As most of you will know, I now live surrounded by countryside, in fact I have always lived with fields no more than two minutes walk from my home, so I am no 'towny' and I certainly don't look at badgers as though they are some cute, cuddly, black and white fluffy animal that befriends a water rat - I have though enjoyed close encounters with them in the past and feel very privileged to have them as neighbours.
I am finding myself getting more and more frustrated about the badger cull and need to write a few of my thoughts down.
Bovine TB has been around for many years and it does seem slightly ironic that the year the number of TB cases in cattle fall in England is the year the government decides to implement a badger cull.
This badger cull trial has been given the go ahead despite leading scientists saying it won't help - even Lord Krebs who designed a previous trial has concluded that 'culling is not a viable policy option' and this weekend a letter has been signed from thirty leading scientists in this field and published in the Observer accusing ministers of not telling the truth and demanding the immediate abandonment of the killings.
It is possible to control transmission of bTb from cattle to cattle and cattle to badger with tightening up movement controls of cattle, along with effective testing and bio-security measures i.e. preventing badgers entering farm buildings and accessing stored cattle feed, if badgers can't access these areas they will not 'contaminate' by toileting and grooming. Apparently cattle tend to avoid grazing contaminated pasture unless there are very large numbers of grazing cattle when the less dominant cattle may be forced to eat from poorer grassland.
Contrary to what farmers have been led to believe, there is an effective cattle vaccination but EU rules prevents its use. It has been researched and trialed in Ethiopia - It just needs to be licenced!
As far as I can see -the main reason the BCG is prohibited is because the vaccination can interfere with the skin test used to diagnose TB in cattle, but a DIVA (differentiating Infected and Vaccinated Animated) skin test is also currently being developed, which can differentiate between vaccinated and infected cattle.
It is possible to control transmission of badger to badger and badger to cattle bTB by vaccinating which was incredulously unbeknown to Anne McIntosh MP on 'Newsnight' a couple of weeks ago!
This vaccination has been trialed successfully by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and and is being carried out in Wales instead of opting for a cull, in Wales these vaccinations are being funded by the government. Other wildlife trusts are now starting to implement trial vaccinations on some of their reserves which are being funded by the individual wildlife trusts. Vaccination is not cheap so for the government, culling, paid for by farmers, is a cheaper option. An oral vaccine for badgers which can be added to food is currently being developed but looks as though that will be at least three to four years away minimum.
In the mean time many farmers believe that badgers are to blame for the spread of TB. I am very concerned that now the cull has been given the go ahead farmers may think they have been handed a carte blanc to go out onto their land and start eradicating their badgers without any licence. I am equally dismayed by reports that the cull is being opposed by animal rights campaigners who are threatening farmers considered to be supporting the cull.
The cull is also being opposed by many NGO's and animal welfare groups who are totally against any intimidation or violent action towards the farmers, including The Badger Trust, The RSPCA and the Wildlife Trusts.
As you would expect the NFU is totally in favour of the cull, stating 'the NFU remains fully committed to supporting the government's science-led TB eradication policy to tackle what is a terrible and damaging disease. Our end goal is for a healthy countryside and that needs healthy badgers and healthy cattle. This policy and these pilots,will help deliver that. We will now work to help those delivering the two pilot culls to ensure that they are safe, effective and humane'
This is the same science that Dr Krebs who led the investigations, stated 'is not a viable option' and has shown that it will actually lead to an increase in bTb over the first 9 years due to perturbation, it is only after 9 years when there may be a positive impact of a 12 - 16% reduction of bTB in cattle - by which time of course we will have a vaccine for cattle anyway!
I am very relieved to read of farmers who are anti the cull. I follow some on twitter and I think I know some local to me, but I also know that I have started to see more badger victims of supposed 'road kill' in the last few weeks too - or is that just the cynic in me?
I am also very concerned that if the government admit they have made a massive mistake and call off the cull, more farmers will take 'matters into their own hands'.
It is never too late to act to help the plight of the badgers, there is a petition which currently stands at over 155,000 signatures. If you want to do more then you can email your MP and MEP for more information take a look at what the Wildlife Trusts website