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Bovine TB is above all, about cattle and their biosecurity. Happy cows in England's beautiful Peak District. Photo: Rick Harrison via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
Bovine TB is above all, about cattle and their biosecurity. Happy cows in England's beautiful Peak District. Photo: Rick Harrison via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA).
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The NFU's dishonesty over badger culling

Jay Tiernan & Lesley Docksey

22nd August 2015

As they argue for an extended and intensified badger cull, some farmers have been making extravagant and improbable claims about giant badgers frolicking with their cattle in the sunshine, write Jay Tiernan & Lesley Docksey. But despite holding office in the NFU, they display astonishing negligence by failing to adopt the most elementary bio-security measures advised by Defra to keep their cattle TB free.

No attempt had been made to prevent wildlife entering calf pens, clearly visible from the public road. Since neither past nor present Dorset NFU Chairmen has adopted Defra's simplest recommendations it suggests they don't believe badgers spread TB.

The unscientific badger culls will soon see a third year of killing in Somerset and Gloucestershire, with the government and the NFU insisting it must be done because badgers infect cattle with bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

All farms with an outbreak of bTB are placed under restrictions including cattle movement controls.

Coming on top of the costs and upset of TB testing, restrictions cost farmers money. They are unpopular, but they work.

Despite the failure of the 2013-14 culls, and ignoring majority scientific opinion that supports cattle rather than wildlife controls, it seems that the culling will extend to Dorset, the NFU having announced it has submitted a formal request for licences to cull there.

On becoming Chair of the Dorset branch of the NFU in 2012, farmer Paul Gould immediately called for a badger cull, based on exaggerated claims of the connection between badgers and bTB. His successor Trevor Cligg carried on the disinformation campaign to persuade Dorset how necessary a badger cull is.

Factual honesty has been abandoned.

In May Cligg said bTB was "rife" in Dorset. In July on Radio Solent he said that "there are significant levels of TB in Dorset's badgers." No studies have been done that support this. Dorset's badger vaccinators confirm they have never seen any diseased badgers, and countrywide there has only been one incident of vaccinators calling out a vet - for a badger with a broken leg,

Will farmers doubt Cligg? Not if they believe what one farmer recently stated as a fact: that you know if there are infected badgers living in a sett because "their lavatories are outside". But all occupied badger setts have their latrines close by, badgers being clean animals that won't dirty their living space. Are humans judged diseased because we use lavatories?

Cligg also claimed that the rate of increase in bovine TB in Dorset is worse than anywhere else in the country. Clearly Defra's statistics for Dorset are not good enough. They show that the number of bTB tests on cattle has almost doubled since 2008.

Between January 2012 and December 2014:

  • new incidents of bTB have dropped by 12%
  • herds under restriction have dropped by 13%
  • the number of TB-infected cattle slaughtered dropped by 37.25%
  • of the 31,733 infected cattle slaughtered last year, Dorset accounted for a tiny 2.3%.


All this with no badger-cull. Annual testing and cattle movement controls that prevent the disease spreading are working. Such methods almost eradicated bTB in the 1960s. It can be done again.

Those are the facts. Now for the lies.

Cligg and Gould, assisted by NFU Chairman Meurig Raymond, have been ramping up the disinformation for some time. Local media have been full of sob stories about the bTB outbreak on Gould's farm.

Gould is now in charge of organising the Dorset cull.

Having noticed the statements made by the NFU, Stop the Cull decided to test the facts behind Gould's claims, made last year, about his infected cattle. To quote:

"'These cows were grazing in a field that has no other cattle nearby. But we have badgers on the farm. There is a sett 50 yards that way', Gould points across the yard. 'And there is around 100 yards of badger sett in that hedge.'"

His son, Andrew revealed that as he rounded up the young heifers for their TB test two badgers were running around the cows' feet. An unlikely story, badgers not known for running around cattle, in the daylight and in the presence of humans. Meurig Raymond pitched in:

"The terrible situation Paul finds himself in reinforces the need for action to be taken on all fronts to tackle bovine TB ... This disease has come from one place - and one place only."

Stop the Cull used the new bTB mapping website to see if Mr Gould was still struggling with bTB. Legally unable to kill the badgers that were "running round his heifers' feet", by his and Raymond's own logic he surely would be.

What they found was surprising. Mr Gould's herd tested clear of bTB just 6 months after having the infected cattle killed, and have remained disease-free.

So cattle controls do stop the re-infection of bTB.

But where did the disease come from? According to the NFU it could only be badgers. Further research showed that a neighbouring farm's herd had gone down with the disease just months before (also now clear without badger culling). So should we blame badgers? Stop the Cull took a closer look at an aerial photograph and were surprised again:

The neighbouring farm's breakdown was now significant. The fields his cattle use are only separated from Gould's cattle by a hedge. A gap in the hedge line between the fields may be a water trough; the signs are that the neighbour's cattle are going to that gap frequently. Whether the gap is a trough or a wire fence, it is a place where the two herds have face-to-face contact, the most common way of passing on tuberculosis.

Also, local information suggests that, despite the bTB outbreak, biosecurity measures are still lacking on Gould's farm, and the neighbour's beef cattle are currently in a field adjoining Gould's dairy cattle.

On such evidence, Stop the Cull feel that Gould and Raymond are being dishonest. And they ask: as there was an obvious local non-badger source of infection, will they now concede that killing badgers is a waste of time? Or will they carry on lying, hoping to convince people that it's not down to bad farming practice but the fault of the badgers?

So there you have it. Total disregard for the scientific data and official statistics; at best, wild unsubstantiated claims; at worst, NFU's downright lies. And all because blaming wildlife is easier than letting better farming practices, testing and cattle controls sort out a very real problem.

Does the NFU really believe badgers are responsible?

And what of all those measures that can reduce bTB, like annual testing, strict bio-security on farms and markets, and strict cattle movement controls? These would include fencing off badger setts, preventing wildlife access to farm buildings, and double-fencing fields to prevent physical contact between cattle.

How good are Paul Gould and Trevor Cligg at implementing the bio-security measures as advised by Defra? Sarah King from Badger Guardians pointed to standards of bio-security on Paul Gould's farm.

"Mr Gould said on TV he'd done everything possible to keep badgers away from his cows. But this isn't correct. Some of his cattle sheds are open to any wildlife which wants to wander in and badger setts on his farm haven't been fenced off. He's ignoring Defra's key recommendations for minimising contact between badgers and cattle."

And her colleague Andy Hamilton confirmed cattle belonging to Gould's neighbour were still using fields next to Gould's, and that no double fencing had been installed. He added that he had walked past Trevor Cligg's farm just over a month ago.

"No attempt had been made to prevent wildlife entering calf pens, clearly visible from the public road. Since neither past nor present Dorset NFU Chairmen has adopted Defra's simplest recommendations it suggests they don't believe badgers spread TB."

 


 

Jay Tiernan is a prominent Hunt Saboteur in the West Country, and an active member of Stop the Cull. He has been in court for confronting contracted gunmen acting illegally during the Somerset badger culls.

Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer who writes for The Ecologist and other media on the badger cull and other environmental topics.

 

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