The Shropshire Star has today (5th April) reported the news that Owen Paterson's proposed rollout of the 'pilot' badger culls to Shropshire this year will not now happen.
The environment secretary made his announcement on Wednesday, following the publication of a report by the Independent Expert Panel, set up to monitor last year’s pilots, which concluded that the culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire had been neither effective nor humane.
It also proved much more expensive than anticipated: each dead badger ended up costing the taxpayer more than £1,500, according to Defra figures – almost three times as much as it was costing to vaccinate them, as the Welsh government is now doing. The cost implications could well be a decisive factor with a general election approaching.
Some farmers are disappointed that the pilot culls will not be rolled out, but wildlife groups have hailed the decision. Writing on the Guardian website, Patrick Barkham says: “He [Paterson] should be congratulated by scientists, activists and farmers for choosing an alternative – vaccination – which looks dangerously like science-led policy-making.” You can read the full article here.
Paterson announced that badgers will now be vaccinated in ‘buffer zones’ around the edges of TB hotspots to prevent the further spread of TB infection. This is to be welcomed.
Unfortunately, the culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire are set to continue, with changes made to their implementation following lessons learned from last year’s pilots.
The Shropshire Star's article has a poll where you can have your say on whether the environment secretary's decision is the right one; and you can read the IEP’s full report here, and Defra’s response.
Ecologist website has today (Friday 14th February) reported that Defra has quietly released astonishing new figures showing that bTB was declining in autumn 2013, even as Owen Paterson was claiming that it was on the increase.
According to the website, in mid-January Defra released the news that it had been 'overstating' the figures for the incidence of bovine TB due to 'glitches in data entries' since September 2011.
The numbers of herds 'not Officially Free of BTB due to a TB incident' - non-OFT for short - would have to be revised significantly downwards for 2012 and 2013.
The revised figures have now appeared this week, to little fanfare.
While there were some minor revisions to the numbers of new-herd incidents and the number of herds under movement restrictions, the real shock comes in the figures for the non-OFT herds.
During the very period that Paterson had claimed that BTB incidence was increasing, the number of non-OFT herds - those considered to have BTB or to be at serious risk of BTB - dropped.
Among other figures, in Wales, no doubt due to biosecurity measures and the new vaccination policy, there was a 24% fall in new herd infections.
To read the full story, click here.
On Saturday 8th February we will be showing our feelings about any proposed cull in Shropshire with a march and speeches in Shrewsbury.
Owen Paterson has made clear his wish to see pilot culls extended to Shropshire this year, despite the fact that the culls in Gloucester and Somerset have been widely seen as a monumental failure on all counts.
You can make your voice heard by joining us in The Quarry Park, 1 St Chad's Terrace, Shrewsbury SY1 1RN at 1pm on 8th February.
Speakers in attendance will be Dominic Dyer of Care For The Wild, Jim Ashley, chairman of the Shropshire Badger Group, and Drew Pratten, wildlife campaigner. Join us and please spread the word via Facebook and Twitter!
A report in the Guardian today (23 January) says that according to a new scientific survey, the number of active badger setts has doubled over the past 30 years. But the scientists say that no conclusion can be drawn from this that the rise is responsible for the increase in bovine TB in cattle.
The population increase is said to be due to the protection badgers have enjoyed since 1992, and perhaps in part due to milder winters. The survey has been carried out over the past two winters, and the total number of clans is now thought to be around 70,000. The increase has largely taken place in England, while in Wales the population has not changed.
Johanna Judge, at the government's Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency who led the research published in the journal Scientific Reports, said: "There is not a straightforward linear relationship between the number of badgers and the level of TB, so we can't draw any reliable conclusions about badgers and cattle and TB from this work."
To read the full article by Patrick Barkham in the Guardian, click here.
As we look forward to 2014, the threat of further culling hangs over our badgers in many places in Britain, including in Shropshire. That is what Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, wishes for in 2014.
In an article on today's (31 December) Guardian website, some of its writers declare what they wish for in 2014. Patrick Barkham, author of Badgerlands, published in 2013, says: "I would love to see just one glorious occasion where people choose nature over profit – a piece of ground not fracked, a runway not built, a badger not culled." You can read the rest of his comment, and the full article, here.
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