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Bovine TB: The case against culling badgers

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screen-shot-2016-11-22-at-12-37-05IN RECENT weeks, The Herald has featured in-depth articles on Welsh Government policy towards bovine TB, its eradication and, inevitably, the role of badgers in the transmission and control of the disease.

On October 21, we reported that Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths had announced a ‘consultation’ on proposals for tackling the problem that blights Welsh agriculture both economically and psychologically. The Welsh Government’s proposals for a new regional approach to bovine TB seemed to rule out the sort of badger cull that is taking place in England where, in September, the British Government extended the culling of badgers to seven new areas. The experience of a pilot programme in Northern Ireland was stated as an option to be considered in Wales, however. In that pilot, badgers were trapped in cages and infected animals were killed humanely. The proposed new approach in Wales follows a trial badger vaccination programme.

Global shortage of the vaccine meant that the programme was suspended at the end of 2015. Some critics condemned this as an administrative failure on the part of the Welsh Labour Government because it did not secure sufficient stocks of vaccine before commencing the trails. By contrast, a report by the Animal and Plant Health Agency for the Welsh Government was interpreted by the Badger Trust as heralding the trial’s success. The Badger Trust is a non-profit organisation working for the protection of the European badgers (Meles meles) that are indigenous to Britain.

The Welsh Government’s new approach will see low, intermediate and high TB areas designated across Wales. Designation will be based on the incidence of bovine TB in an area and thence define a specific approach to tackling the disease therein. The consultation encompasses measures to be applied to protect low TB areas and reduce disease in intermediate and high TB areas. In high TB areas, the government will ‘explore and develop ways to break the transmission cycle between cattle and badgers where it can be demonstrated badgers are contributing to the problem in chronic herd breakdowns’.

Lesley Griffiths’ announcement was given a general, if cautious, welcome. Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Climate Change and Rural Affairs Simon Thomas, Mid and West AM, acknowledged it as ‘a step forward’: “It is welcome that the link between the disease in wildlife and in cattle is being recognised and that measures are being taken to address the policy vacuum that has been in place. It needs to be ensured that the measures taken are targeted, effective and humane. Recognition that a regional approach is needed to tackle the problem is welcome.

“Instances of TB infection in cattle have stayed persistently high in West Wales and is increasing in new areas in Carmarthenshire.”

For the Farmers’ Union of Wales, its President Glyn Thomas concluded that the statement ‘didn’t go as far as we hoped it might and there is a lot of detail to be worked out’. Glyn Thomas sad the FUW would be consulting its members on the proposal.

WHY HASN’T VACCINATION BEEN HAILED A SUCCESS?

In the wake of Lesley Griffiths’ announcement, Sarah Reisz from the Dyfi Badger Group wrote to the Cabinet Secretary. Sarah Reisz expressed ‘concern and disappointment’, viewing the proposals as ‘a very retrograde step’. Commenting on the Test and Vaccinate or Remove (TVR) approach, she identified it as ‘a form of ‘reactive culling’ which aims to be more selective, and involve fewer numbers of badgers killed – and thus avoid perturbation’. The problems with such a policy were many, Sarah Reisz claimed: “Indications are that killing even very few individuals from badger social groups, may well cause perturbation.” Perturbation is a term given to changes in the behaviour of badgers when populations are culled. Research led by Jon Bielby and published in a leading academic journal 2014 found that: “Small-scale culling (such as TVR) changes badgers’ behaviour in ways that risk increasing TB transmission among badgers and exacerbating cattle TB incidence rather than reducing it.”

Acknowledging that Lesley Griffiths voted against badger culling in Wales in 2009, Sarah Reisz claims that the new proposals ‘renege on the Labour Government’s previously stated position that the science does not support culling of badgers in any form as a control measure for bovine TB’. She said: “Reneging on this is unfortunately typical of the kind of politics that has led to voter disenchantment and disengagement.” In her letter, Sarah Reisz asks the Cabinet Secretary how the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of this policy will be measured. She claims that the incidence of TB in cattle, reported in The Herald as 0.4% for cattle in Wales, has ‘already declined significantly in Wales over the past four years, while vaccination of badgers has been taking place. Why, therefore, isn’t this policy being hailed as a success?’

It flies in the face of virtually all the scientific evidence, Sarah Reitz says, to keep blaming badgers for the spread of bovine TB: “The science shows repeatedly that the problem and the solutions come from cattle management, and that badger culling is a costly and unhelpful distraction. This [announcement] seriously impacts on the good name and kudos that Wales (and the Labour Party) has gained over the past few years by rejecting the discredited policy of culling in favour of vaccination. It has been shown repeatedly that culling a native wildlife species is not, and cannot be, the answer to a problem caused by our own practises, and has always had detrimental consequences for our ecology. It is morally and ecologically wrong.

“Wales has already suffered a particularly catastrophic decline in wildlife species. How can we honestly talk about ‘conservation for our children and grandchildren’ while sanctioning and encouraging a dynamic of wildlife killing?”

OUTSTANDING QUESTIONS

In Northern Ireland, the system of trapping badgers in cages and ‘humanely’ killing infected animals is a so-called TVR approach. The Republic of Ireland has been culling badgers for more than 30 years, reportedly killing over 60,000. The result is that badgers are effectively extinct over around one-third of the land area and badger populations may never recover. The Irish government started a four year vaccination programme in 2014, which will be reviewed in 2017, as they look to phase out culling. Although there has been some reduction in the incidence of bovine TB in the Republic of Ireland, it is impossible to attribute this to a single factor. The number of cattle herds has decreased significantly over the last 30 years, mainly for economic reasons. Meanwhile, similar trends in the declining incidence of bovine TB incidence have been identified in NI, which has not practised badger culling.

For readers who may be wondering why cattle are not vaccinated against TB, it is because, although a vaccine is available, it is currently banned by EU for exported animals or meat. It is possible to obtain an EU ‘derogation’ which would allow the UK to introduce a programme of cattle vaccination against bovine TB without further delay. However, critics claim that Defra have been ‘dragging their feet on this since at least 2011’ and that there is no political will for this course of action, which is opposed by UK farming unions. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has estimated that there will be no cattle vaccination until at least 2023.

Different approaches may be suitable in different locations. Many have advocated the New Zealand approach, where the main wildlife vector of the disease is the possum. The targeted cull of possums is possible in New Zealand because the animal is non-native and considered a conservation pest.

WHAT HAS CHANGED?

In common with other such groups and the Badger Trust, the Dyfi Badger Group is not against most of the government’s new proposals, which are enhanced cattle measures. Indeed, they contest that cattle measures are what has brought success so far. Groups opposed to badger culling across Wales are expected to work together on all fronts, from promoting the evidence for vaccination to taking direct action against culling. In England, groups have taken direst action with the explicit intention of increasing the cost of policing the cull. The Herald understands that vaccination costs between £400-£500 per badger, while culling is more expensive at between £6,000- £7,000. At the heart of Sarah Reisz’s letter to the Cabinet Secretary is the question: ‘What has changed?’ If vaccination was judged the best option in 2012, what new evidence makes it necessary to change that decision? Critics would claim that the reverse is true, that new evidence indicates even more strongly that no form of culling badgers is effective and that vaccination is more preferable than ever.

So, Lesley Griffiths, what has changed?

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Tragedy above Milford Haven takeaway

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DYFED POWYS POLICE has confirmed that a 20-year-old male passed away in Milford Haven last Saturday, April 17.

Police were called to the USA Fried Chicken store on Charles Street at around 1:30pm but have said there are no suspicious circumstances.

A Herald reporter was at the scene and witnessed a number of police cars and an ambulance while plain-clothed officers were also seen.

HM Coroner has been informed.

A Welsh Ambulance Service spokesperson added: “We were called to Charles Street in Milford Haven on Saturday 17 April at approximately 1.34pm to reports of a medical emergency. We attended the scene with one emergency ambulance where we assisted colleagues from the police.”

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Tavernspite School the ‘healthiest of schools despite the pandemic’

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THE STAFF, governors, parents, and of course, the children of Tavernspite Community Primary School are delighted to gain the Welsh Network of Healthy School Schemes National Quality Award for an incredible 5th time after a recent and very rigorous assessment.

The school is already well known and highly regarded for its outstanding work in developing the health and wellbeing of all members of its school community. To achieve this prestigious recognition in the midst of a pandemic is all the more impressive. 

Health and Wellbeing at the school is led by teacher, Lauren Arthur, who has done an incredible job preparing for this re-assessment and raising the profile of the Healthy Schools scheme.

The assessor Mrs Lynne Perry, enjoyed a virtual tour and presentation by Year 3 pupils who took great pleasure in proudly showing Mrs Perry all the wonderful work the school has done to ensure its children are safe, happy with high levels of emotional and physical wellbeing.

In her report, Mrs Perry wrote, ‘Tavernspite School continues to be an outstanding health promoting school. The health promoting school ethos is evident across the whole school population and it runs seamlessly throughout everything that the school does. Tavernspite School continues to give high priority to promoting and enhancing the health and well-being of the whole school community.’

The school received fantastic support from Mrs Liz Western, Senior Public Health Officer and Lead for Healthy Schools and Pre-schools, Pembrokeshire, to whom they are very grateful.

Head teacher Kevin Phelps said, ‘We were delighted to receive this award for the fifth time, particularly considering the experiences we have all been through these past twelve months. Health and wellbeing has never been so important and we are proud to be leading the way like this.’

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Joinery learner through to Screwfix Trade Apprentice of the Year Finals

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PEMBROKESHIRE COLLEGE joinery learner, Conor Ratcliff has made it through to the final ten in this year’s Screwfix Trade Apprentice of the Year competition.

Now in its seventh year, the competition celebrates the next generation of tradespeople as they start out on their career. With over 2,500 nominations, Conor was shortlisted to the top 30 where he had to deliver a video presentation to industry-leading judges and trade body representatives. Judged on professionalism, creativity, innovation, enthusiasm and knowledge of their trade, Conor impressed the judges and is now in the final 10.  

Simon Jackson, Screwfix Customer and Digital director, commented: “Every year we are amazed by the outstanding quality of entrants and, this year, we are on the lookout for apprentices who go above and beyond to succeed within their chosen trade.

“We’ve seen how this career-boosting accolade and £10,000 prize bundle helps kickstart an apprentice’s career. I’d like to wish everyone through to this stage the best of luck!”

The prize package includes everything a future tradesperson may need to start up their own business including £5,000 of tools, a £3,000 training budget and £2,000 worth of technology. The college where they study will also receive £2,000.

Conor is thrilled to have made it through to the finals and commented: “I am extremely honoured to have made it this far in the competition and I am very excited for the final event. It would be an amazing opportunity for me, if I won this competition.

“I hope it encourages more people to consider an apprenticeship in a trade, the Carpentry and Joinery department have been incredibly supportive during my studies.”

The Final is due to take place imminently where the judges will conduct an online interview with the ten finalists before selecting and announcing their overall winner.

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