Cattle grazing near Swanage, Dorset, July 2015. Photo: Claire Cox via Flickr (CC BY-ND).
The case for the Dorset badger cull
Mel Squires / NFU
31st August 2015
The government is right to extend the badger cull into Dorset, writes Mel Squires in this 'right of reply' article. While culling badgers is only part of the solution of bovine TB, along with annual TB testing of cattle and badger vaccination, it is a necessary measure in areas of high risk.
Bovine TB is the enemy here, not badgers. If there was another way of dealing with the disease in badgers we'd use it. But there isn't and we cannot afford to wait until there is.
A recent article on The Ecologist went to great efforts to show how bovine TB in Dorset had fallen significantly since the start of 2012, quoting Defra statistics to back this up.
These figures were then used as justification for saying that a badger cull wasn't needed in the county.
Defra's most recent TB statistics actually show that the number of new herds being affected by the disease each year has remained largely unchanged over the past three years as has the percentage of the county's herds that have been under movement restrictions because of bTB at the end of each year.
Let's look at the figures. According to Defra's figures, the number of cattle herds registered in Dorset has fallen, from 1,409 in 2012, to 1,400 in 2013, to 1,285 in 2014.
During the same period the number of new herd incidents of bovine TB has remained roughly the same - 162 in 2012, 168 in 2013, and 167 last year.
In terms of the percentage of the total number of registered herds, these figures actually represent a gradual increase year-on-year - 11.5% in 2012, 12% in 2013, and 13% in 2014.
Despite appearances, the situation is not improving
Now let's look at the number of herds under movement restriction because of bovine TB in the county at the end of each of the last three years. There were 210 herds under restriction at the end of 2012, 200 in 2013 and 189 in 2014. However, while the number of herds under restriction has fallen so has the total number of registered herds.
So this doesn't automatically mean the overall situation has improved. In fact, taken as a percentage of the total number of registered herd the situation has actually remained virtually static - around 15% of herds in 2012, 14.3% of herds in 2013, and 15% of herds again in 2014.
In basic terms, Defra's figures show that around one in seven of Dorset's cattle herds have been under movement restrictions for bovine TB at the end of each of the last three years. No one can say that these figures show the situation is improving dramatically or that bovine TB isn't having a significant impact in the county.
The number of cattle slaughtered in Dorset as a result of bovine TB has fallen year-on-year - from 1,192 in 2012, to 901 in 2013, to 748 last year. This news will be welcomed by everyone, not least the farmers in the county who are seeing fewer of their cattle taken off farm before their time because of this terrible disease.
But in itself this cannot be taken as evidence that the underlying infection problem is being dealt with - especially when Defra's own herd figures show this isn't the case.
Badger culling is not needed everywhere, but it is part of the solution
No one has ever said that badger culling alone will solve the problem of bovine TB. Just like no one has ever said that badger culling needs to be rolled out across the whole country. The NFU has always said every available option needs to be used so this disease can be tackled on all fronts at the same time.
We believe the Government's 25-year TB eradication strategy - the first comprehensive plan of its kind to tackle the disease in England - gives us the best chance of controlling and eradicating the disease and we want to see it implemented in full as quickly as possible.
The NFU supports annual TB testing in high risk areas like Dorset; it supports cattle movement controls that minimise the chance of disease spread while allowing farm businesses to continue to operate viably; it supports badger vaccination in areas on the edge of the disease spread to help stop it spreading further.
But it also supports badger culling in areas where bovine TB is endemic to stop the cycle of reinfection occurring. You have to deal with all the disease reservoirs to stand any realistic chance of eradicating it.
Bovine TB is the enemy here, not badgers. If there was another way of dealing with the disease in badgers we'd use it. But there isn't and we cannot afford to wait until there is. Tens of thousands of cattle are slaughtered every year because of it. Previous trials have shown culling can have a positive impact on disease control in areas where the disease is endemic.
That is why the pilot has to be rolled out to Dorset - and why we believe the county's farmers will benefit from it in its fight against bovine TB.
Mel Squires is the NFU's South West Regional Director.
Original article: 'The NFU's dishonesty over badger culling' by Jay Tiernan & Lesley Docksey.
Also on The Ecologist: 'Brian May: I'll take Dorset badger cull to the High Court'.
Editor's note: This a 'right of reply' article published in the interests of open debate on matters of public interest.
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