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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

Local farmer sentenced for animal welfare offences

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ON JULY 10, Dylan Williams of Neuaddlwyd Uchaf, Neuaddlwyd, Ciliau Aeron appeared before magistrates at Aberystwyth Justice Centre and was sentenced for animal by-products and animal welfare offences.

Mr Williams, 47, had previously appeared at the Aberystwyth Magistrates Court where he entered pleas of guilty to the four offences brought before the court by Ceredigion County Council.

On 11 April 2018, 47 sheep carcasses in various states of decomposition were found on Mr Williams’ land, and these were accessible to live sheep and their young lambs. This formed the basis of the offence brought under The Animal By-Products Regulations which requires carcasses to be disposed of without undue delay, due to the risk to animal and public health.

The majority of the flock inspected on the day were seen with severe wool loss and irritated skin which are signs of sheep scab. Sheep scab is a debilitating condition which can lead to weight loss and thickened skin with scabs due to the intense, uncomfortable itching caused by the condition.

There were three separate offences under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, two of which were for causing unnecessary suffering to two ewes. One ewe was suffering from severe weakness due to scab infestation. Another ewe was found unconscious on the land with her intestines protruding from her flank, likely due to predation as she had also suffered from scab over a prolonged period.

Another offence related to Mr Williams’ failure to ensure the welfare needs of his flock were met by his failure to properly inspect the flock and to manage and treat the sheep scab effectively.

Magistrates sentenced Mr Williams to a community order with a requirement that he carried out 250 hours of unpaid work in the community, he was also ordered to pay the investigation and legal costs of the council which amounted to £1648.

Alun Williams, Ceredigion County Council’s Corporate Lead Officer with responsibility for Policy and Performance said, “The council is deeply saddened that yet another serious animal health offence has been committed within the county. It is to the credit of our staff that they have undertaken a successful prosecution of this case.

Our animal welfare officers and our legal team had no option but to carry the prosecution due to the seriousness of the offences committed. I would urge individual farmers who are facing difficulties in caring for their stock to seek advice from the County Council and the Farming Unions.”

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Aeron Valley farmers thinking creatively for their future

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A RESEARCH STUDY called Pweru’r Dyffryn delivered by Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is looking into the feasibility of powering businesses and households in the Aeron Valley.

The study is looking into creating a community body to develop local renewable energy sources which would aim to create a source of income for powering the economy of mid Ceredigion. The study is also looking into creating a sustainable source of income to develop the local economy of the Aeron Valley.

The feasibility study is funded through Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020. This is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

The concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn (Powering the Valley) was developed by the Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf. Many members of the Gweithgor are young farmers in the area. They want to not only secure a way of life and affordable energy, but also invest in their future.

The farmers of Dyffryn Aeron first set up the community cooperative company Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf in response to the closure of dairy factories in the valley. The Gweithgor helped a local company to re-open the site of one factory as a centre of local employment.

Through this they found that energy costs were high in the area and could threaten the long term sustainability of businesses in the area.

Euros Lewis is a Director of Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf and is Pweru’r Dyffryn’s Project Manager. He said: “Responding creatively is the way forward and that’s what these young farmers have done.”

From here the concept of Pweru’r Dyffryn was developed, which began with local consultations across the whole of the Aeron Valley. It asked local communities what form of renewable energy they did and didn’t want to see developed in the area and how would they want revenue from any potential scheme to be spent. The purpose of the consultations were to develop a model that will meet the needs and potential of the local communities first and foremost.

The feasibility scheme received LEADER support through the Cynnal y Cardi Local Action Group, which is administered by Ceredigion County Council.

The next step for Gweithgor Dyffryn Aeron cyf is the publication of a comprehensive report of the local consultation and its findings for future potential developments. The consultation’s early findings include that large scale wind turbines would not be welcome, while there is support for further research as to the potential of waterways and solar power for the generation of local, sustainable energy.

The development of the scheme will be long-term with challenges along the way but Euros Lewis believes to change the lives of the local people and to develop the local economy ‘that the basic principle is to act for ourselves and this is what we are doing.’

Councillor Rhodri Evans is Ceredigion County Council’s Cabinet member with responsibility for Economy and Regeneration. He said: “It’s very encouraging to see rural society in Ceredigion ambitiously looking to the future. Cynnal y Cardi supports them closely and I’m sure they wil see success in the future.”

All ideas are welcome on a rolling basis and project officers are at hand to assist you. The closing dates in 2019 for submission of expressions of interest are 9 September and 11 November. All submissions are welcome in Welsh or English.

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Farming faces zero carbon challenge

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AN AMBITIOUS new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 will lead to significant changes in farming practices over the coming decades, according to a leading agri-environment specialist.

Professor Iain Donnison, Head of the Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS) at Aberystwyth University, was responding to the publication of ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’ published by the UK Government Committee on Climate Change.

Professor Donnison is an expert on agriculture and land use, which feature in the report in terms of targets for one-fifth of agricultural land to be used for forestry, bioenergy crops and peatland restoration.

According to Professor Donnison, such a reduction is very ambitious but achievable in Wales and the wider UK. “Land use can positively contribute towards achieving the net zero targets, but there are challenges in relation to emissions from agriculture especially associated with red meat and dairy,” said Professor Donnison.

“In IBERS we are already working on how to make livestock agriculture less carbon intensive and developing new diversification options for the farming of carbon. For example, net zero targets could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

Professor Donnison added: “The report gives a clear message regarding the importance of the task and the role that the UK can play to compensate for past emissions and to help play a leadership role in creating a greener future.

“The report says it seeks to be based on current technologies that can be deployed and achievable targets. One-fifth of agricultural land is a very ambitious target but I believe that through the approaches proposed it is achievable (e.g. for bioenergy crops it fits in with published targets for the UK). This is based on the knowledge and technologies we have now regarding how to do this, and because right now in the UK we are developing a new agricultural policy that looks beyond the common agriculture policy (CAP). For example, the 25-year Environment plan published by Defra envisages payment for public goods which could provide a policy mechanism to help ensure that the appropriate approaches are implemented in the appropriate places.

“The scale of the change, however, should not be underestimated, although agriculture is a sector that has previously successfully responded to challenges such as for increased food production. The additional challenge will be to ensure that we deliver all the benefits we wish to see from land: food, carbon and greenhouse gas (GHG) management and wider environmental benefits, whilst managing the challenge of the impacts of climate change.

“The link is made between healthy diets with less red meat consumption and future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. This reflects that agriculture will likely go through significant change over the coming decades as a result of changes in consumer diets.

“Net Zero targets, however, could provide significant diversification opportunities for both farmers and industries that make use of biomass and wood for the production of energy, materials including in construction and for wider environmental benefits.”

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