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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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Return of Walk and Talk group for Dementia Action Week

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THE PEMBROKESHIRE Walk and Talk Group will make its return next week, coinciding with Dementia Action Week which runs from May 17-24.

Several events are being held across Pembrokeshire and the UK and PAVS has announced two Walk and Talk sessions.

One will be held in the South of the County in Begelly on Wednesday, May 19, and one in the North of the County in Newport on Thursday, May 20.

Walk and Talk is a dementia supportive group. The group provides the opportunity to socialise, improve your physical and mental wellbeing and at the same time enjoy the wonderful Pembrokeshire scenery. There will be walk and talk groups every week starting from next week.

Places are limited and will be on a first come first served basis,  to book a place on these walks please contact Cherry Evans on 07849 086009 or email cherry.evans@pavs.org.uk

Dementia Action Week aims to promote and make people aware that with the right support, people living with dementia can live a good quality of life doing what matters most to them for as long as possible.

One in fourteen people over the age of 65 are living with Dementia and approximately 42,000 people in Wales have Dementia. 65% of people living with dementia are women and 35% men

The covid-19 pandemic meant that many groups and clubs had to shut down and that has made things difficult for those people living with dementia.

People were left isolated and feeling lonely but thanks to modern technology they have been able to keep many in contact with those groups and their loved ones.

Throughout Dementia Action Week there will be daily interviews on the radio station Pure West Radio with lots of information about the activities and points of reference for support across Pembrokeshire.

These daily interviews will cover everything from diagnosing dementia, support, carers perspectives and even the power of music. You can listen to these each day at 11.15am Monday to Friday and at 2.15pm on Saturday and Sunday

If you fancy trying out a ‘tea and natter’ session on Zoom on Tuesday, May 18, at 2.30pm please contact Cherry Evans on 07849 086009 or email cherry.evans@pavs.org.uk

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Cllr Mike James is new Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council

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PEMBROKESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL has a new Chairman.

Cllr Mike James became Chairman at the virtual Annual Meeting of Council today (Friday, May 14) following an extended period as Vice Chairman due to the Covid-19 situation.

Cllr James, who represents St Dogmaels, moves into the Chairman’s seat vacated by Cllr Simon Hancock.

Cllr Pat Davies was appointed Vice-Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council.

At the same meeting Cllr Hancock was appointed Presiding Member for the coming year.

Cllr James joined Pembrokeshire County Council in 2010 and has previously served as Chairman of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority and Chairman of National Park Wales.

Cllr James said: “I feel very privileged to be appointed Chairman of Pembrokeshire County Council.

“I always try to achieve the best in my life and this is right up there at the top.

“I hope I can achieve the high standard set by Councillors who have been Chairman before me. Councillor Simon Hancock most certainly accomplished that standard.”

Cllr James is married to Sian and they have two daughters, Fern James and Rhiannon Lloyd.

Born and bred in St Dogmaels, Cllr James attended Ysgol Llandudoch and Ysgol Uwchradd Aberteifi.

He worked for 32 years at Slimma/Dewhirst Cardigan and for four years as an LSA in Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn.

Cllr James has also served as Clerk to St Dogmaels Community Council, as the Carers Champion for Pembrokeshire County Council and as a representative on numerous other committees and sub-committees.

A member of Cardigan Rugby Club Male Voice Choir, Cllr James also sits on the Dyfed-Powys Police and Crime Panel.

Cllr James added: “The last 14 months have not been easy for many people. I hope there is a light at the end of a long tunnel where we can meet and speak to loved ones again.

“I am a people’s person and I hope, if I am allowed, to have the opportunity to meet and talk to as many residents in Pembrokeshire as possible.”

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New international travel rules for Wales confirmed by First Minister

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International travel will restart for people in Wales from Monday 17 May, the Welsh Government has confirmed today.

As part of changes to Wales’ coronavirus regulations, people living in Wales will be able to travel to some overseas destinations without the need to quarantine on their return.

But additional safeguards will be put in place to help prevent new cases of coronavirus being imported into Wales.

A traffic lights system, aligned with England and Scotland, will be introduced. Countries will be classified as green, amber and red, depending on their rates of coronavirus.

Mandatory quarantine is in place for all people returning to the UK from countries on the amber and red lists. All people returning from overseas travel must have a PCR test.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said:

 “Wales, like other parts of the UK, will be restarting international travel. But protecting people’s health continues to be our top priority and we want to do everything we can to prevent coronavirus from being re-imported into Wales.

 “This will not be like travel in the past. Everyone travelling abroad will have to have a test when they come home and for many people, they will need to quarantine when they get home. There are significant fines in place for those who do not follow the legal requirements.

“Some countries are not yet opening up travel to people from the UK. It’s my strong advice that this is the year to stay at home and enjoy all that Wales has to offer.”

Under the international travel rules:

• People arriving from green-list countries are not required to quarantine on their return to Wales, but they must book and pay for a mandatory PCR test on or before day two of their return. All travellers and members of their household will also be reminded about the availability of additional lateral flow tests to continue to monitor their health.

• People arriving from amber-list countries are required to quarantine for 10 days at home on their return. This is a legal requirement. They are also required to book and pay for mandatory PCR tests on day two and on day eight. Unlike in England, Wales does not operate a test-to-release scheme where an additional test can be taken on day five to reduce the period of quarantine. This is because some 30% of people who develop Covid-19 do so after day five.

• People arriving from countries on the red list are required to quarantine for a full 10 days on arrival in the UK at a designated UK port in a government-managed facility – a ‘covid hotel’ – at their own cost, starting from £1,750 per person. All UK entry points for arrivals from red-list countries are in England and Scotland, which means Welsh residents returning from those countries will need to quarantine outside Wales. Travellers are also required to book and pay for mandatory PCR tests on day two and day eight.

All those who do not follow the rules for red-list countries face fixed notice penalties of £10,000.

Welsh residents must also consult the requirements for visitors for any country they plan to travel to. Restrictions may be in place, including proof of vaccination, tests, quarantine and reasons for entry.

Vaccination status certificates will be available for people in Wales who have had two doses of their vaccination and need to urgently travel to a country that requires covid vaccination proof from Monday 24 May.

The First Minister added:

“We call on people to think about whether they need to travel overseas at this time. We should be cautious about going abroad in light of the ongoing risk of coronavirus and the presence of variants of concern in many countries.

“My clear message to everyone is make Wales your destination of choice this year.”

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