Friday, August 05, 2016

Badger contact survey jumped on as evidence that culling is ineffective

Today's breaking news that badgers and cattle keep away from each other in the field and don't make contact is hardly a surprise to any farmer with cattle. 

You just don't see the two animals mixing. Yet we all know that badgers poo and pee in the fields, roll and play in the grass, take water from streams and drinking troughs if they can reach inside, visit feed stores and maize silage clamps, spreading TB as they go. And we know that the cattle will graze that grass, drink from stream, eat the silage. How long the infection is live must be known -surely someone in science has found out how long the bTb bug is viable in the meadow, and whether it can be transferred in silage, and what, if anything can kill it. 

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Today's news comes from research funded by Defra and done by ZSL, the Zoological Society of London based in London Zoo. They had collars fitted to badgers and cattle which monitored their movement and incidents when the species were within 2 metres. Why ZSL was the chosen institution is unclear, as there are many others with greater knowledge of cattle, farming and even badgers.

It comes to much the same conclusion as research done last year by AFB in N Ireland which investigated the frequency of badge/cattle contact. They too used proximity collars which they describe as new and exciting technology. They discovered that cattle interacted with each other and badgers did the same, but "at no time were badgers and cattle recorded as coming within direct close-range contact (< 2m) with each other during the study."

The Zoological Society was keen to make their research results news. As soon as it was published it was clear that it would be interpreted by badger groups as a cast iron reason to cancel further culling, and this of course has happened. The misplaced  conclusion is not helped by the opening words of the report: "Close contact between badgers and cattle may not be responsible for the transmission of bTb… " and you have to get further into the story the find out that "This suggests that transmission… is likely to occur more frequently from contamination of the two species shared environment, rather than through direct badger-cattle contact."

Any member of a badger protection society would be unable to resist drawing the conclusion, and it won't be long before we are back in the same place over TB, with no control of badgers in hot spots and a consequent increase in infection.

As expected, the conclusion of the study is for another study to be conducted. Commenting on the study, Professor Woodroffe said: “It has been known for a long time that badgers can transmit TB to cattle – but without knowing how they do it, it is hard to offer farmers advice on the most promising ways to protect their herds. Our study provides the strongest evidence yet that transmission is happening through the environment, helping to explain why controlling TB is so difficult. This work marks the first step towards identifying more effective ways to reduce transmission between badgers and cattle, and also potentially better ways to manage cattle-to-cattle transmission as well.”

"Having identified the environment as the likely location of transmission, ZSL’s scientists are now conducting the next phase of research to identify where in the environment the disease bacteria are concentrated and encountered by badgers and cattle."

Unsurprisingly, comments on the media have been considerable, and generally oppose culling. The media presence of badger protection groups has always been far greater than that of farmers, who since 2009 have had some 240,000 cattle culled - 36,000 in the last year.

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The BTb issue is by no means going away, in fact it is getting worse. I have been looking at the figures which show an increase in herds newly infected, but at a slightly slower rate than I anticipated in 2013.

The major worry is that the spread of the disease is continuing so a number of areas of low risk are now moving into a high risk category. The low risk are being tested only every 4 years, which seems hardly sufficient to monitor and control by culling the disease which appears able to move a considerable distance in that period of time.

But I'm no scientist, and frankly can't understand all the figures contained in the Defra stats .

BTb and EU agri negotiations

If the threat of BTb hitting your herd and the subsequent closing of cattle movements and loss of production isn't bad enough, the consequence on post-Brexit trade deals could make things even worse. Large rises in the numbers of cattle being slaughtered in some parts of the country - in Clwyd the number increased by 125% in the 12 months to May - there is every chance the problem will be used by EU countries to control the trade of products. New Zealand had problems with infected possums and implemented mass cullings as a prelude to agreeing overseas trade deals. While in Wales the number of herds under BTb restrictions has fallen, the has been a 41% rise in the numbers being slaughtered. 

What Practical Farm Ideas contributors have done to help

1.  Re-located all field troughs to badgers can't use them
2.  Improved and strengthened fences that are close to setts.
3.  Fenced off some sacrifice ground close to setts, and running a mower over them to keep scrub back and prevent sett from expanding
4.  Made the whole dairy unit badger proof by fencing between buildings and having badger proof gates (old pig pens with vertical bars make useful ones) that are closed at night and when there's no activity. The stockade includes silage clamps, parlour, cubicles, feed store, calving boxes etc.

The twitteraria:

Essex Badger PG ‏‪@EssexBadgers‬  4h
An important scientific study was published today which concluded that badgers avoid cattle and do NOT pass BTB... ‪ ‬

Badgergate ‏‪@Badgergate‬  4h
4 hourBenefits of ‪#badgercull‬ accrue v slowly but harmful effects, such as spreading TB more widely, happen v fast ‪ …‬

Hunt Saboteurs ‏‪@HuntSabs‬  8h
8 hours agoA wake up call that farmers should be implementing better bio-security measures and the badger cull be scrapped

(((Keith MEP)))
Verified acco ‏‪@GreenKeithMEP‬  9h
9 hours agoReport exposes the Gov't's bovine TB 'control' measures as nothing more than mass cruelty supported by bad science

Scott ‏‪@Sneekyboy‬  9h
9 hours agoDear English Peeps, please can you stop letting UK Gov shoot Badgers now we know they dont spread Bovine TB to cows

bovine tb ‏‪@bovinetb‬  Jul 27
How TB prevalence in ‪#HERDS‬ across England and Wales has changed since 1996. ‪#tbfree‬ ‪#badgercull‬ ‪#stopthecull‬

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