Badger Trust letter to Caroline Spelman re Chief Vet responses on 38 Degrees

Badger Trust has sent the following letter to Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – on 26th September, 2011.  Please see the text below.           

Dear Mrs Spelman,

38 Degrees petition: Nigel Gibbens answers to questions

I am writing directly to you as a result of the answers provided by Professor Gibbens in response to questions posed on the 38 Degrees petition website.

Some of these answers have caused grave concern to the Badger Trust and we are therefore seeking urgent clarification. The answers were woefully lacking in specific detail and were almost insulting to those who had taken the trouble to pose the questions. Therefore we are expecting carefully considered, clear, objective answers to what we hope you will appreciate are carefully considered, clear, objective questions.

Professor Gibbens prefaced his responses by saying he hoped that they would show “the facts that Ministers have based their proposals on”. There are no new facts at all in the answers to the questions, just a number of blind assumptions.

For example, in answer to the question on how Defra justified the assumption that controlled shooting would achieve the same results as trapping and shooting, he says “There is no evidence to suggest that the results would be any different”. This is reminiscent of the tobacco companies’ historical response as to whether smoking was bad for your health. We would refer you to your own Joint Group’s warning in April of this year, that “the more that a future culling policy deviates from the conditions of the RBCT – e.g. industry versus government led and/or culling methods (such as permitting controlled shooting of badgers in addition to cage-trapping), the more likely it is that the effects of that policy will differ, either positively or negatively, and with potential variability in outcome between areas”. While this is a necessarily guarded warning, the advice we have taken is that controlled shooting is more likely to have negative consequences. This hardly justifies even the pilot trials proposed. What evidence does Defra have that “controlled shooting” will have the same effect on badger populations as trapping and shooting and have the same effect on bovine TB as in the RBCT?

It is interesting to note that oral vaccination of badgers is still Defra’s ultimate goal. However, if one study area is now sufficient for the Badger Vaccine Deployment Programme, please could you explain why there were originally six study areas?

The information presented on infection rates in badgers is interesting. We note that this is clearly an area where the data are imperfect. However, Professor Gibbens fails to mention, as the ISG suggested in the light of the facts emerging from the RBCT, that driving down the disease in cattle will have a knock-on effect for badgers. Has Defra performed any modelling to estimate what effect cattle TB control measures alone would have on the prevalence of TB in badgers in the absence of badger culling?

The answer to the question about a plan B beggars belief. It is like a quotation from MAFF some 35 years ago. Please would you explain to us clearly how you can be confident that the culling proposed will be carried out in the “correct way” when there are so many departures from the conditions of the RBCT?

The answers on the welfare aspects of shooting are no more than window dressing. We contend that some wounded badgers will retreat to their setts, making any attempt at effectively monitoring the problem of wounding impossible to carry out. Vague reference to “field observations” and relying on “Best Practice Guidance” does not address the issue of compliance on the part of shooters, or the fact that in many cases it will not be possible to determine that a badger has been wounded by simple observation. The answer given suggests that the issue is simply not being taken seriously. If proper monitoring of shooting cannot be carried out it should not even be contemplated.

We now turn to the issue of the estimation of the 70% target by Natural England. What exactly is the “information provided by the applicant and other evidence”? If this relates to information on the number of main setts, for example, how will a population estimate be derived from this? If it is to be by multiplying the number of main setts by the expected number of badgers per social group, then the estimate will have wide confidence limits. Taking the usual average of between 3 and 9 badgers per group, this would yield an estimate of the number of badgers present with confidence limits of +/- 50%. Will Natural England use the upper or lower limit, or simply the average?

As a corollary to this question, we understood from our meeting with you that there may be a Capture-Mark-Recapture exercise during the pilot culls. What allowance will be made for the wide variability of the results that are obtained from such field investigations? Will some sort of average be applied to future culls? How do you intend to justify the methodology in setting a 70% target?

Referring to the answer about monitoring the impact of culling when it is being carried out alongside other measures, how can you possibly justify the blind faith in the culling programme having the same effects as were obtained in the RBCT, when there are so many departures from the RBCT methodology? The answer is simply not acceptable under the claim that the policy is “science led”. We refer you again to the warnings of the Defra Joint Group.

The answer to the question about mitigating the effects of perturbation seems completely to miss the point. Simply carrying on with trapping and shooting after abandoning controlled shooting would extend the cull even further, causing even more perturbation. Is there an intention to have a backup unit along the lines of the old Defra Wildlife Unit? If farmers are expected to pay for this, has the cost been estimated accurately to ensure enough funding is available? If it is intended that farmers should do such trapping, will they have sufficient resources? There seems to have been either a misunderstanding of the question or a lack of appreciation of the importance of perturbation in Professor Gibbens’ response.

Finally, Badger Trust would like to reiterate the point about our need to have these answers fleshed out properly. We are more concerned than ever about the lack of any justification for badger culling and the means by which it is proposed to carry this out.

Yours sincerely,

David Williams,Chairman

5 Responses to “Badger Trust letter to Caroline Spelman re Chief Vet responses on 38 Degrees

  1. I fear we will never get a clear and true Scientific based answer to these crucial questions as long as political motivation is driving this pointless exercise. The farming lobby demands to be appeased and divert the true reasons why bTB exists today when it was reduced so drastically after WW2 without a single Badger death. The reasons,no doubt, will be presented as “complex”. As the reductions in Pembrokeshire with just cattle movement restrictions alone have achieved it proves that this is the major cause of bTB. That is the ONLY scientific stastistic I have seen since this debacle began. Innoculation of Badgers to clear up the bTB they probably caught from cattle is the only moral answer to this question.

  2. I doubt there will be a proper answer either. Has anyone thought about relocating badgers? Over here in Norfolk they are very rare yet there are very few cattle as it is mainly arable farming … maybe a new practice of creating artificial setts and relocating them from cattle farming areas would be a successful and innovative solution.

  3. This is yet another ill thought out loony government scheme designed to please the farming lobby and which will achieve nothing at all. I thought badgers were meant to be a protected species. Mind you, with sadistic Cameron in charge of the country we cannot expect much else. Shame on him – we need and deserve much better.

  4. all animal exploitation is wrong, not just to badgers but to all animals. There will never be world health or peace while we exploit the animal kingdom and badger exploitation is an off shoot of cow exploitation. We are basically big bullies and in this twenty first century we are still behaving like brutes no matter how civilized we like to think we are. A plant based diet is best and all would benefit, the animals, our health, the countryside and third world starvation.

  5. Thankyou Kate,
    (29th September)
    My sentiments entirely.