      I absolutely agree with previous comment by Monklink. Over the years I have visited farms or passed by while out walking and have been horified at the filthy conditions in the cow sheds seeing cows stood upto their hocks in cowshit with not a sign of any straw. There have been many, many cases of extreme suffering and death to farm animals in this country from complete ignorance and neglect and when reported to the RSPCA, Defra or Trading Standards nothing is done to rectify the situation. Why are there not better or more frequent checks on farms to stop these atrocities from occurring. Any NGO animal welfare charity could confirm these facts. I believe this is how disease like BTB is caused and ultimately spread and its time welfare for farm animals should be introduced and upheld.

  39. Jackie says:

    My uncle was a naturalist with a keen interest in badgers. He regularly gave lectures around South Yorkshire on all forms of wildlife. We were lucky enough to accompany him when he went badger watching either at dawn or dusk.
    I still share that same interest and have found a few areas in the Surrey hills and the North Downs where I can safely leave my infrared cameras next to the badger setts.
    Apart from all the valid questions you pose, (for which you have not had satisfactory replies) there still remains an unanswered question which I have never been able to get an answer.
    Which body of people is in charge of counting the badger population?
    I ask this because I believe there is a gross overestimation of numbers.
    At all the locations where I have been filming there have been only two or three badgers, sharing a collection of around five setts, and this has been the pattern over a number of years. The setts are huge and look as though they should house many more occupants, but they don’t.
    I have read the reports from farmers saying there are around ten badgers in similarly sized setts, and it would be in their interest to promote their belief. But who actually gets the proof?
    Every time we see badgers on television it’s usually the same idillic scene of up to ten badgers happily munching peanuts, in broad daylight, without a care in the world. This is obviously a private and safe haven possibly on private land where the badgers have learned not to fear the daylight. This is not the case in most other locations.
    The other video clip, which is popularly used in defence of the cull, is showing badgers in the proximity of cows also munching on peanuts, although the camera person is hoping nobody will notice that enticement.
    I would like to believe that badger numbers were correlated by a more accurate method rather than just looking at a “live” sett and jotting down the number 10 on a note book.
    Even if the marksmen have only managed to blast less than 200 badgers in two weeks, that could already have wiped out most of the population in that particular location.

  40. Bill Pound says:

    I know not all farmers are tarred with same brush but this is a pointless slaughter of badgers, maybe we should slaughter 70% of humans to see if it cuts diseases and i would start with the government

  41. Gillian Lee says:

    Absolutely agree with previous comment by Monklink. I have seen dire conditions on farms in just my own small area let alone the rest of the country. Cows kept in sheds for the winter with no clean bedding and upto their hocks in cow dung initiate disease including TB. Why are there not more stringent checks on animal health welfare. One animal welfare organisation I belong to have reported dreadful conditions on certain farms to Defra, RSPCA and Trading standards and little has been done to improve conditions even in cases where sheep and pigs have been found dead and dying half buried in slurry.

  42. Gillian Lee says:

    Absolutely agree with Mike Rigby and Monklinks comment.Conditions on some farms are initiating disease including TB. More should be done to monitor farm animal welfare.

  43. Maggie Harrison says:

    Dear Mike, An excellent review. Please get this published far and wide.

    Maggie.

  44. steve yandall says:

    I apologise if,not having read every post,the following duplicates other inputs?
    DEFRA underwent a farming consultation and did not achieve a concensus in favour of culling but a concensus in favour of vaccination WAS achieved.The “farmers against the cull” are VERY concerned that NFU opinion overrode farmers wishes and that an organisation representing only 18% of agricultural workers has legal and vocal representation beyond that which it should.Some overlooked reading matter that is worthy of consideration —Mark Purdey’s work on the link between a fall in agricultural liming and the rise in BTB(liming kills mycobacterium and locks in the essential iron required by BTB).The link between stock dietary changes and the reduction in immune system boosting nutrients.

  45. Ken Fitzgerald says:

    An interesting article, showing that when subjected to any in depth study, it goes to prove that the matter of badger killings is little more than a political expedient. Apparently a sop to the NFU, who will not accept that it is the way farming [and it’s membership] conducts itself, that is largely responsible for the ongoing problems we have with Bovine TB. Certainly badgers can, and a proportion are capable, when infection is at the right point, of infecting cattle. But then again other animals that can and do co-exist with cattle, such as deer, are also potential carriers. Deer also have the ability to move many miles in a day, to new environs, while the badger remains in the same area all it’s life. [Perhaps lending itself to being hunted locally, and destroyed ?]

    The more I read, and learn of what I would rate as an inhumane fiasco, that is being presided over by DEFRA, the more I believe that elements of DEFRA are either Unfit for purpose, or purely a political servant of government. Their actions have nothing to do with the appliance of Science, nor reason. The Krebs report remains the only independent real and deep scientific study of Btb, without political bias, is being ignored. Why we might ask ? Because it does not tell the current government what they and their powerful friends, the NFU, with a their hugely strong lobby, wanted to hear. The Krebs report also suffers from being instigated and actioned, at great public cost, by the then Labour government.
    I believe the current cull policy to be both largely futile, and without financial justification. It has nothing to do with, doing the right thing to overcome this distressing, and costly disease. The public should also be made aware of some of the other farming practices and the costs thereof, and compare the financial costs against bovine TB and its causes. Without doubt, in my mind, culling badgers will do little other than be a less than humane further destruction of part of our wildlife. But then when an examination of farming practices is undertaken, little more than we should have come to expect.

  46. tessa bell says:

    How is it that up in Scotland where lower densities of cattle graze really good quality land, there is no problem with badgers and TB. If humans eat a poor diet they are more likely to get ill. Intensive cattle farming plus poor diet plus poor animal husbandry and too many antibiotics adds up to lots of TB!

    And we see these ‘sad’ films telling us about cattle having to be slaughtered due to TB. So why isn’t it publicised that when male calves are born into dairy herds they are slaughtered as they have no use? And how sad is it that cattle are slaughtered for our food?

    I think a lot of farmers are plain ignorant and lazy and the Govt is ignorant also because it has ignored the research and recommendations, and just wants to appease the farmers by killing badgers. I have told my own MP I will never vote for him again because he supports the culling. Its pure ignorance.

  47. Ken Fitzgerald says:

    My comment of yesterday omitted to thank you Mike for an excellent article, which reasonably, and logically deals with many of the prim aspects of this pointless and inhumane badger cull. It is nothing more than a sop to the politically, power driven NFU lobby of:
    “Let’s find something, other than us, to blame for the spread of Bovine TB !”
    Bovine TB is a distressing disease, but is far less costly than some other farming practices. The EU ordained lunacy of controlling slaughter houses in the way it does, is largely responsible for the huge extent of the foot and mouth outbreak a few years ago.

    Further EU directive controls the potential of vaccinating cattle against bTB. When it is known what chemistry [reportedly] is being fed in some cattle feeds, the ‘No Chemistry, it makes the flesh inedible’ argument becomes untenable.

    Our bird life, by killing off all the insect life, has been hugely destroyed by injudicious use of chemistry on the land.

    Perhaps it is that the badger has for millennia had the temerity of wit to choose to live on the same land as some of those who so vociferously regard farmland as their own, to do with what they will ? While you can own buildings, and within law, do what you like with them, the same is not true for land ! We are but the stewards of land, land remains when we are long gone, to be used by future generations for millennia to come. Our tenure and that of human kind is finite, as is even the life of the planet.

    in 2015 we all become important to the politico’s once again for a fleeting few weeks. At this point the election looks as if it could, yet again, end in a hung parliament. There are those who, largely in jest of course, would favour a ‘Hanged parliament.’ The point being it would give a chance for some new blood and new forward thinking ideas, to emerge, rather than the old [and current] ‘If its someone else’s idea we will of course oppose it, In running this hugely over crowded, still lovely island, of ours !

  48. Roselle says:

    Excellent addition to all the information that’s out there, should people wish to look. Great comments, too – esp Monklink and Rose.

    The badger vaccine is available; there are groups offering to do it for the cost of the vaccine (I belong to such a group), their volunteers having been trained by FERA (run by DEFRA) to do this professionally. The cost per badger is miniscule, whereas a shooting cull costs, we estimate, approx. £2000 per badger. The cattle vaccine needs just one more year of field trials, and given that ‘we’ are selling infected meat for human food, I suspect that the reason given for not vaccinating – preventing meat from entering the food chain – no longer holds water.

    Someone who’s been adding a lot to the picture is Steve Jones, who runs a blog called ‘not in this farmer’s name’. I heard him speak, and although I’ve been doing in-depth research into this for two years I still learned a lot. See also Steve Jones here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/sep/28/badger-cull-bovine-tb

    Badgers are, of course, being scapegoated – they’re the least of the farmers’ concerns in terms of transmission (plus no one has yet satisfactorily demonstrated whether the transmission is that way round, and not from cattle to badgers); it’s entirely political, farmers have little say, despite many of them being opposed to the cull, and it will achieve little except alienate the public, and the rural public in particular, yet further from a Gov’t that is losing its grip – if it ever had one.

  49. Pingback: England’s Killing Fields Part 1: Badger Culls Kill Scientific Honesty by Lesley Docksey | Dandelion Salad

  50. Caz says:

    Its all about money as usual “In the past four years the Commission has allocated considerable funds to support the UK bTB programmes (EUR 116,3 Mio in total). We therefore expect significant improvements in the epidemiological situation in 2013 that show efficient use of Union funds. This is absolutely necessary in view of a further renewal of the EU financial support to this programme.” https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/183229/bovinetb-letter-paterson.pdf

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/239596/5618.pdf

  51. I believe the cull is about land use. Sam cameron is said to want to build on glocs..already 33 thousand 449 houses are planned for there and glocs green belt is to be built on..Lidell grainger has long been on record saying he wants to see building on exmoor national park and now tories say that will happen..badgers are expensive to move under license..think its all about removing wildlife from the countryside so it can all be free for all development..trashing our whole enviroment..Already first phase [6,000 houses] have planning in glocs.

  52. Mike Thornbury says:

    What I have never been able to get my head around is why “vaccination of cattle in the field is currently prohibited under EU legislation” (Defra – http://www.defra.gov.uk/animal-diseases/a-z/bovine-tb/vaccination/cattle-vaccination/) – it makes as much sense as failing to vaccinate for Foot and Mouth.

    What possible reason could we have for preferring the slaughter of thousands of wild animals, hundreds of thousands of cattle, the costs of isolation, enforcement and sterilisation, over a simple vaccine?

    Foot and mouth is vaccinated for in nearly every non-Commonwealth country – some of which, like Argentina, are world powers in beef production.

    What makes our way right? It just doesn’t make sense.

    • Mike Rigby says:

      My understanding is that the vaccination is banned because the administration of the vaccine can trigger false positive results to TB testing, i.e. animals that have been vaccinated can appear to be infected. I understand that work is underway to devise more sensitive testing in order that results can differentiate between cattle that have been vaccinated and those that are infected. While we know that meat from infected cattle can be and is sold into the human food chain, we also know that most retailers do not want such meat in their products. As soon as the (DIVA) test to differentiate between vaccination and infection is approved for use, I can see no reason why the EU ban on vaccination should not immediately be lifted. It is interesting that you mention Foot & Mouth. You will recall that the 2001 outbreak decimated the UK tourist industry with much of the countryside closed and foreign visitors staying away. I have heard rumblings that public footpaths could be closed during the next phase of the pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucester in order to make it more difficult for protesters to disrupt shooting. I have already written to Somerset County Council to counsel against such an approach in Somerset. The damage to the tourism industry that any such closure, even temporary, could have in Somerset would outweigh any possible benefit in reducing TB in cattle.

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