Environment Secretary: Why we must continue with badger cull
WE must continue the fight against bovine TB, argues Environment Secretary Owen Paterson:
AS many readers will be aware, the six-week badger cull in Gloucestershire has come to an end.
The early indications are that controlled shooting has been safe and humane.
It is too early to judge the effectiveness of the cull in Gloucestershire, where just over 30 per cent of the targeted reduction in the badger population has been achieved so far.
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The advice of our chief vet is that culling needs to continue this year in order to deliver a reduction in the high levels of bovine TB and help local dairy and cattle farmers who have to live with the devastating impact of this disease.
This does not mean that the cull will not work.
It's important to remember that this year is the first of a four-year cull based on the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT).
Those trials showed that repeated culling, carried out systematically over several years would contribute to a reduction in levels of the disease.
Three of the 10 areas in the RBCT also got off to a slower start in the first year, but picked up in subsequent years and contributed to the overall disease control benefit.
The chief vet has advised that the more badgers removed in the first year, the earlier and greater the benefit will be.
That is why Natural England is currently considering an application from the culling company to extend the licence.
If the licence is extended, then as before, the safety of the cull will continue to be the number one priority.
The contractors who are lawfully carrying out the cull have behaved impeccably, sometimes in the face of serious provocation from a small minority of people intent on breaking the law.
Bovine TB is a devastating disease and I am not prepared to sit back and watch it continue to have such a dreadful impact.
More than 300,000 cattle have been needlessly slaughtered as a result of bovine TB in the past 10 years, including nearly 20,000 cattle this year alone. We know that despite the strict controls we already have in place to prevent its spread, we won't get on top of this terrible disease until we deal with the infection in wildlife as well as in cattle.
That's the clear lesson I saw first hand in Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the USA, where they have had great success in tackling the disease already.
We have to use every tool in the box because TB is so difficult to eradicate and it is spreading rapidly.
Along with other measures such as tighter cattle movement controls, better bio-security on farms, and the development of workable badger and cattle vaccines, culling forms a key part of our strategy to eradicate this terrible disease over the next 25 years.
The pilot in Gloucestershire is another step towards halting the spread of bovine TB, but we must carry on doing everything we can.
My department is working tirelessly with the farming industry, scientists and vets to tackle this disease.
Together we can achieve healthy cattle and healthy wildlife, and ensure the British cattle industry has a future.
W HY the Trust believes there is an alternative to the cull, by Roger Mortlock, CEO of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust
THE news that the Gloucestershire badger cull had missed its target was no surprise.
At the Wildlife Trust we believe there has been too much of a focus on the pilot culls and not enough attention given to exploring other tools to tackle this devastating disease.
We work with the farming community every day so we know how hard this disease can hit.
All around the county farming families, many of whom have a passion for wildlife, have seen their livelihoods threatened by Bovine TB.
There is no question that we need to take action, but is continuing a cull that simply isn't working the best way forward?
We think that a single focus on continuing with the roll-out of a culling programme overlooks the merits of other solutions.
There aren't many solutions to tackle this disease with firm scientific backing, but badger vaccination is one of them.
In Gloucestershire, we were the first non-Government organisation in the country to pioneer badger vaccination – and we want to continue.
Next week we'll launch an appeal to ask Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust members to support our ambitions to expand our programme of badger vaccination in the wider countryside.
We know that badger vaccination can significantly reduce the disease in badgers. In a scientific field study, vaccination resulted in a reduction of 74 per cent in the incidence of badgers testing positive for bTB.
In comparison, culling trials have shown that shooting 70 per cent of wild badgers could reduce bTB cases by 12 to 23 per cent over nine years – and may even increase cases of bTB on the outskirts of the zones.
In Gloucestershire, the removal of at least 70 per cent of the estimated badger population has not been achieved: 708 badgers were killed, representing just over 30 per cent of the estimated local badger population of 2,350.
Estimates of the badger population in each pilot area have been significantly reduced twice and still the pilot culls have failed to meet the conditions set out in government guidance.
Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust believes this failure to meet required targets should lead the Government to rethink its strategy for tackling Bovine TB.
Culling is not the only answer.