Posts Tagged ‘National Farmer’s Union’

BADGER TRUST updates: meeting with Liz Truss & call on NFU to stop misleading the public over the impact of badger culling.

March 5, 2015

Keep on badgering away campaigners …. recent Badger Trust updates as circulated by the Trust

Representatives of the Badger Trust met with the DEFRA Secretary of State on 3 March 2015 and described the meeting as very useful and at which there was a frank exchange of views on the following key issues:

Cull Roll Out

We [the BT] pressed the Secretary of State (SoS) to confirm plans for roll out post May 7th, should Tories return to office.

SoS was not willing to commit herself on this issue, other than to say culling would remain part of the TB reduction strategy.

We pointed out that any plans for cull roll out must involve full consultation with all key stakeholders and a financial impact assessment.

We also discussed the need to engage local communities, the police and local authorities in this process.

We also raised concerns over Natural England (NE) and DEFRA officials being involved in recent farm meetings held in the South West, to discuss extension of the culls.

We also pointed out that Gloucestershire had fallen well short of its cull targets and even the Chief Vet had confirmed it was a border line decision if this pilot area should continue.

Since leaving the meeting, we have received confirmation from NE via our solicitor at Bindmans that the Gloucestershire cull licence could be revoked, due to failures by the cull contractors. We have used this information in follow up media interviews.

Misleading information from vets and NFU on the impact of culling (see section in blue at the bottom of this post) 

We did raise serous concerns about the misleading information on the impact of the badger culls coming from Roger Blowey and the NFU.

We pointed out that any move by Ministers to give credibility to these reports would undermine public confidence in the cull policy further and call into question the integrity of DEFRA and its science based policy process.

We also drew attention to a recent statement by the Chief Vet, that any reductions in bovine TB was due to cattle measures not badger culling or vaccination.

SoS did not make any effort to support the Roger Blowey or NFU claims, but she would not commit to getting Nigel Gibbens to issue a further statement on this issue.

We will follow this request up in writing following the meeting.

Testing badgers for TB

We criticised SoS for not ensuring badgers culled were tested for TB.

We also pointed out that European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) had confirmed 232 dead badgers were tested in the UK in 2013 for an EU wide survey. Test results showed an infection rate just over 15% in line with RBCT data.

SoS seemed to have little knowledge of the EFSA survey, but her officials were clearly uncomfortable with us bringing up this issue and they stated the test data could have come from Northern Ireland.

We confirmed we would follow up in writing with a request for more information on the EFSA data including if any of the badgers used came from the cull zones.

We also criticised Owen Paterson for making claims that badgers had a TB disease rate of 40% plus and called on the SoS to ensure any future culls would involve full testing of badgers for TB.

SoS did not give any assurance on this issue, but it’s clear the low level of disease in badgers is causing concern in DEFRA & we will keep pressing on this issue.

TB rates in England

We discussed at some length the picture emerging of falling TB rates in England as a result of tightening of cattle measures.

We also went over some of the historical policy mistakes which had led to the increase in TB over the last 15 years, particularly restocking after foot and mouth.

SoS showed a worrying lack of awareness in this area and a willingness to keep playing the Ireland and New Zealand card to support culling.

We used the meeting to take apart the justification for culling based on the New Zealand and Ireland experiences and left the SoS with key data showing how cattle measures were working (compiled by Jan Bailey).

Annual Testing

We pressed hard on the growing support for annual testing of cattle for TB in England, not only from wildlife groups but also vet, farm and landowning organisations.

We said the NFU excuse that this is too costly, does not hold water after the tax payer has spent £15 million plus on the culls to date.

SoS listened with interest and her officials confirmed a further tightening of test measures was being considered, but they did not go as far as to say this would involve Annual Testing across all of England.

We will continue to press this issue following the meeting, as we are clearly making progress in this area.

Badger Vaccination

We said we were pleased that the SoS had recognised the value of badger vaccination as a tool in reducing the spread of TB in badgers.

We pointed out that the Badger Trust was working with farmers and landowners across the country to increase the level of badger vaccination.

We gave our broad support to the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, but pointed out that we expected key Badger Trust vaccination projects in areas such as Derbyshire and Cheshire to receive funding under the scheme.

SoS showed a willingness to ensure this would be the case and we will follow up with DEFRA officials following the meeting.

Badger Persecution

We finished the meeting by referring to the DEFRA Risk Registers we recently obtained via the High Court.

We pointed out that officials and Ministers knew that the cull policy had a high risk of increasing badger persecution.

We made it clear to SoS that we had most definitely seen a significant increase in badgers being illegally killed and badger setts destroyed by landowners and farmers since the culls started.

SoS made it clear that she condemned all wildlife crime and agreed with her officials to issue some form of statement on this issue following the meeting.

Wider views on the meeting

The Secretary of State seemed nervous and at times not on top of her brief.

Nigel Gibbens the Chief Vet was very noticeable by his absence.

The only officials present were her Private Secretary and representatives from the legal and TB policy units.

The Secretary of State took the unusual step of saying at the start of the meeting it would be considered private and off the record.

On walking down Whitehall earlier I nearly bumped into Liz Truss as she headed into Downing Street. I can only think the call for radio silence on the meeting came from the Prime Minister himself.

We gave no commitment not to share the discussions in the media (particularly as ITV & BBC were waiting to film interviews on steps of DEFRA after meeting).

Media Coverage

We have had extensive media coverage following the meeting with interviews on ITV West, BBC South East, BBC Radio Gloucestershire, BBC Radio Sussex and in the national & regional press.

Conclusion

We were never going to see a U Turn in the cull policy as a result of this meeting.

However we put the Secretary of State under significant pressure and we made a very strong case for why the cull policy should be halted.

We showed we had the majority of the public, scientists and even politicians on our side.

We knew our facts and we were no doubt better briefed and had a clearer understanding of TB policy than the Secretary of State who is responsible for its implementation.

We made some useful progress on the need for tighter cattle testing controls, more badger vaccination and a stronger response from the Government on badger persecution and wildlife crime.

We also left no one in any doubt that cattle not badgers are the key factor in TB spread.

Badger Trust can be very proud of the fact we are the only wildlife or conservation NGO to have such a meeting with either Owen Paterson or Liz Truss in last 4 years

Our [BT] campaigning, lobbying & legal challenges have taken us to a place many much larger and better funded NGO’s have not been able to reach.

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Badger Trust calls on NFU to stop misleading the public over the impact of badger culling

Ahead of a meeting with the Environment Secretary Liz Truss on the 3 March, the Badger Trust has called on the National Farmers’ Union to stop misleading the public by making claims over the impact of badger culling on TB rates in cattle in the Gloucestershire and Somerset cull zones, which have no scientific foundation and are not supported by Government data from the pilot badger culls.

At the NFU Annual Conference in Birmingham on Tuesday 24 February, the NFU President Meurig Raymond stated: “I want to stress that in the two pilot areas in Somerset and Gloucestershire we are already seeing that TB incidence on farms has declined. Not just by a small amount either, in the Somerset Pilot area TB incidence on farms has decreased from 34% to 11% compared with two years’ ago”.

He then went on to say: “just two days’ ago, one of our Gloucestershire members was given the fantastic news that his farm is now clear of TB for the first time in 11 years. He is very clear that the only thing that’s changed on his farm is that we are now doing something to control the disease in wildlife”.

When making these statements the NFU President at no point confirmed that it was far more likely these reductions in TB (which have also been seen outside of the cull zones) were due to tighter testing, movement and biosecurity controls forced on the UK farming sector by the European Commission in 2012. He also made no mention of the fact that DEFRA have not released any data on the pilot culls to support any claims about the impact of badger culling on TB rates in cattle.

In responding to the claims by the NFU, the CEO of the Badger Trust said:

“Nigel Gibbens, the DEFRA Chief Veterinary Officer, recently stated that: “the fall in TB outbreaks in cattle herds, cannot be attributed either to the pilot culls or in Wales to their badger vaccination programme. It is to do with continued strengthening of the cattle measures”.

“Meurig Raymond seems to have forgotten these important facts when it comes to his NFU conference speech.

“The Badger Trust would never make any claims about the impact of badger vaccination without scientific evidence to back it up and we expect the NFU to do the same, when it comes to making claims about the impact of badger culling.

“We must deal in facts not fiction when it comes to assessing the impact of the badger culls on lowering bovine TB. When it comes to real facts the case against the badger cull policy is damning.

“Approximately £15 million has been spent killing 2476 badgers to date (£6058 a badger). None of these culled badgers were tested for TB, but data from a Government-led scientific trial and results from badgers tested by DEFRA in 2013 for the European Food Safety Authority, indicate a disease rate no higher than 15%.

“Many of these badgers were shot by poorly trained marksmen with no effective monitoring and took up to 10 to 15 minutes to die a long painful death by multiple gunshot wounds.

“This is despite the fact that the DEFRA Chief Scientist Ian Boyd confirmed at an NFU TB conference in November 2014, that the transmission rate of TB from badgers to cattle is less than 6%. The key route of infection is cattle to cattle transfer.”

The above two pieces are taken from BT press release sand assuming that the facts and statistics cited are accurate then it seems astonishing that a well respected industry spokesgroup would seek to promulgate unsubstantiated statements?  Many of the public at the moment are wise to ‘political’ PR so it would seem far better if any party in a discussion were to ensure provision of all the facts to secure credibility?

‘Moor’ badgerings, ‘hare’ we go again and spiders?

January 18, 2015

The BBC reports that Ministers and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) believe culling badgers will curb TB in cattle.  Ms Truss, the Minister claimed the government’s “comprehensive strategy” was supported by leading vets. 

But protesters have claimed independent monitoring has been dropped and attempted to have the cull halted at the High Court.

The move was rejected by judges, after which the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: “We have always been clear that the independent expert panel’s role was to oversee the six-week pilots in the first year of the culls only.

“This year we have made changes to monitor effectiveness and humaneness and the culls will be independently audited.”

An independent report by the expert panel into the first year of culls found that “controlled shooting” of free-running badgers could not deliver the level of culling needed to lower TB cases in cattle and was not humane.

Try as we might we are unable to offer any link to any science which underpins the Minister or the NFUs ‘belief’.  Having said that one might reason you don’t actually need evidence, let alone allow it to be peer reviewed to ‘believe’?  What motivates Ministers?  The abiding memory for many will be the u-turn on the ‘independent monitoring’ of the culls?  Like so many promises made by politicians, it seems to have fallen by the wayside once the spotlight had been distracted towards other topical issues?

150118 Dug sett  hrk 761

What really saddens us here in the Doncaster area,  which is as far as we are aware a bTB free zone, is the systematic destruction of badger setts.  Whilst it was pleasant to spend the afternoon in the field so to speak, it was far from pleasant to witness the loss of another sett in the district.  The sett on agricultural land, accessed via quiet country lanes with locked barriers, was also in view of distant properties.  A large sett with a number of active entrance holes had been well and truly dug.  Even the hardened badger workers were quite shocked at the sheer extent of the ‘diggers’ activity.

What was apparent was the length of time the ‘diggers’ would have been at the site to have dug at least seven of the holes and one of them to considerable depth.  What surprised me but was readily explained by one of the group was the absence of badgers, or parts thereof!  Apparently a live badger for baiting and the associated gambling is worth around £800!  So, it followed that they would have carted off as many as they could.  That in itself would have been a particularly interesting logistical operation and one requiring a team of  strong individuals, cages and in all likelihood a vehicle.  No one saw a thing?

What really hit home as well, was the inhumanity that had to be inherent in the individuals engaged in such activity.  The sows would either be heavily pregnant at this time of year or they would have recently given birth.  If the ‘diggers’ didn’t reach a sow then the chances are such that the stress level would cause her to either abort or to kill the cubs.

The loss of this group pushes the ‘Doncaster’ population to the brink of extinction.  As groups are lost to areas, any remaining become isolated and weakened by inbreeding as there are no neighbouring groups to recruit from or to join.  Brock an iconic mammal of the quintessential British Countryside could be lost to us in a couple of years or so in the Doncaster area if the current persecution rate continues.

The other aspect which was quite noticable was the damage to the agricultural land, albeit in the main, the headland.  However the digging had clearly encroached onto land which would in due course be worked by large and expensive machinery.  The site had been left a mess and the landowner was left with reparation of his land to return it to a safe state, in order to work it, come time to harvest the crop.

Whilst badgers might elicit mixed feelings across the spectrum of emotions, such activity is against the law and it certainly appears to constitute tresspass aggravated by possible criminal damage.  Factor in the local ‘intel’ that gangs of criminals are working rural areas, it seems reasonable that there could be benefit from collaborative working?

Please if anyone sees anything suspicious, then please do report it to the police via 101 or to the South Yorkshire Badger Group.  Please, remember it is important to report the crime to the proper authorities as soon as possible. If calling the police (in an emergency use 999, otherwise use 101) ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer (WCO) and make sure to get an Incident Report number.

An excellent site which makes much useful information available is Birders Against Wildlife Crime.  They have an excellent ‘motto’ Recognise, Record & Report!  Similarly the Badger Trust website has regular updates on the situation and Government stance.

Greenblobpride

ePetitioning for protection from persecution (aka ‘campaign corner’):

Mountain Hares are killed in large numbers on grouse moors because they carry ticks that might affect Red Grouse numbers. The shooting industry doesn’t want Red Grouse to die of tick-borne diseases – instead they want them to die by being shot by paying customers on grouse moors.  Much other wildlife is an inconvenient presence including Mountain Hares and raptors, notably Hen Harriers.

This epetition asks Scottish Natural Heritage to protect this native species from persecution from the shooting industry.  SNH is concerned about this issue but has only asked for voluntary restraint from grouse shooting.  We struggle to recollect voluntary codes or guidelines which have worked, two examples which spring to mind and might illustrate that suggestion are the reduction of peat in growing media and MPs sorting out their own expenses?
Buglife, an excellent wildlife charity, is asking for support for a tiny spider only known to live in a couple of sites in the world – one of which maybe destroyed by house building.  A planning enquiry starts next week so any signatures gained by this epetition will help to demonstrate public support for thisapparently insignificant spider (size isn’t everything in nature).  Whilst the epetition is about a rare spider, the bigger issue appears to be that of a planning system which is in such of a ‘pickle’?
Then this really is just in case …. you don’t know that there is an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting that has stirred things up quite a bit over the last few months. It passed the 20,000 signature mark before Christmas and every further signature is valuable in the run-in to the general election campaign.

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