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Paterson confirms no badger cull roll out this year

Defra Secretary Owen Paterson has confirmed there will be no further roll out of badger culling in England this year, although he has not ruled out new areas becoming licensed in future, once the lessons from the autumn pilots have been learned.

Mr Paterson told the House of Commons today that culling in Somerset and Gloucestershire will continue this year with changes made, based on the advice of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) set up to monitor last year’s pilots, to improve the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of the policy.

 

But he said there would be no further roll out until these changes had been implemented, dashing hopes of an extension to Dorset this year.

 

The Defra Secretary said the Government would ‘look to a further roll out’ once the technique of culling, using the IEP’s lessons, had been ‘perfected’

 

Mr Paterson also announced a proposed new badger vaccination policy in the edges of the infected areas, plus a strengthening of cattle TB and biosecurity measures, as he unveiled Defra’s 25-year TB eradication policy for England.

 

He said the vaccination policy would create a ‘buffer zone of immunity’ to help stop the disease spreading between the heavily infected and relatively clean areas, stressing that badger vaccination was of only limited benefit in areas where a high proportion of badgers were infected.

 

He added that Defra was investing £24.6m in developing effective TB vaccines and designing large scale field trials of a cattle vaccine.

 

The Defra Secretary’s plans to roll out the badger cull to new areas were effectively scuppered by by the findings of the IEP, also published today.

 

The IEP found that the pilots fell well short of their targets for both humaneness, with up to 23 per cent found to have taken longer than the five minute limit to die, and effectiveness, with less than 50 per cent of estimated badger numbers killed in both pilot areas.

 

“Current evidence suggests that culling badgers over a 6-week period by shooting, or by shooting and cage trapping, fails to meet the criteria of effectiveness set out by Defra,” the report concluded, adding that it was ‘concerned about the potential for suffering’ its date on humaneness implied.

 

Its core conclusion opened up the possibility of wider roll out but only subject to significant changes: “If culling is continued in the pilot areas, or in the event of roll-out to additional areas, standards of effectiveness and humaneness must be improved,” the report stated.

 

Mr Paterson said the pilots showed, ‘in the majority of cases, shooting was accurate and can be a humane control method with minimal times to death’ but the panel made recommendations ‘for improving the overall standards of accuracy and field craft of contractors, including training and assessment’.

 

On effectiveness, he acknowledged that the culls ‘did not make as much progress as we hoped’.

 

“The second year of culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset will start with the panel’s recommended improvements in place,” he said.

 

“We know that there are many farming communities in other parts of England that want badger culls to help combat TB. I hope they will understand that we need to put these changes into practice before we roll out the culling programme to other areas.”

Improvements

Improvements to the pilot culls will include more extensive training for contractors carrying out the cull, better planning by the licensed companies to ensure culling is spread evenly across all land available and better data collection to assess progress.

 

The changes being introduced will help increase the effectiveness of the culls by removing more badgers in a safe and humane way, Mr Paterson said.

 

There will be a trial of a new service in Somerset and Gloucestershire to provide farmers with bespoke advice on how to better protect their farms from disease. This service will be available to all farmers within the licensed cull areas.

 

Mr Paterson said: “The four year culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire are pilots and we always expected to learn lessons from them.

 

“It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better.”

 

Later, he added: “There are clear lessons to be learned from the panel report, and clear lessons in practical terms that we learned from the cull companies, so sensibly we are continuing with the existing two pilots so we can perfect this system of removing diseased wildlife.

 

Once we are happy we have got that system perfected, we will look to a further roll-out.”

 

Mr Paterson said the strategy aimed to make England TB free by 2038 with ‘healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers’. He said it contained all the tools needed to tackle the disease but would not work without addressing the spread in wildlife.

 

He again made it clear he sees badger culling a central element of any future strategy to control bovine TB in England, frequently pointing to the success of wildlife culling policies to tackle the disease in countries like Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and the US.

 

“Where there is a reservoir of disease in wildlife, tackling TB will require long-term solutions and considerable national resolve. We are clear that culling needs to be part of the answer as there is no other satisfactory solution available at the moment.

 

“I intend to pursue policies that will reverse the trend well before the end of this decade, so we need a control and eradication strategy with these clear aims at its heart. It must be dynamic, tailored to the sources of disease and the potential for eliminating it. It must adapt as new tools become available,” he said.

 

Defra’s TB Eradication Advisory Group began discussions on removing the grazing option on Approved Finishing Units.

Opposition

There has also been growing political opposition to the roll out, as highlighted by a recent vote in the House of Commons. But more significantly, Mr Paterson has faced a battle to get Cabinet support for the plan.

 

While Prime Minister David Cameron has previously been supportive of the policy, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is understood to be one of the senior figures in Government opposed to the policy.

 

While, more than 30 areas have submitted ‘expressions of interest’ to Natural England about becoming future cull areas, it emerged that, with time running out to license new areas this year, only a handful of areas where plans were already well in progress were in the running to become new areas this year.

 

This appeared to be narrowed down to just one possible area, Dorset, which was prepared as a reserve pilot cull area last year, but even that is now on hold, at least until 2015.

Comprehensive plan

Mr Paterson insisted the strategy to eradicate TB in England by 2038, which follows the publication of a comprehensive draft document last summer, was about much more than badger culling.

 

Other key strands include:

  • Offering grant funding for private badger vaccination projects in the edge areas aiming to increase TB immunity in uninfected badgers and reduce the spread of the disease. Defra will provide match-funding for successful applicants.
  • Continuing to strengthen cattle movement controls and the TB testing regime.
  • Improving biosecurity by helping farmers understand the disease risk of cattle they buy.
  • Continuing to invest in development of a new vaccine for cattle which could be field tested next year, and an oral badger vaccine which we would look to have available for use by 2019.

As outlined in last year’s draft strategy, three bTB management regions known as the High Risk Area, Low Risk Area and the Edge area will be established. A range of measures will be applied to control the disease within each zone according to the risk.

 

Shadow Defra Secretary Maria Eagle taunted Mr Paterson OP over his ‘humiliating climb down’ over the badger cull roll out but said he should have gone further and ditched the ‘disastrous policy altogether.

 

Accusing Mr Paterson of ‘ignoring the will of the House’, She said: “Consistent with his inept handling of this shambles, he has put prejudice before science, secrecy before transparency, conflict before consensus and posturing before good policy.”

 

“What he’s announced now is simply open season on the badgers in the culling areas,” she said.

 


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Key findings of the Independent Expert Panel report

The IEP, chaired by Professor Ranald Monroe, was appointed to monitor the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of badger culling using controlled shooting in the two pilot areas. It monitored the operations in Somerset and Gloucestershire over the original six-week periods last autumn.

 

Key findings in the IEP report, published on Thursday, include:

 

Effectiveness

  • During the six-week pilots, 865 badgers were removed from the Somerset pilot area and 708 from the Gloucestershire area using a combination of controlled shooting and caged trapping.
  • Controlled shooting in conjunction with cage trapping, over the 6-week period of the pilot culls, failed to remove at least 70 per cent of the pre-cull badger population from either pilot area.
  • It is extremely likely (95 per cent confidence limit) that controlled shooting alone removed less than 24.8 per cent of the badgers in Somerset and less than 37.1 per cent of the badgers in Gloucestershire.
  • It is extremely likely that combined shooting and cage trapping removed less than 48.1 per cent of the badgers in Somerset and less than 39.1 per cent of the badgers in Gloucestershire.
  • We have high confidence that variation in contractor effort was a contributory factor to the failure to meet the 70 per cent removal targets, but we do not know whether this was due to limited contractor effort, low badger numbers or protestor activity.
  • Caged trapping used on a ‘large scale’ in both areas (more than half of badgers removed in Somerset using cage traps) meant the effectiveness of controlled shooting was more difficult to assess and communicate.
  • There was uncertainty over the pre-cull estimates of badger numbers, including the possibility they were skewed by protestor activity.

Humaneness

  • Observers accompanied 106 Contractors, from the total of 130 available, into the field on 218 occasions. The behaviour of 88 badgers, during controlled shooting by 57 different contractors using rifles, was observed and recorded using thermal imaging equipment.
  • The IEP is 95 per cent confident the number of badgers estimated as taking more than 5 minutes to die exceeded the 5 per cent threshold it suggested.
  • The two most reliable approaches suggest that between 7.4 and 22.8 per cent of badgers were still alive after 5 minutes.
  • It is extremely likely that up to 52 per cent of badgers would have died rapidly, within 10 seconds of being shot.
  • In those animals that were shot at and observed continually, of 69 badgers, 68 died in 66 seconds or less, while a single animal had an ‘extended time to death of 13 min 43 s’.
  • Nine badgers escaped after being shot and their carcasses were subsequently found. Seven of these badgers were found dead in less than 9 min 30 s. Two others were not found dead until more than 60 min after the shots were fired but were considered ‘unlikely to have suffered marked pain’.
  • 10 badgers escaped after being shot and were not found. At least three of these were wounded but uncertainty exists as to whether the remaining seven animals escaped unhurt, were non-fatally wounded or died later from firearm wounds.
  • It is extremely likely that less than 45 per cent of badgers were shot in the target area identified in the Best Practice Guidance.

Safety

  • In light of the police reports we are confident that controlled shooting, when carried out in accordance with Best Practice Guidance, poses no threat to public safety even in the presence of local protest.
  • There were a small number of occasions when Best Practice Guidance relating to shooting was not followed but they did not result in reportable incidents and were not the subject of police action.
  • Incidents involving confrontation between cull operators and protestors did have potential safety implications for both sides and in some cases necessitated a police response.
  • It is clear that a number of Contractors failed to follow Best Practice Guidance in relation to carcass handling and bio-security.

Lessons for cull roll out

  • If culling is continued in the pilot areas, or in the event of roll-out to additional areas, standards of effectiveness and humaneness must be improved.
  • Steps should be taken to reduce the number of badgers that may take more than 5 minutes to die after being shot at, including improving the accuracy of shooting and minimising the number of badgers able to take refuge in cover or a sett after being wounded.
  • If shooting alone is used to control badgers, pre-cull targets may not be necessary, since we have high confidence that shooting alone over a 6-week period would be insufficient to remove 95 per cent of the badger population.
  • If shooting is combined with other forms of badger culling, then initial population estimates and targets should be used but the imprecision and potential inaccuracy of these should be recognised.
  • There needs to be closer monitoring of adherence of the Contractors to all of the conditions under which culling licences were granted.
  • Thermal imaging equipment should be used more widely, to assist in locating shot badgers.
  • Only shooters who have demonstrated a high standard of marksmanship in the field, and who have a good knowledge of badger behaviour, should be licensed.
  • Natural England should adopt procedures to allow it to be confident that 70 per cent of land is covered by cage trapping and/or shooting during the period of control.
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