Badger culling is a major step forward

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BY the time you read this, you will be panicking about those last minute presents you have forgotten, or a card has arrived from someone not on your list! We are as prepared as we can be, and I should take delivery of our fresh farm turkey any day now. All the extra feed-stocks on the farm to tie us over the next two weeks, are either delivered or expected this week. Meanwhile the cows just carry on as normal, wondering what all the fuss is about.

The land at Crouchlands is now wet, but bright green with grass everywhere. These frosts will maybe change that, but on balance December is warm and very mild.

A few snowflakes last week sent me rushing to check emergency milk pump and generator, as this time last year we had snow, with Heathrow Airport closed, and two years ago we had huge snow falls (for Sussex!), and we were towing in motorway milk tankers which had to be filled with our external emergency pump. Hopefully, I don’t need these handy bits of kit; just in case though…

May I publicly thank the person who handed Lorayne’s handbag in at Tesco’s store in Haslemere. Having driven off with the handbag on the boot of the car (!), panic set in at home when it was found to be missing. She had no cash in it, but all her credit cards and other essentials amongst the usual debris, and it was that cruel emotion of hope which accompanied her back to the store.

The security guard by the door announced that they had indeed been handed in a large bright pink handbag, which was held by ‘customer service’. Most people are (sadly) surprised when I tell them the story, and it does restore one’s faith in the average citizen, who are in this country honest and decent. A Merry Christmas to you all!

n Thousands of farmers are mightily relieved by the announcement by Caroline Spelman, promising action on bovine TB in England last week. At last, we have a Secretary of State with a team at Defra who are willing to take difficult decisions to rid this country of a terrible disease. With TB coming at me from both sides at Crouchlands and Tillington, no one seemed to care about our clean cows, clean badgers, deer and wildlife in general. Now there is hope; a long way to go, many stages of difficult areas to navigate, but at least the long process of doing something about this terrible disease has started. Full marks to government and Defra on this fresh approach.

The announcement informed us of two badger control areas which will go ahead in the Autumn of next year; the NFU will submit a shortlist of several pilot locations in due course, and Defra officials will decide which two get the go-ahead. Licences will then be issued by Natural England.

Farmers will form a limited company in each area, which will apply for a licence, and complete the programme on behalf of the farmer groups. Cattle testing and surveillance will continue, with vets playing an important role in controlling the disease on farms.

Only those areas which are worst affected (hot-spot areas) will be considered for a pilot area, and the land will need to be mapped and all farmers recruited in order to make an application.

Badgers will be controlled in these pilot areas by cage trapping and controlled shooting by trained marksmen (up to deer-stalking level 1 standard). The two pilot areas will be carried out simultaneously over a six week period, monitored by independent experts engaged by Defra. Only when government is satisfied that these methods work and are humane, will the policy be rolled out nationally.

Pilot areas will be a minimum of 150 sq kilometers, with ‘hard’ boundaries (rivers, coast, motorways etc:), and at least 70 per cent of the total land area must be accessible for culling, with at least 90 per cent accessible or within 200m of accessible land.

All badger carcasses must be disposed of according to Animal By-Products Regulation 1069/2009/EC. Over the six week period, badger population must be reduced by at least 70 per cent, and a closed period of December 1 to May 31 for cage trapping, and February 1 to May 1 for controlled shooting, and December 1 to April 30 for cage trapping for vaccination; this being the badger breeding season.

Farmers will grant access to the Limited Company and the trained contractors to their land for four years; pay the total cost of the four year cull, up front (including a 25 per cent contingency fee), before the licence will be granted.

All firearms certificates will need to show amendments to include badgers. Licensees will liaise with local police forces, and follow police advice. Injectable vaccination could in some cases take place as part of the control measures, around the perimeter of a pilot area for example. £250 thousand is being made available by government to encourage vaccination, in and around the pilot areas.

Government are adamant that the science supports the control measures, something the NFU and British Veterinary Association have been saying for a very long time. A group of eminent scientists have agreed that control measures on wildlife as proposed, would on average reduce bTB in cattle by at least 16 per cent. These figures will be greatly increased due to the much larger areas in the pilot areas than was the case in the ‘Randomised Badger Culling Trials’ carried out by government in the past, where trapping only was employed, poorly done, not least due to interference by ‘activists’.

Government Ministers are of course preparing for the inevitable High Court battle, which will be brought by welfare single issue groups.

Previous governments have shied away from tackling this disease, not least due to the threats by ‘animal rights’ groups, but also due to their lack of knowledge and connection and affinity with the countryside in its hour of need. We virtually eliminated this disease in the early 1970s, using the combined methods suggested, but we failed to rid the country of it altogether. Farmers will need to play their part in better bio-security, and in supporting the action proposed, both in spirit and financially.

For those who have doubts, you may take heart from the President of the BVA (British Veterinary Association - Carl Padgett), who said on Wednesday last week: “This is a major step on the long road to tackling this devastating disease.” It is certainly the best Christmas present for the cows and wildlife on our farms in West Sussex; a clean area which represents the future; bTB free cattle and wildlife. That is why this announcement is such good news for all concerned. As our MP Nick Herbert pointed out “No one wants to cull badgers, but no country in the world has successfully controlled bTB without addressing its presence in the wildlife. We cannot shut our eyes and will this terrible disease away.”

Gwyn Jones