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Bovine TB: The case against culling badgers

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screen-shot-2016-11-29-at-12-28-08IN 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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Man denies £7,000 burglary

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A MAN from West Sussex has today denied carrying out a £7,000 burglary in Lampeter.

Kurtis Poat, aged 23, appeared at Swansea Crown Court for a plea and trial preparation hearing before Judge Paul Thomas.

Poat, of Osborne Crescent, Chichester, denied breaking into a house in Nantyglyn, Cwmann, in May, 2017, and stealing a tin containing £7,000 in cash.

Poat faces a two day trial scheduled to begin on April 11 and was granted bail until then.

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Campaigners urge air gun licensing following cat shootings

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CATS PROTECTION is urging the UK’s cat lovers to join a call on the Westminster government to introduce air gun licensing in Wales and England, following in the footsteps of Scotland and Northern Ireland where it is illegal to own air weapons without licence.

The government is currently holding a public consultation into air weapon regulation, including licensing, which closes on February 6, making this the ideal time for cat lovers to make their voices heard by sending an e-mail to the Home Office.

To take part people should visit www.cats.org.uk/airgunsconsultation where they can adapt and send the e-mail. People can also watch a video showing some of the feline victims of air gun shootings, which some may find upsetting.

Victims of air gun shootings include Jalapeno, a black-and-white cat from Bridgend who was shot in the eye, and Chaos, a black-and-white cat from South Wales who was shot between her eyes, shattering the bones in her nose.

Luckily both Jalapeno and Chaos survived their injuries after receiving emergency veterinary care.

However, in March 2017, a cat from Barry was fatally shot, as was a cat from Llanell in August 2017.

“Shocking air gun attacks like the ones on Jalapeno and Chaos are by no means rare,” explains Jacqui Cuff, Cats Protection’s Head of Advocacy & Government Relations.

“Our monitoring of UK press reports shows that three cats are killed or injured by an air gun each week and this is likely to be an underestimate because most attacks are never witnessed or reported. Worse still, over 90% of these shootings take place in Wales and England where it is legal for anyone over 18 to purchase an air gun and ammunition without the need for a licence.

“These attacks cause immense pain and suffering to cats as well as anguish for their owners and fear in their local communities for the safety of people and pets.”

Cats Protection believes that if licensing were introduced, it would be easier to track down culprits who use these weapons to inflict harm on cats.

The charity wants to ensure that cats in Wales and England are fully protected. Those who have a legitimate reason to purchase, possess and use an air gun will be able to retain ownership and would simply need to apply for a licence.

Jacqui added: “Last year over 90,000 people signed an online and paper Cats Protection petition calling for the licensing of air guns in Wales and England, showing the depth of public feeling on the issue. Our hope is that as many people as possible email the government in support of air gun licensing so that we can make the whole of the UK a safer place for cats, animals and human beings.”

Cats Protection is the UK’s leading feline welfare charity and helps around 190,000 cats each year through a national network of over 250 volunteer-run branches and 34 centres.

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Police crack down on drink and drug driving

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NEARLY 100 people were arrested by Dyfed-Powys Police for drink and drug driving in December, as a result of the All Wales Christmas Anti Drink and Drug Drive Campaign.

The month-long operation against driving under the influence ran from Friday, December 1, and police forces across the country used intelligence-led tactics and local knowledge of hotspots to detect people driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol over the festive period.

98 people were arrested by Dyfed-Powys Police.

Supt. Huw Meredith, Specialist Operations, said: “We adopt a proactive, targeted and intelligence-led approach to drink and drug driving, using specialist Roads Policing resources and response officers.

“The number of arrests indicates that sadly some are prepared to risk the lives of others and themselves by driving under the influence of drink or drugs.

“Our message is the same all year round – don’t drink/take drugs and drive.”

In 2017 Dyfed-Powys Police arrested 452 people for drink and drug driving.

Operation Snap also launched in December, allowing members of the public throughout Wales to submit footage and images showing traffic offences being committed – from driving dangerously or carelessly to contravening solid white lines, using a mobile phone while driving or ignoring traffic lights.

To submit footage to any of the four Welsh Police Forces, visit https://gosafesnap.wales/ or https://gosafesnap.cymru.

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