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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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Health

Give someone “the best gift” this Christmas by giving blood in West Wales

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A MOTHER who needed in-the-womb blood transfusions during her pregnancy and a man who depends on regular, lifesaving blood donations are encouraging communities across Wales to give “the best gift” this Christmas by donating blood.

The Welsh Blood Service is preparing to face Winter pressures on its services and is hoping their new Christmas campaign, “the best gift” will raise awareness about the importance of donating blood and the lifesaving difference it makes.

Last December over 900 donations of blood and blood products were needed across Ceredigion, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire to provide care to patients at Prince Philip, Withybush, Bronglais and Glangwili hospital. 

These donations play a vital role by supporting a range of treatments from helping recovering accident victims and patients with blood cancers to supporting mothers and new-born babies during childbirth.

Blood donations were needed during both pregnancies for mother of two, Shelley Parry. After her own life was saved during her first pregnancy, Shelley received several more blood transfusions directly into her womb to keep her youngest daughter alive.

Shelley explains: “Receiving blood is truly the best gift we have ever received. We’re forever indebted as a family to those who have taken the time to donate. Without the generosity of blood donors, quite simply, we wouldn’t be parents. Thanks to their selfless act, we can look forward to Christmas together as a family.

“It only takes one hour of your time to donate, if you can, please consider donating.”

Giggs and his daughter

Also supporting the campaign is blood recipient Giggs Kanias. Since birth, Giggs has received over 1,000 blood transfusions as part of his treatment for beta thalassaemia major, a severe blood disorder. Thanks to blood donors, Giggs is looking forward to celebrating Christmas with his family.

Giggs said: “I am so thankful to the incredible people who give blood. When I’m in hospital, I stare at the bags of blood being transfused into me and always wonder, who is the person that has helped me?

“I know the difference these people have made to my life and I’m so grateful to each and every one of them. Without their generosity, I wouldn’t be here today, I wouldn’t be a dad, or have had the opportunity to see my daughter grow up. Receiving blood is truly the best gift anyone could ever receive.”

Alan Prosser, Director of the Welsh Blood Service, said: “For patients like Giggs, receiving blood will be the best gift they receive this Christmas. It truly is the best gift you can give.

“Blood products have a short shelf life and is needed by hospitals 365 days a year, including Christmas day, to help support patients in need, which is why we can’t stop collecting.”

The Welsh Blood Service provides lifesaving blood products to 20 hospitals across Wales and four Wales Air Ambulance aircraft for use in emergencies.

Alan continues: “It is critical the service prepares. We need to build up blood stocks ahead of a potentially challenging winter, where seasonal illnesses and Covid-19 may exacerbate the usual winter pressures faced by the NHS.

“We are reaching out to communities across Wales to ask them to make a lifesaving blood donation and give “the best gift” this festive season.”

Do something amazing this Christmas. Give someone the best gift. Give blood. If you are aged 17 or over, book to give blood at: www.wbs.wales/Xmas21 or call 0800 252 266 today.

Appointments are available in Pembrokeshire on 7 December and January 6 and 20 in Tenby, 16 December and 27 January in Crymych, 20 December and 17 January in Haverfordwest, 10 January in Letterston Village Hall and 21 January in Milford Haven. 

Appointments are available in Carmarthenshire on 10 December in Pontyberum, 29 December and 13 January in Carmarthen, 28 January in Kidwelly Community Hall, 23 and 24 December and 4, 12 and 25 January in Parc Y Scarlets and 31 January in Llandeilo.

Appointments are available in Ceredigion on 14 December in Newcastle Emlyn, 14 January in Aberaeron and 18 January in Lampeter.

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The west Wales family on standby to save lives at sea this Christmas

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VOLUNTEERING with the RNLI is a real family affair for the Barbers from Cardigan, with all four family members prepared to swap turkey and tinsel for turbulent seas this Christmas.  The RNLI is calling on the public to support them and the thousands of other volunteer crew on call by giving to the charity’s Christmas appeal.

For mum Amanda and daughter Madeleine, 18, it will be their very first Christmas on call. Both have followed in the footsteps of proud dad Tony who has volunteered on the crew of Cardigan RNLI for the past 12 years and son Leo, 20, who joined the RNLI following his 17th Birthday. The family will be spending their Christmas Day at nearby ‘New Life Church’, ensuring those who are in need of a meal on 25 December have food and company. However, they will have the perfect excuse to leave the washing up should they all have to leave in a hurry to respond to an emergency at sea.

Later in the afternoon, they plan to get together and enjoy a Christmas meal at home, but with a watchful eye on their pagers.

Madeleine says: ‘I realise our Christmas may not be a traditional one and to my friends it seems strange that we may all have to dash down to the station whatever time of day or night the call may come. I don’t really give it a second thought; I’m actually looking forward to being on call for the first time this Christmas and being able to help someone in need.

‘Previously when the pager goes off, dad, Leo and I have left mum at home. She’s so proud of us all but obviously is filled with apprehension as to when we may be back. We’re thrilled she’s decided to join us too and volunteer as part of the shore crew.

‘Being part of the RNLI is something Leo and I have always wanted to do as soon as we turned 17. Hearing dad talk about successful shouts has really motivated us all to want to get involved. We’re so thankful for all the support we have from the community and it is humbling to think people give so generously to enable us to do what we do.’

I would like to thank everyone in advance who gives towards our Christmas appeal this year.

‘This year, I hope people can do what they can to support the Christmas campaign and help the RNLI to save every one.’

The family run a boat trip business not too far away from the station, which means they are all ideally placed to be close by should the pagers sound. In the winter months, Madeleine works opposite the station at a local café, Crwst, who are very supportive allowing her to leave and attend shouts whilst at work.

Amanda says: ‘With the rest of the family on the crew, I know how vital, challenging, yet rewarding volunteering with the RNLI is. After many years of watching Tony run from the house at a moment’s notice and in the years that followed Leo, then Madeleine; I no longer had a reason not to join them. Now, rather than waiting and wondering what the outcome of a shout is, I can be on hand at the station supporting them and the rest of the team together, serving the mission of saving lives at sea. This Christmas if the pagers go off at least I won’t be left home alone holding the turkey!’

Over the past decade, RNLI lifeboats have launched over 1,200 times during the festive period. But these rescues would not be possible without donations from the RNLI’s generous supporters, helping to fund the essential kit, training and equipment needed by lifeboat crews all year round.

With thousands of volunteers around the UK and Ireland, each RNLI crew member signs up to save every one from drowning – it has been the charity’s mission since 1824.

Matt Crofts, RNLI Lifesaving Manager for Wales says: ‘With the increase in staycations and more people than ever heading to the coast, it has been an exceptionally busy year for our crews.

‘Even at Christmas, our lifesavers are ready to drop everything at a moment’s notice and rush to the aid of someone in trouble on the water. At this time of year, the weather’s at its worst and lives are on the line.

‘We know that every time our crews go out they hope for a good outcome, but sadly this sometimes isn’t the case. We hope that this year’s Christmas appeal will show people just how tough it can be, but also that with their help we can get so much closer to our goal of saving every one.’

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Health

Council makes available wellbeing and mental health support for social care providers

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The programme will run until March 2022

IN RECOGNITION of the important work of the social care sector and impact of the Covid pandemic on social care providers and their staff, Ceredigion County Council has made available a programme of wellbeing and mental health support sessions.

The programme consists of Wellbeing and Mental health Awareness, Mental Health First Aid (Adults and Youth) and also offers facilitated support sessions.

The programme of events will run from December through to March 2022.

Any social care provider, carer or personal assistant can request more information or book a place on these sessions by emailing Dysgu@ceredigion.gov.uk

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