Encouraging the debate about bovine TB

As people who read my blog will know, one of the reasons I started writing it was to restart the debate about the need to tackle bovine TB and generate a discussion about all aspects of controlling the disease, not just culling badgers.

 

Gloucestershire has found itself at the centre of the debate during the last 18 months or so, for obvious reasons. I know bovine TB is a very emotive issue and that there are strong feelings on both sides of the debate about how it should be tackled. But sometimes I feel that the story of how TB impacts on farmers and their families has been marginalised in the media coverage when it should be one of the central elements of the whole issue.

 

Last week I posted a letter to every member of Gloucestershire County Council along with a copy of the film the NFU made on my farm following my last TB test. I didn’t do this to be confrontational, or to shock or offend – I did it simply to introduce myself and to give them the opportunity to see what living with TB is like for me and my family.

 

I hope the councillors will take the time to read my letter and watch the film. I’m happy to answer any questions any of them might have about TB, its impact, and the best way to tackle it in the area where I farm. I’m also happy to show them around my farm and let them see the practical difficulties TB presents – not just regarding the daily running of the farm, but also the impossibility of keeping cattle and badgers completely separate when the cattle are outside.

 

My next TB test is due to take place on July 15. I’ll find out the results on July 18. I have no idea what the test will bring. And at the moment I’m trying to go about my everyday farming business without thinking about it too much,that’s easier than done

If the test is clear it means we’ll still have to have another clear test in 60 days’ time before the farm can get back to operating normally. If we lose more animals I’ll have to seriously think about whether I can carry on breeding cattle – which is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of my farming life.

 

The cows look great out in the fields in the sunny summer weather. They look fit, healthy and full of life. I don’t want to think about the test yet. But pretty soon I’m going to have to, whether I want to or not.

 

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5 thoughts on “Encouraging the debate about bovine TB

  1. What do you think about the recent study published by the University of Warwick that shows culling badgers will have almost no impact on the disease, and that herd-based measures ?

    Or how about the fact that so many farmers claim an effective vaccine isn’t available yet the Welsh Government and Wildlife Trusts up and down the country are trialing it as we speak? If we stop the ludicrously expensive culling of badgers and invest in vaccines and improved skin tests instead then we might start to get on top of the disease. Northern Ireland did this without culling any badgers. We must listen to the science. There is no one single measure that can eradicate the disease, but if we focus on areas that show potential for improvement instead of wasting money on pointless badger culls, we will begin to see progress.

    Many badger ecologists with significant expertise in bovine TB have been studying the movement of badgers and the distribution of diseased badgers within a population for many years, including Dr Rosie Woodroffe, Dr Chris Cheeseman and Professor David MacDonald. The consensus is that since there is no way to prevent perturbation (when diseased badgers flee the cull zones and spread disease to other areas) and badger numbers are incredibly difficult to estimate, that there is no way a targeted cull, however carefully planned, can ever achieve its aim. It is generally thought that badgers in an undisturbed population keep disease fairly small-scale and localized- I recently emailed a dairy farmer and this was his exact reasoning behind not supporting a badger cull. The badgers on his farm did not have TB, and because there is very little movement between badger groups unless the population is disturbed by culling, he was unlikely to get it unless neighbouring farms were culling badgers.

    I fully sympathize with farmers and would like to see a solution. But the solution, research shows, lies in whole-herd measures: better skin testing, vaccines of both badgers and cattle, and improved biosecurity.

    We rely on our farmers to provide good quality food and also for a healthy countryside. Conservationists recognise the immense value of many farms for wildlife and there is nothing worse than seeing both wildlife and livestock suffer from unscientific and thoughtless culling of a protected species without any evidence that it will bring about the desired effects.

  2. What do you think about the recent study published by the University of Warwick that shows culling badgers will have almost no impact on the disease, and that herd-based measures ?
    ……………………….
    Results are what would be expected when on their own admission badgers weren’t specifically entered into the equation in the first place.
    Garbage in = garbage out.

  3. I myself would look at what happened when badgers were culled in the Thornbury and Hartland experimental culls. These attempted to answer the question of “What happens if we gas every active sett we can find in this area?”. What happened was that inside the cull zone the bTB rate nosedived rapidly; infected cattle were picked up on quickly and with no wildlife reservoir to re-infect herds, the infection rate dropped and stayed low.

    To my mind the discussion is effectively over now; we know how to eradicate this disease. All we have to do is knock badger populations down to where they ought to be, and the problem vanishes. Badgers themselves are strange animals; they don’t seem at all well adapted to living in colonies. About half the young born each year die (or are killed) before they ever see daylight, and badgers have a number of habits seemingly adapted to living at extremely low population densities.

    Females have a reproductive trick called delayed implantation; they can mate at any time of year and the fertilised eggs then remain in the sow, and only implant and develop in winter, to let cubs be born in spring. Badgers are also compulsive hole-diggers, and compulsive scent markers. That would seem to indicate that naturally they are solitary, and meet up only rarely, with males detecting females coming into heat from the scent marking and mating at all times of year.

    That means we can safely cull badger populations down to very low population densities without fear of eradicating them. For the sake of eradicating bTB, this is what we really ought to do.

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