The Badger Cull 2 – An update

BadgerTwo weeks ago I wrote a blogpost setting out what I had learned about the pilot badger culls in the preceding few weeks. Previously I had not held a strong view on the subject and my interest had been piqued by a cull objector asking me if I knew that culled badgers were NOT to be tested for bTB. I doubted that this was true but eventually dragged out of Defra that it was in fact the case; there would be NO testing. I found this staggering and resolved to investigate further and the product was my blogpost. It received as many views in a weekend as my blog typically gets in 6 months so it’s clear that plenty of people feel strongly about this. As I say, two weeks have passed and so much new information has dripped out, I felt that a follow-up was required.

So what have we learned since my blogpost? First and foremost, we’ve learned that Defra is completely incapable of holding the line on the justification for the badger culls. Guy Robinson, Special Advisor to Owen Paterson, told me repeatedly that the lack of bTB testing on culled badgers was because the pilot culls are to test the humaneness of free shooting as a method of culling. This is backed up by Defra’s subsequent blogpost. But, as I pointed out in my first post on the subject, this is inconsistent with the requirement to cull 70% of the badgers in the pilot area. Remember, so important is it to do this that the pilot cull was postponed for a year. Many of the badger Twitterati –or the digital badger protection force, as I have come to think of them – have asked the valid question “If, as Defra insist, this cull is about assessing the humaneness of the method of culling, why do they need to kill 5,000 badgers? It doesn’t take 5,000 to work out whether marksmen can aim properly.” It’s a fair question and one I asked in my original blogpost. And herein lies the inherent confusion in Defra’s argument. When people ask Defra this question, “Why kill 5,000 to test the method?” Defra falls back on the argument that “Natural England have licensed culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire to remove badgers from the area to start bringing down the high levels of infection in these areas.” So here they are arguing that the pilot culls are in fact to help reduce bTB. They’ve abandoned the line that they are solely to assess humaneness. We are therefore entitled to ask the question again. “Given that the cull is to test the efficiency of culling badgers in reducing bTB why on earth would you not want to know the incidence of bTB in the local badger population?” The data from the Randomised Badger Cull Trials (RBCT) are now 7 years old. The abiding and overwhelming suspicion remains that the absence of testing is motivated solely by a deep-seated fear that such testing would show minimal infection, perhaps even less than the 16% discovered in the RBCT.

What is also interesting about Defra’s latter blogpost is the appearance of the statement “The cull will be repeated for four years, which is what the science recommends to ensure we achieve a long-term benefit in reducing the level of disease.” No ifs. No buts. It WILL be repeated. Regardless of the results of this supposed pilot. Regardless of whether free-shooting is assessed as humane, the cull will go on. Regardless of the fact that the cull organisers will have no more idea of the incidence of bTB in the badger population that they have just tried to eradicate. Yet more evidence that this cull, its continuation and propagation to new areas has as much to do with science as the Flat Earth Society.

And talking of a lack of scientific rigour, the Government’s Chief Veterinary Officer has now admitted there are “no definitive criteria” for measuring how humane the current pilot operations are. So, again, “What is the point of the cull?”

Since my last blogpost we have also seen a steady trickle of botched kills. Badgers found shot on roads and elsewhere, clearly not in approved kill areas. This would suggest that either free-shooting is not proving to be a particularly humane method of culling, as badgers are running off to die or that there is a sizeable illegal badger cull going on, perhaps using the official cull as cover. The former explanation would be a further nail in the cull’s coffin, the latter requires a Police investigation. Defra insist, each time a shot badger is found away from a kill area, that it is nothing to do with the cull. But the speed of their denials and the fact that they don’t examine the carcasses is far too knee-jerk to be credible. Maybe the marksmen are telling Defra that every kill is clean, that each badger shot dies on the spot. But to swallow such assurances is naive and gullible. I will be enquiring of Avon & Somerset Police whether there are any active investigations into illegal badger shooting. If not, that would strongly suggest that these shot badgers are botched kills from the cull.

Something else I’ve learnt since my first blogpost is that in order to defray the costs of compensating farmers for infected cattle slaughtered due to TB , the meat from those animals is sold into the human food chain. The supermarkets apparently won’t have it but there’s every chance that the meat is getting into hospitals and schools. Now either there’s a major scandal here based on the fact that we are feeding ‘dangerously infected’ meat to some of the most vulnerable people in the country or there’s a major scandal here based on the fact that such a fuss is being made about an animal disease which has no impact on whether the meat can be eaten. Either way, you probably get the impression that I feel that there’s a major scandal here. The essential question is this: “How can it be acceptable to eat meat from cows with TB but not from cows that have been vaccinated against TB?” This is, of course, the line that we keep being fed by Defra, that the EU will not allow vaccinated meat into the foodchain. How long before we see Owen Paterson shoving a TB burger into one of his children’s mouths?

A further issue of concern surrounds the persistent allegations from cull protesters that the Police are acting as the security wing of the NFU. There have been allegations that the Police have been handing out warning leaflets produced by the NFU and that individuals have been temporarily detained on behalf of the NFU. I fully understand that there is likely to be exaggeration on both sides in this action but, if proven, such actions by the Police must be legally questionable and certainly very worrying. And what is all this policing costing? And what are Defra spending on social media monitoring? I feel some FOI requests coming on…..

Also of concern is Defra’s refusal to comply with the Information Commissioner’s ruling that they must release to the Humane Society information on the humaneness of the cull. Once again, we must ask “What have they got to hide?” It all adds to the sense that Defra are fully aware that their case has no scientific basis but that they are determined to press on for reasons that they are not prepared to divulge. I simply don’t accept that it is open to Government to operate in this way. Actions must be able to display sound logic even if we don’t agree with the aims. Government and politics is held in low enough esteem as it is without Government departments heading off on completely unjustified and unjustifiable flights of fancy.

One final thought. The cull has been so badly organised and the case for it is so flimsy, I am left wondering whether Defra has deliberately set it up to fail. This would give them the opportunity to say to the NFU “Look we tried. We set up the legal framework for you to cull badgers and you made a hash of it. So it won’t be rolled out elsewhere.” I wonder this because this shambles cannot possibly be the result of the best efforts of a major Government Department in one of the world’s biggest economies.

As I have said before, my approach to this issue is based on reason and logic. Policy must be based on sound evidence. These pilot badger culls are as far from a sound evidence base as any policy that I have seen. There is no chance that the Somerset and Gloucestershire pilots will be abandoned. They will inevitably be seen through to the end (in time if not numbers of culled badgers). But I think that with the continued application of pressure and careful dissection of Defra’s fatuous arguments, there is a very good chance that they will not be repeated. So, to the ‘Digital Badger Protection Force’, the Injured Badger Patrols and everyone else dedicated to ending this nonsense, keep it up, the direction of travel on this is all one way. Momentum is firmly against the cull.

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43 Responses to The Badger Cull 2 – An update

  1. John Ravenscroft says:

    This is excellent! Thank you for shining a light through the Defra-created fog and showing what is really happening here.

    John Ravenscroft

  2. Fiona Frank says:

    Thanks for confirming our suspicions. A very thorough and convincing blog. Keep up the wonderful work.

  3. Clued-Up says:

    Thanks Mike for a good follow-up. I have the same awful feeling we’re being consistently lied to by our government over the badger cull as I had over the Iraq War. In both instances, ANY ordinary member of the public can see the flaws and inconsistencies in the government case and strongly suspects there’s a secret cabal driving events. Can you help us find out what’s really going on?

  4. Roselle says:

    Thank you so much for getting this out there, Mike. We anti-cullers can tweet and post till our fingers are numb but no one takes much notice unless we’re public figures, whether or not we know the science. I’ve had some very mealy-mouthed responses from DEFRA, but they’ve been pretty thin on the ground in relation to my pesterings. It was the same with BSE and foot and mouth; both of which I protested about at some length, and wrote about (I’ve a new novel about to come out that details the foot and mouth crisis on Dartmoor – one way of getting the info out).

    We need people like you in positions of relative authority to help with this.

    I’ve taken the liberty of reblogging this; hope that’s OK.

  5. Roselle says:

    Ah. Mike, have you put a block on copying it for reblogging – or is something else going on? Either way, my computer won’t let me…

  6. Jay Parsons says:

    Thankyou for this insight,, as a farmers son i have questioned many of these points you have gone over… Excellent article and lets hope this heanous cull comes to an end. To all those supporting the badgers on the ground i salute you.
    Thankyou Mike 🙂

  7. Rose Chapman says:

    Another well written and thought out blog. This government thinks it is impervious to any opposition, very worrying, not only for the majority that don’t want this cull, but it has much wider implications of the government riding roughshod over any other matter that has any opposition. If they succeed in this heaven help any sort of democracy left in this country, it will give them confidence to steam ahead and do whatever they like. Please keep on finding out facts and figures and maybe we will get this dreadful, cruel cull stopped.

  8. Marjorie Alcock says:

    I was refreshing to read that you have begun to witness the real truth behind this abhorrent cull. Unfortunately the news media, particularly the national TV news, have not given much in the way of air time to this present situation, apart from a few minutes to say a protest was underway. The general public are blissfully unaware of the suffering that these poor badgers are experiencing, or the wonderful, brave actions of the sabs, out there, peacefully walking the pathways near badger setts, all night long to prevent shooters killing the animals. Shooters must not shoot when members of the public are within a certain distance from the setts.

  9. Alan Petrie says:

    Thank you MIke. Many of us badgerists knew this all along but it is great to see someone like yourself spell it out logically and clearly. It really is a mess and needs stopping ASAP

  10. Robert Trayford says:

    I agree with all you say…its a pity legal action can’t be taken against DEFRA for their wildlife crimes and total dishonesty in perpetrating this cull.

  11. steve yandall says:

    Just to add,Mike, that the civil service have been advertising for cull licence processors and that regional meetings to promote the culls are being rolled out thus supporting the preordination of cull roll outs.This is an affront to Parliament and ourselves.I have already asked for an inquiry into DEFRA’s functionality as the culls deny DEFRA’s scientific and welfare functions.As DEFRA commissioned the Game Conservancy to carry out badger culling humane trials in 2006 it further devalues the current culls(the results were 30% injured).Lord Krebs further asserted his scientific view that culling is unnecessary on the radio today.As an aside,of course,will the veracious scientists that produced the RBCT ever wish to undertake work on behalf of any government again? As I have frequently written,to ministers and the Environmental Audit Committee(incidentally Goldsmith/Walley have signed EDM 299) “if the trouble is taken to read and digest the RBCT report there is NO conclusion other than to align oneself with the scientists that wrote the report”.The report even covers the S.Ireland cull which will not transpose to England but,of course,Owen Paterson has a ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ approach to ‘science’—all the above resulted in Richard Benyon ‘spamming’ me and labelling my logic as “lamentable nonsense” whilst being “unfair to David Heath”.We haven’t even got on to democracy,personal agendas,OP’s ‘spin doctor’ being ex head Countryside Alliance or the unfair treatement of badgers!!!!! The EU(Tonio Borg) attached strings to BTB funding in that the UK had to improve biosecurity or risk funding withdrawal.Culling risks that funding as it will increase the problem especially in areas adjoining cull zones where RBCT expected a rise in BTB rates of 25% WHILST residual badger populations will have increased levels of BTB.I have written to the EU and EEA expressing my concerns and adding that an abandonment of expert scientific testimony in favour of anecdote represents a fraud.

  12. Andrea Barraclough says:

    Thank you for taking the time to cover aspects of this cull that keep cropping up individually. There are some who will never be convinced that the cull is so wrong and there is absolutely no logic to DEFRA’s approach. A spat I experienced on Twitter with someone called Lord Welby shows that there are some who think everyone against the cull is unemployed, uneducated and wasting tax payers money! A typical Tory approach I’m afraid, although I don’t want to tar all Tories with the same brush.

  13. Margaret Jones says:

    Thank you for this. ‘For evil to flourish,it only requires good men to do nothing.’

  14. Fiona Drew says:

    Come on a walk! Williton, 8pm- there’s room in the car! ;o)

  15. lance bird says:

    Reasoned, clear and logical: all the attributes not shown by the Conservative Gov backing the the murder of OUR WILDLIFE! Keep going Mike. Best wishes.

  16. Patrick Cogswell says:

    Thanks for this. Reposted.

  17. Roselle says:

    Mike, I managed to reblog this last night and it has resulted in one donation so far to the local badger vax group. Might I also mention here this directory, for anyone interested: please check it out, folks!

  18. Roselle says:

    Me again, sorry! I should also perhaps have said I belong to the Totnes Badger Vaccination Action Campaign (TBVAC). Our intention is to vaccinate 70% of Devon’s badgers, on the grounds that once vaccinated to that extent they are not then eligible for culling on DEFRA’s rationale of needing to cull 70% for it to be effective (although Krebs’ report points out that even at that level of cull we are likely only to have a ‘success’ rate of 16% efficiency in eliminating bTB).

    We need support and help – getting the correct info out, publicity campaigns, sett surveying, talking to farmers, training vaccinators with FERA, the cost of humane cage-traps for vaccination, the vaccines etc; plus general support for what we’re doing. If you feel helpless in the face of all this you could join our facebook group, and/or consider making a donation to our work here:

    Thanks, Mike, for this humane post.

  19. Jane Kenmure says:

    Thank you for joining the fight. It is very disturbing how little media coverage this cull is getting. It has all the ingredients for a daily national news update with lots of drama, intrigue and even celebrities but is strangely omitted from all the broadcast news that I have seen. Amongst the government secrecy and bias it is not surprising that many people sense deception and ulterior motive is involved. The only good thing I can see that is coming from this crime against our wildlife is a huge increase in awareness regarding farming and slaughtering and hunting and shooting. A revolution for animal rights in the making.

    • Eve Mangold says:

      Ring the BBC on 03700 100 222, then options 1 and 3. If enough people do this (and I have twice) they will eventually listen to us . . . won’t they?

  20. Tim Holyoake says:

    Morally it is reprehensible . Scientifically it is at best shaky. Now local government officers are making valid and informed comments in the media. Seeing as democracy is government of the people, for the people BY THE PEOPLE. when will our employees in Westminster take note of what WE the electorate are saying !

  21. Diane Acton says:

    Really excellent blog – thank you Mike.

  22. Sue L says:

    A brilliant blog.

    It may also interest you to know. I spoke to defra and they confirmed there is no personal risk assessment of the marksmen.

    In a nutshell. A police risk assessment includes a. Does the person abuse animals and b. Does the person own a gun. If the answer is yes to both, then the person comes out high risk (a danger to public). The person is likely to have psychopathic tendancies, so wont have moral brakes on in regards to abusive behavior or animal cruelity.

    Seems as some of the marksmen are fox huntsman/masters, with a history of animal cruelity, it begs to question whether it is a legalised hunt.

    With continous police reported incidents ranging from shot owls, autopsies of badgers who suffered inhumane deaths, badgers being torn apart by hunting dogs, rammed protestors cars (full of people) physical assults and criminal damage by cullers, fireworks thrown at lone women drivers, roadsigns in Somerset with 7 bullet holes in it etc.

    This cull is a green light for psychopaths to be a psychopath.

  23. Brenda Hopping says:

    Hi Mike; would it be o.k for me to send to my m.p who voted against the cull?

  24. Paul Russell says:

    Kudos and thank you to you, Mike, for shining a light on the stupidity and hypocrisy of DEFRA and the badger cull. Please keep up the excellent work!

  25. Keith Cotton says:

    Very well done – I live in St Albans, Herts and, though far away from the trial cull zones, have been bothering everyone I know to do their bit – and went on the march from Tate earlier in the year – your contribution is sound where others can garner a stereotypical and negative response.

    For reference the MP here Anne Main (conservative – small c deliberate) has set up an EDM after I bothered her – a lot – and will be raising it at their conference – such angles are ones to pursue beyond those MPs already on the naughty step (her words not mine)!

    Best regards,

    A Conservationist

  26. Clive Martin says:

    Thank you for this Mike. It is now clear that the case for the cull is illogical, unconvincing and unravelling.

    I was at Williton on Saturday evening with Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party. The brief video she made setting out her views can be found here:

  27. Maggie Bucknall says:

    Excellent Blog. Has highlighted many areas that we are all concerned about. There is also a serious problem with Natural England that my husband has discovered when doing research into something different. Again, similar problems such as huge contradictions between Defra and Natural England.

    Please do contine keep an eye and report on this, since we need people in office to make our voice heard and more importantly of those that cannot speak for themselves.

  28. Laura Phypers says:

    I am so relieved to read this blog, making sense of a non-sense. I can add no words, only my support, as I think we are being silenced in a rather more sinister way than we’ve yet realised.

  29. Amanda Winston says:

    Thank you for such a well written piece. There is an enormous scandal just waiting to be exposed – I really hope that it will get noticed and this appalling attack on our wildlife ceases.

  30. Ann-marie says:

    Thank you for confirming and supporting what many of us feel is an inhumane, unproven solution to the problem, so far nothing that George Hollingbery has sent me so far has come close to persuading me this is a good idea.
    Have heard many reports of screaming from badgers at the cull sights this is not humane and Defra come up with so many half baked ideas its a disgrace.

  31. Roger Dixon says:

    Well done for standing up to be counted on this issue Mike, it takes some courage to do this in Somerset at the moment and I applaud you for doing so.

    I have written repeatedly to my MP, Jeremy Browne on this issue and although all letters and emails are acknowledged, the eventual replies have all been along the lines of “here is the reply I have received from David Heath/ Defra to your concerns.” Mr Browne has yet to tell me what he personally thinks about the cull, even though I have been specific in asking him to do this. I was also surprised that he was not at the last debate in Parliament on the subject, after all a significant part of the Somerset cull zone is within his Taunton Deane constituency. I wonder if he has been more forthcoming to you Mike?

    I note that Hampshire County Council voted against the cull on the grounds that the scientific evidence does not support a cull and that no culling would take place on council land. Has this debate taken place at Somerset County Council?

    Last year Taunton Deane Councillors decided they did not have the necessary expertise to understand the science and therefore could not decide if they should support the cull or not. Heaven help us! I assume they are all experts on town planning, welfare provision, transport and roads etc. If not how can they possibly make any decisions on anything. I watched that debate and I have to say it destroyed any of my beliefs in democracy.

  32. Arlene Harris says:

    Thank you for your blog post and informed opinion. I agree with everything you’ve said and last weekend at the Badger Trust Conference in Derbyshire there were excellent speakers from all areas speaking up for badgers – all their comments based on hard facts and science. Lord Krebs, speaking on BBC Radio 4 last Friday tea-time, put it plainly, saying that if politicians choose to ignore the scientists then they should say why. They just don’t seem to be answerable to anyone – except the NFU!

  33. Marion Sheppered says:

    Mr. Rigby you are a a genius!

  34. John Brown says:

    Thank you for a very interesting and thought provoking article, I hope it will rattle some cages in high places. You have shed some more light on what is obviously a very farcical operation and a very real travesty of justice with the badger as the loser.

  35. Mark Linnemann says:

    Thank you Mr Rigby, you are a credit to your profession Sir. A balanced and well informed piece of writing.

  36. sarah ellis says:

    Well done Mike and thank you for your integrity, a rare thing to be seen in todays’ sordid poitical arena. Have you seen/heard the you tube footage of protesters being detained by the police so that the NFU can come and ‘warn them’ !!!!!!!! This audio footage of the incident is barely believable but here it is – shocking but irrefutable evidence of police bias – since when did the Police force work for the NFU ????

  37. Steve B says:

    Excellent article Mike, and really good to hear that someone in a position of some (albeit limited) power/influence in Somerset has got a head on their shoulders! Keep it up!

  38. Chris Sherwin says:

    Two excellent, well researched blogs. Thank you. There is clearly a multitude of issues with this cull. However, if the official reason is to test the humaneness of the shooting method, then I would argue that Defra is supporting an unethical study. I have worked for over 20 years in animal behaviour and welfare, and the ethics of using animals in science. If this cull is research on humaneness, it should first have tested the accuracy of the marksman using inanimate targets (designed to simulate the body parts of badgers), both moving and stationery, at various distances and under various climactic conditions. This, if necessary, could be supplemented with studies using the bodies of dead animals (I would suggest commercial pigs which are readily available and destined to be slaughtered anyway) which could be placed on moveable trolleys to simulate movement. If, and this is a huge if, live badgers must be used, only a relatively small number is needed. It is totally unethical to be killing 5,000 animals when arguing that “only” 120 will be needed to test the humaneness of the killing method. If the cull is a scientific study, it must be regulated by the Home Office (Scientific Procedures) Act (1986) and requires a Home Office licence which entails ethical review. Who conducted ethical review of the cull?

  39. Chris Johnstone says:

    You are a very perceptive man MIKE RIGBY brilliant Blog/article we need more like you, I’d vote for you any day!

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