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Farming

The badger vaccination programme: Is it working?

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Caught in a trap: An illegally snared badger

Caught in a trap: An illegally snared badger

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT issued a press release last week hailing its success in delivering 5,000 vaccinations against Bovine TB (bTB) in the Intensive Action Area against the disease in North Pembrokeshire, South Ceredigion, and North-West Carmarthenshire.

The press release read: ‘More than 5,000 doses of badger vaccination have been administered to animals inside the Intensive Action Area (IAA) in West Wales over the past four years. We are now half way through the fourth year of the Welsh Government’s five-year badger vaccination project in parts of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, which forms part of a wider programme of work to eradicate TB from cattle in Wales.

‘The Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans, said: “Since 2010 we have introduced a number of additional measures in the IAA because it was identified as having some of the highest rates of incidence of TB in Europe.

“We are now half way through 2015’s round of the vaccination project and provisional results indicate we have successfully delivered over 5,000 doses of the vaccine in the IAA across the four years”.’

The statistics accompanying the summary were released at the same time.

The Herald delved into the data to establish what it told us about bTB rates and the effectiveness of the vaccination programme.

The history of bTB control

It is 55 years since the whole of the UK became attested on October 1, 1960. Each cattle herd was certified as being subject to regular tuberculin testing with immediate slaughter of any reactors. Progress was maintained throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The ‘clean ring strategy’ was a badger culling strategy introduced in 1982. It involved cage trapping badgers on land occupied by affected cattle herds, then on adjoining land, expanding outwards until no further infected animals were captured. It was abandoned in 1986 as being non cost-effective.

Between 1986 and 1997, the UK Government pursued a strategy in which badgers were cage-trapped and shot. However, the strategy was only piecemeal, largely because of pressure from animal charities and single-issue pressure groups that meant that only badgers on land occupied by the affected herd would be culled.

Bearing in mind current claims that culling badgers is ineffective because of the proposition that badgers would simply leave the culling area to go to a neighbouring area, the methodology adopted between 1986 and 1997 in order to prevent wider scale slaughter of badgers appears both flawed and naïve: a strategy doomed to fail, and predictably so.

Culling in other countries

In New Zealand the success of culling the principal vector for the disease, the possum, has been markedly successful.

In 1990 the proportion of TB in cattle was about 7 times greater than it was in Great Britain. However in 1997 the proportions were about equal. By 2011, the proportion in New Zealand is about 40 times less than what it is in Great Britain.

Since the early nineties, control of the principal wildlife vector, the possum has increased whilst in Great Britain since 1986 control of the principal wildlife vector, the badger, has reduced.

The method of culling in Ireland relies on the use of snares and the subsequent shooting of trapped badgers. That method, widely condemned as cruel, is expressly forbidden in the UK. The effectiveness of the range of bTB measures – including culling – adopted in Ireland has driven rates of bTB infection in herds to their lowest ever level.

Bovine TB figures have, however, also fallen in Northern Ireland, were no licensed culling has taken place. That fact has been alighted upon by those opposed to a cull as evidence of the ineffectiveness of shooting badgers in order to control bTB. However, bTB rates are still substantially higher in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland: in 2013 6.4 per cent of cattle herds tested positive in Northern Ireland compared to 3.8 per cent south of the border.

As might be ruefully observed, the validity of statistical evidence and the science deployed by those on either side of the culling debate is likely to remain subjective and views remain entrenched. Wildlife and animal charities will continue to deride culling, while those who deal with the personal and economic fallout of bTB will favour it.

The Welsh decision

It was against the background of apparent comparative success of culling in other countries that the Welsh Government decided to begin a five year vaccination trial in West Wales and worth recalling that the Welsh Government embarked upon a vaccination programme as very much a second preference.

In 2012, Welsh Labour abandoned a previous policy, formed in coalition with Plaid Cymru, which supported a badger cull and decided to pursue a policy of vaccination. In doing so, it was criticised by the then Chair of the British Veterinary Association for ignoring scientific evidence supporting a cull and accused of ‘cowardice’ in the face of a celebrity-backed campaign against the cull and pressure from animal charities.

The decision not to proceed was described as a betrayal of farmers whose herds remain affected by the reservoir of bTB in the wild badger population.

But what, it is fair to ask, is the Welsh Government’s ‘Plan B’?

What if the data suggests that vaccination is no more effective than doing nothing?

A farmer’s experience

The Herald spoke to one farmer, who provided his observations on life in the IAA on condition of strict anonymity.

The farmer told us: “My dairy herd has suffered from bTB for 12 years. In 2012, badgers began to be vaccinated in the area, along with strict cattle control.

“I, like many farmers find this to be a costly exercise which doesn’t reach the root of the problem, the over population of badgers in the area.

“The stricter cattle controls and improved biosecurity measures also brought in in the IAA looks to move the blame of bTB onto the farmers, which is unfair.

“Because of the desperation I face with losing cattle to slaughter because of bTB and falling milk prices, I am left with no alternative but to shoot badgers which are on my land. “This is a population control measure and I take no pleasure in the culling of an animal. It’s either the badger or my cattle, and for the sake of my family and my income, it’s the badger.”

Data and dates During the vaccination programme the absolute incidence of bTB has fallen markedly, with numbers of affected cattle falling. One key piece of data is not encouraging when it comes to weighing the effectiveness of the vaccination programme. In the period immediately preceding the vaccination programme the incidence bTB had fallen even more sharply.

Bovine TB cases had climbed sharply over the years to 2008/09, topping out at 29% per hundred head of cattle in the IAA that year. The rate of detected infection in the last full year in the most recent Welsh Government report (2014/15) shows that infection rates remain above where they were in 2006/2007, when they were at around 16% and that in the current control area was 8%.

After an initial increase in incidence following the introduction of interventions in the IAA, incidence has been decreasing since 2011/12. Incidence has also decreased in the Control Area (CA) in the last year, halving from 12 % to 6 %. In 2013/14, there were three times as many new bTB incidents per 100 unrestricted herds in the IAA (18 %) than in the CA (6 %,).

That means that the gap in the incidence of positive tests in the control area, where no vaccinations have been trialled, and the Intensive Action Area where they have has widened over the course of the vaccination programme. From the start of the IAA in 2010/11, and historically judging by the Welsh Government’s own data, the ratio had been around two to one. While one would expect the gap to narrow if vaccination were more effective that not vaccinating, the gap between the incidence in the IAA and the control area has widened.

We asked the Welsh Government about the issue the above analysis presented. A Welsh Government spokesperson said, “The downward trend in levels of bovine TB in the Intensive Action Area is encouraging and is broadly in line with the trend seen in other parts of Wales. We know that it may take years to fully see the benefits of some of our additional measures in the area, which includes six monthly testing and badger vaccination. Therefore it is too soon to draw any conclusions on the effectiveness of the measures in the IAA.”

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Farming

Pembrokeshire estate to auction pedigree Hereford Cattle

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A PEMBROKESHIRE estate is set to auction its herd of pedigree Hereford cattle. Nearly 150 animals from the Hean Castle Estate in Saundersfoot are listed for a forthcoming dispersal sale, prompted by a change in the estate’s farming business.

The Hean Herd, an iconic sight on the estate since its introduction in 2012, replaced the farm’s award-winning dairy enterprise. The estate’s Home Farm is also being offered for letting, either as a whole or in separate lots.

This announcement was made by Hean Castle Estate this week in a Facebook post, which followers described as “sad news”.

A spokesperson for the estate commented: “We announce with great sadness that, following a strategic review of the estate’s farming business, the decision has been taken to cease the in-hand business, resulting in the dispersal of the ‘Hean’ Herd.”

The dispersal sale of the herd will take place on the farm on Saturday, 24th August.

The estate said on Facebook:” It is with great sadness that, following a strategic review of the Estate’s farming business, the decision has been taken to cease the in-hand business resulting in the dispersal of the ‘Hean’ Herd.

“A catalogue with full details will be published in due course, however the Dispersal sale will be held on Saturday 24th August, on the farm, and will be conducted by Mr Jonny Dymond BSc (Hons) FLAA of Messrs Halls Holdings Ltd

“The sale will comprise the following lots:

– 64 Spring Calved Cows and Heifers, with Calves at foot.

– 16 In-calf Cows due 1st September onwards.

– 6 In-calf Heifers due 1st September onwards.

– 29 Spring ’23 born Heifers running with Bulls for Spring ’25 calving.

– 20 Spring ’23 born Heifers, free of the Bull.

– 12 Autumn ’23 born Heifers

– 5 Stock Bulls.

– 22 Embryos.

“The Stock Bulls, a small selection of promising Bull Calves and all the Females are registered, and the remaining Bull Calves notified, with the Hereford Cattle Society.

“The Herd is FAWL Farm Assured, High Health Certified by Biobest and has Gold Standard Gwardu BVD Certification, is accredited free of BVD & IBR, and is vaccinated against Leptospirosis and Blackleg. Tested Clear for TB 18/07/24.

“Online Bidding for the sale will be available via MartEye.

“For further information, please contact David Burnhill, Herd Manager. (07483) 150253.”

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Farming

National Grid issue safety plea of ‘look out, look up’ to Welsh farmers

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DURING Farm Safety Week (22 – 26 July) and the Royal Welsh Show (22 – 25 July), Welsh farmers are being urged to ‘look out, look up’, and stay safe around electrical equipment to avoid the risk of accidents.

Every year, National Grid Electricity Distribution – the electricity operator for South Wales, the Midlands and South West – is called to incidents in which farm vehicles have collided with overhead power lines. It is estimated that at least one agricultural accident involving overhead lines is reported every day in the UK.

One of these reports was at Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, when a harvester collided with a high voltage conductor, leaving the overhead line on the ground. After being made safe, the conductor was re-erected at an increased height to make sure farm machinery could pass safely underneath the power line. No one was injured.

At a farm in Tenby, Pembrokeshire, emergency repairs had to be carried out to overhead lines and conductors after a tractor hit an electricity pole. No one was injured.

As farm machinery continues to increase in size, the distance between equipment and nearby power lines is at risk of reducing, meaning that accidents could be more likely.

Paul Woodward, Safety Manager for National Grid Electricity Distribution, said:

“Every year, our engineers and technicians are called to incidents involving farming equipment and overhead power lines.

“Accidents involving the electricity supply can have devastating consequences, so it’s really important that the farmers ‘look out’ and ‘look up’ – particularly when working with big or heavy machinery.

“We are committed to ensuring that farm workers have the knowledge and resources they need to get home safe every day, and will continue to work with farming communities in South Wales and across the country to reduce incidents involving our power lines.”

As part of National Grid’s farm safety campaign, the operator has outlined five simple steps to ensure farmers stay safe when working close to power lines:

Never raise elevating equipment, such as spray booms, cabbage harvesters and trailer bodies, under or close to overhead power lines.
Never store or move materials under, or close to, overhead power lines, as this reduces the safe clearance distance beneath the overhead lines.
Know the maximum reach and height of any vehicle you are operating, and be vigilant when using GPS – accidents can still happen.
You cannot see electricity – the area around a fallen line, including the soil, equipment and other objects, could be live – so stay away.
If contact is made with a power line, farm workers are advised to stay in the cab and try to drive clear. If that is not possible, the driver should stay in the cab and telephone 105, only leaving the machine in an emergency. When leaving the vehicle, they should take care not to hold the machine and touch the ground at the same time, and take leaping strides so one foot is clear from the ground at all times – or ‘bunny hop’ away with both feet kept together.
Farmers are also encouraged to use the ‘What3Words’ app, which allows farmers to pinpoint the exact location of an incident. This means that network engineers can isolate the power in seconds using remote technology, therefore reducing the risk of accidents and threat to life.

National Grid will be at the Royal Welsh Show all week offering safety advice and giving out stickers to put in the cab of vehicles with a reminder of how to stay safe when working near power lines.

Farmers can find out more about National Grid’s safety advice and access additional resources at National Grid – Farming safety.

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Farming

The importance of keeping children safe on farms

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WALES Farm Safety Partnership, alongside Lantra Cymru has created a new e-learning course. ‘Children on Farms’ will give you guidance on keeping children safe on your farm during the upcoming summer holidays.

This course, taking roughly 45 minutes to complete, provides participants with the knowledge and tools to ensure a safe and enjoyable summer for the whole family.

The course covers a wide range of child safety topics on the farm, including legal responsibilities, vehicle safety (tractors, ATVs), preventing falls, and managing hazards around equipment and harmful substances. It also emphasises the importance of creating a farm safety checklist.

Kevin Thomas Lantra Wales Director said; “Lantra understand the importance of children on family farms and fully support the need for the next generation to have a keen interest on the day-to-day workings of the farm, but it must be done with safety in mind. Lantra are fully committed to farm safety, especially for children, which is why Lantra have made this course free for everyone to complete”.

This timely resource is perfect for busy farmers who want to be proactive about child safety before the summer break.

A toolkit on child safety has also been created to underline the safety of children on farms.

Farms can be a dangerous place for children. Young children need a safe play area separate from the work zones, and for older children (under 16), any visit to the work area must be planned, closely supervised by an adult that’s not working, and for educational purposes.

Everyone in a farm work place has a responsibility to protect children who are vulnerable because of their age and physical and mental immaturity.

Vehicles and machinery present the greatest risk to children and are probably the areas of farm life most attractive to older children.

Meleri Jones, Farming Connect’s Health and Safety Coordinator, says “It’s important to keep safety in mind when children are on farm – you don’t want to live with regret.”

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