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For those who attended the Countryside Alliance Awards at the Houses of Parliament on 22nd March 2017, it will always be day to remember.

The annual ‘Rural Oscars’ event was a special occasion for the winners, who were invited to the House of Lords to accept their awards in various categories of countryside businesses. Andrea Leadsom MP, Secretary of State for the Environment, presented the awards saying, “Today’s winners and nominees represent the very best of Rural Britain and I’m delighted to celebrate the crucial role our post offices, farm shops and food start-ups play in connecting communities across the country.” It was also a day to celebrate the simple fact that their customers felt so highly of these local enterprises that they nominated them for regional and national awards – a consoling thought given the power of the ubiquitous supermarkets.

Andrea Leadsom: “Today’s winners and nominees represent the very best of Rural Britain.”

Yet, in a way, one thing was missing and that was the recognition of these awards to businesses and their achievements by the animal welfare/rights organisations that tend to see the Countryside Alliance only through the prism of hunting and shooting. Any vegetarian, and I speak as one of many years, must surely understand the benefit of locally sourced, free-range meat that avoids transportation of animals over long distances. This is precisely what those in the butcher category achieve in welfare terms and they are rightly recognised for this by the Alliance. If this was somehow achieved nationwide it would undoubtedly be a momentous step in the right direction for animal welfare. Yet the good that is achieved here is obviously far less important than keeping your image ‘pure’ and avoiding being seen to ally yourself and your organisation with, horror of horrors, a ‘hunting and shooting’ body. It is a perfect example of muddled and blinkered thinking.

Ian Clarke of Clarke’s of Queniborough, Leicestershire, joint Midlands Champion in the Butcher category

Thankfully, reasonable people are not so confused and the day was a total success, until, that is, another blinkered individual took centre stage moments later, but this time with devastating consequences.

The terrorist attack at the Houses of Parliament cost the lives of four innocent people, including that of PC Keith Palmer who gave his life trying to stop this madness. It meant that the Palace of Westminster was in ‘lock-down’ for five hours or more and while this was inconvenient for literally thousands of people kept inside the various buildings on the estate, it pales to insignificance compared to the many other victims of a deluded thug who were caught up in the attack, some with life-changing injuries. To say this self-appointed ‘jihadist’, who had a string of previous convictions for violent offences, was muddled would be an understatement, but when an individual has managed to convince himself of the absolute righteousness of his beliefs, sometimes terrible things happen.

Social media firms like to avoid taking responsibility for the content on the websites they make available or the communication links they provide. Their view is to uphold the right of “free speech”, conveniently ignoring the fact that few would welcome a society that permits absolutely no curb on what can be said at any time and in any circumstance. They appear reluctant to impose such restrictions and, as a result, those with simple minds or criminal intent can be influenced or worse, radicalised. Co-ordination of terrorist activities is made easy via these forms of communication, while vile messages are commonplace. None of this is new to the hunting world, who just recently faced another spate of insults and threats of violence on an anti-hunting website following the death of horse rider and showjumper, Sue Webb. Were it not for the tragic circumstances, the ignorance of those posting such comments would almost be laughable, as she was taking part in a drag hunt.

The Crown Prosecution Service has recently issued new guidelines on threatening and insulting comments on social media and the Countryside Alliance has reported this abusive Facebook page to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, currently inquiring into “Hate crime and its violent consequences”. Just as a newspaper is responsible for the content it prints, even if it disagrees with the author, social media companies should not be allowed act as innocent bystanders. Distancing themselves from the views expressed after the event is simply not good enough.

Social media and the promotion of rural businesses have come together in a new dispute involving the Kent Wildlife Trust. Michael Bax, is the former High Sheriff of Kent and is involved in Kent’s rural economy, making him a useful link with corporate supporters of the charity and allowing it to undertake numerous conservation projects. Again, most reasonable people would probably think his appointment as chairman of the trust in 2014 was a good idea. But Mr Bax is a former Master of the Blean Beagles and naturally, according to those who see red every time the word ‘hunt’ appears, he must go. The Kent Wildlife Trust’s slogan is “Protecting Wildlife for the Future” and that, in the minds of the naïve and ignorant, means “no killing”. Now the trust being targeted by keyboard warriors calling for Mr Bax to be sacked.

The Kent Wildlife Trust must decide if it wants to stand with hunt saboteurs and other blinkered anti-hunt activists or with those who understand the complexities of managing wildlife and the countryside. Unfortunately, some members of the various wildlife trusts around the country can be guilty of holding irrational views, in just the same manner as those who argued for the Hunting Act – a law that is undoubtedly detrimental to animal welfare. Those who hate beagling and are so concerned about the quarry should note that this piece of legislation led directly to the death of tens of thousands of hares by farmers and landowners, the animals’ status having changed and population reduced to prevent poaching.

Remember, in the muddled thinking of some in the wildlife trusts, “no killing” is fine if you are a badger, but not if you are a deer or a grey squirrel; if you’re a hare, clearly your biggest threat appears to be a pack of beagles.

A letter to China

At the end of 2016, I received a copy of an extremely depressing letter from Dr Nick Fox OBE, the director of International Wildlife Consultants.

I’ve known Nick ever since I left the League Against Cruel Sports – he was the first person to congratulate me for walking out of that organisation. That was in 1995 and since then we have worked on a few joint projects, the most relevant for me being the exploration of wounding rates in foxes that are shot. That research, which was validated by peer-review in 2005, was not, as some alleged, an attack on shooting, but rather proof the claim heralded by anti-hunting groups at the time the Hunting Act was being debated that shooting is always preferable to hunting is simply wrong.

A hunter, shooter, but foremost a conservationist, Nick is also highly respected around the globe, mainly for his work in falconry, sustainable use of species and animal welfare – it is for this work he was awarded the Order of the British Empire. It is also because of this work that he felt so strongly about the contents of the open letter he copied to me, which was written by Dr Chris Brown, the Chief Executive Officer of the Namibian Chamber of Environment to the Chinese Ambassador to Namibia, Xin Shunkang.
The letter refers to ways in which China is exploiting natural resources in Africa and here are some extracts:
“While we recognize that not all Chinese nationals are involved in wildlife crimes, Namibia’s environmental community believes that the situation regarding Chinese nationals committing wildlife crimes in Namibia is far more serious and broad-based than you have acknowledged.”
“As Chinese nationals moved into all regions of Namibia, setting up businesses, networks, acquiring mineral prospecting licenses and offering payment for wildlife products, the incidence of poaching, illegal wildlife capture, collection, killing and export has increased exponentially. Chinese nationals have been involved in, and/or are the commercial drivers behind: the escalating poaching of rhinos and elephants in Namibia and the illegal export of rhino horn and ivory, the capture, trade and export of pangolins, the import of Chinese monofilament nets in industrial quantities via Zambia to the northeast of Namibia, which are destroying the fisheries of the Zambezi, Chobe, Kwando and Okavango Rivers, the unsustainable commercialization of fisheries in these north-eastern rivers and wetland systems for export to cities and towns in neighbouring countries, the capture and killing of Carmine Bee-eaters at their breeding colonies by means of nets, the rise in bush-meat poaching wherever Chinese nationals are working on road construction and other infrastructure, including tortoises, monitor lizards, pythons and any other form of wild meat, including from protected and endangered species, the illegal collection of shellfish on the Namibian coast, the illegal transit through Namibia and attempted export of poached abalone from Cape waters through Namibian ports.
We are also aware of long-standing interests by some Chinese nationals to start a shark fin industry in Namibia, a practice that has caused widespread damage to shark populations in many parts of the world, including in South Africa.
And more recently, Chinese nationals have proposed to capture marine mammals and seabirds for the Asian aquarium market. The Namibian scientific and environmental communities have strongly rejected this proposal on sound conservation and ethical grounds, as has the Namibian public.”

It puts into perspective the degree to which wild animals are being killed for a variety of reasons and it highlights why the focussing of so much time, money and effort on activities such as hunting with hounds in the UK is so misguided. For a country that prides itself on being a world leader in so many fields, it is a sad fact that, unlike the conservation groups that co-signed the letter and indeed the numerous countryside organisations in the UK, many Chinese appear not to understand the meaning of animal welfare, wildlife management or sustainability and even those who do know better seem powerless to stop such exploitation.

A Day to Remember

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day.

It is a day to remember the horrors of where a twisted and brutal ideology can lead and it’s important because, as time goes on, fewer people will have had first-hand knowledge of what actually happened.

When I was still in my teens, I met someone who had been one of the first soldiers to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Northern Germany in the last months of the Second World War. Benny had been part of the British 11th Armoured Division that had liberated the camp in April 1945 and he told this dumbstruck boy how he’d used a bergen-belsenbulldozer to push the dead, emaciated and diseased bodies into mass graves.

I say this because Benny had no reason to lie to me, no reason to exaggerate or make a political point – it was the truth and he rightly felt that we should never forget what the Nazis had done and why they had to be stopped.

So when I see anarchists or far-right groups using the swastika as some kind political statement and acting like their fascist heroes, I remember what Benny told me, just as I do when comments are made on social media likening fox hunters and the Countryside Alliance to the Nazi Party. The perfect combination of idiocy and ignorance, but there is something of an irony in this claim, given the history of the hunt saboteurs.

The name Dave McCalden may not mean very much to today’s sabs, but back in the early 1970s he was a leading light in the anti-hunting movement. McCalden sat on the Hunt Saboteurs Association committee and edited HOWL, the official magazine of the HSA. In the very first issue, a centre page was almost entirely dedicated to attacking Jewish form of slaughter known as shechitah, in which the animal is not stunned before being killed by a cut to the throat. As a vegetarian for over 40 years, I don’t condemn people who eat meat, but I do not accept any argument, religious or otherwise, for not properly pre-stunning animals destined for slaughter – a position held by the British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA. But the point here is that kosher slaughter is hardly an issue central to the pro/anti hunting debate, so why it was included in an anti-hunting newsletter is odd to say the least, unless of course it suited the ideology of the editor.

The first issue of HOWL

The first issue of HOWL

McCalden was a member of the National Front and helped form their policy on hunting, which of course was to oppose it. The news of the stance was happily reported in HOWL.
It was no secret in hunt saboteur circles at the time that McCalden had links to the National Front and other far-right groups, including the Ku Klux Klan. These were the days when the NF and the Anti-Nazi League often clashed and it was inevitable that McCalden’s involvement in the anti-hunting movement would come to a head, as it did at an HSA annual general meeting in Newcastle, when a motion for his expulsion had been tabled. The arguments from both sides became very bitter, with the Holocaust frequently being quoted. I can remember vividly the reaction when a prominent animal rightist said, “Well, if they were meat eating Jews, so what?”. It must be said that the majority of those present did not hold this view and McCalden was expelled from the HSA, though other prominent saboteurs made it clear they regretted the move, one saying in an outburst, “Why are we doing this? We’re all anti-hunting, aren’t we?”

That comment sums up the gullibility, naivety and obsessive nature of those who see everything – human abuse, animal abuse, human welfare or animal welfare – through the narrow prism of hunting.

Dave McCalden continued to argue his case both in this country and later in the USA, becoming a vocal supporter of Holocaust denial and founder of the Institute for Historical Review. He published books and newsletters on the ‘facts’ as he saw them and even produced films that supposedly ‘proved’ the Nazi concentration camps did not exist. He died nazi-commentin 1990.

The next time a saboteur tries to denigrate those who hunt by comparing them to ‘Nazis’, ‘ISIS’ or any other manifestation of human wickedness and brutality, it might be worth reminding them that some of the original members of their organisation were not as compassionate as they might think.

Today should also remind us where blindly following any bigoted ideology might lead.

Boxing Day 2016

When the Hunting Act became law in 2004, those who had campaigned so hard for its success surely did not expect to be spending their subsequent Boxing Days repeating the usual anti-hunting mantra. Part of that battle was to convince the public, press and politicians that it would all be over soon after the law was passed. Clearly, they got that very wrong.

Boxing Day 2016 showed no sign of enthusiasm for hunting fading.

Boxing Day 2016 showed no sign of enthusiasm for hunting fading.

Problems within the League Against Cruel Sports hit the headlines earlier in the year, revealing that the then chief executive, Joe Duckworth, had left the organisation after a pub brawl, a futile spending spree and mounting internal disputes. The difficulty for the LACS, however, was once again they had forgotten that being a charity means abiding by charity rules and these do not allow for the paying out of large sums of money to keep awkward incidents like that involving Mr Duckworth out of the media spotlight.

A prosecution brought by the LACS against the Lamerton Hunt collapsed in a spectacular fashion when the relationship between Professor Stephen Harris, acting as an expert witness, and the LACS was revealed. Costs were thought to be on the region of £100,000 and shortly afterwards the LACS solicitor and acting chief executive, Rachel Newman, departed.

In the final weeks of 2016,  the Report of the Review of the Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) Act 2002 by senior judge Lord Bonomy was published. It had been prompted by a sensible proposal from the Westminster government to amend the Hunting Act to allow a larger number of dogs to be used to flush out wild mammals, as permitted under an exemption. It would also bring the English and Welsh law into line with that in Scotland. The Scottish National Party, having previously said they would not vote on issues that did not relate to Scotland, decided that it was more important to play party politics and oppose the Conservative government by threatening to vote down the measure. The numbers for and against were tight and so the proposal was withdrawn, but the  anti-hunting law itself then became an embarrassment to the SNP. The Bonomy Report was commissioned, I have absolutely no doubt, with the aim of providing a ‘legitimate’ basis for the Scottish government to recommend a reduction in the number of flushing dogs. However, the report concluded that a pack is necessary for the exemption in the law to work properly and criticised the confused nature of the legislation. Not exactly what the SNP and their anti-hunting friends had expected.

So while Boxing Day 2016 appeared to follow the usual lines in many ways in attempting to boost anti-hunt morale, the reality is nothing of the sort. An investigation by The Times was published just before Christmas and highlighted the ‘secretive’ nature of Conservatives Against Fox Hunting – a group known as the Blue Foxes. How had they been funded and who was that mysterious ‘animal welfare charity’ that had given them thousands of pounds?  The LACS paid for hotel accommodation for CAFC personnel and my understanding of charity law is that such a donation to a non-charitable, party political group is definitely illegal.

While the situation is now to be investigated by the Charity Commission, senior Conservative MP, Sir Edward Garnier QC, has written to Tory Party chairman, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, saying, “The Conservative Party needs, I suggest, to consider whether or not it is comfortable with a close relationship between groups that market themselves as an animal welfare arm of the Conservative Party and charities that are keen to campaign against the Conservative Party”.

Boxing Day bungling continued with the ludicrous claim from the new LACS chief, Eduardo Goncalves, that  the Hunting Act has been broken 200,000 times – a slightly puzzling statement given that there has been no successful prosecution involving a hunt for over two years. In the same breath, Mr Goncalves, presumably with a straight face and without a shred of evidence, appeared to contradict himself by saying that those attending Boxing Day meets were opposed to traditional hunting.

One tactic that is always used on Boxing Day is the latest public opinion poll on hunting. Polls can genuinely reflect pubic views, but they can also give highly misleading results; it all depends on the questions asked. Consider for a moment what would happen to tigers, wolves, lions and all the many other predators if the conclusions of a recent YouGov poll were put into law. This poll found that when watching wildlife films on television, 48% of the public side with the prey species as opposed to 9% who side with predators. It may be an understandable response, but show a starving cheetah cub and a very different conclusion would be reached. Polls on hunting are just as misleading and no basis for  law-making.

The LACS sees illegal hunting at every turn and tries to convince politicians that ‘trail hunting’ is just an excuse to carry on as normal, while drag hunting is, of course, totally different. If this latest campaign to strengthen the Hunting Act (after years of telling us that it is robust and sound legislation) is successful and ‘trail hunting’ is prohibited, it would in effect mean the end of drag hunting and bloodhound hunting. The LACS knows little about each sport and, having witnessed anti-hunt aggression directed at a bloodhound pack, it seems that some animal rightists couldn’t care less if all forms of hunting ended. Here is an extract from the LACS website:

“In drag hunting, or in bloodhounds hunting (or hunting the ‘clean boot’ as it is also known) where the scent of a human runner is followed instead of a drag, the trail never contains animal scent, is never laid in areas likely to have foxes…”

The obvious question is where, in the length and breadth of the UK countryside, might that area exist?

It’s not surprising that LACS staff make outlandish comments. So many have come and gone recently that they hardly have time to learn their job titles let alone the complexities of hunting and wildlife management. Claims such as 400,000 badgers being snared every year (which could very well be the whole badger population in the UK) are laughable, or they would be if it ended there. The real danger lies not in what LACS say, but those who are gullible enough to believe them and are in a position to put their ignorant demands into action.

The fact is, though, all of these idiotic claims, campaigns and demonstrations should be seen as just one thing – frustration. For despite all the usual poll results, the mad comments on social media, the so-called ‘monitoring’, the predictions of hunting’s demise and the ridiculous Hunting Act itself, hunts are still here.

 

To many people the word compromise means an end to an ongoing conflict or argument, that at least a point of agreement has been reached and now something positive might be achieved.

To others it means capitulation, giving in to the opposition and is a sign of weakness or failure. Many animal rights ‘activists’ (though that can hardly describe those who seem to spend all day tweeting) fall into the latter category.

Two meetings, one earlier this year and the other just this month, showed that people with different views coming together to discuss and debate their particular priorities can point to a way forward.

In May, a conference was organised to discuss the problems bats can cause in historic buildings. Their droppings and urine can seriously damage valuable and ancient monuments as well as creating ‘no-go’ areas for people with respiratory trouble. Clearing the mess is usually a daily task, often left to the older members of the congregation. All bats in the UK are protected and while steps can be taken to remove them from domestic dwellings, moving them on from a building such as a church (some 6500 are affected in this way) can be far more problematic and costly.

Bats in churches conference: working to find a compromise.

Bats in Churches conference: working to find a compromise.

The conference brought together representatives from the Bat Conservation Trust, Natural England, Historic England and the Church of England, as well as other interested organisations and individuals. The Bats in Churches Partnership had previously submitted a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for a project to tackle the problem, but this had failed. However, the good news is that, with guidance from the HLF, a new bid has just been re-submitted. If successful, the results of the project could lead to a sensible settlement of the issue which is acceptable to both sides.

The point to be made here is that it is through dialogue and a willingness of the various parties to attempt to see the problem through the eyes of opponents, this may lead to fair and positive results. While this is not so rare in the animal welfare world, it is almost akin to blasphemy within animal rights organisations. So when the Wild Animal Welfare Committee (WAWC), a body of scientists brought together by the Scottish animal welfare group One Kind, was formed, it was understandably viewed with some scepticism in certain quarters.

The WAWC held its inaugural conference in Edinburgh this month, with speakers addressing a range of issues currently affecting wild animals. Those attending also represented a range of views on wildlife matters and it would be wrong to suggested that everyone present all suddenly agreed, but it must be said that many of the points made were well-balanced and realistic. The tone of the meeting was moderate and professional, touching upon issues which avoided the simplistic banning mentality that is so prevalent in other animal welfare meetings. The speakers, while all being pro animal welfare, did not seek to hide or avoid difficult and sensitive subjects and it was interesting that when topics, such as hunting, were raised there was not the usual ‘shock horror’ reaction from the audience.

My initial feeling is that the WAWC, rather than wanting to be just another forum in which everyone present is of the same ilk, genuinely wants to see progress in animal welfare and that means talking to people who do not necessarily see things the same way. In doing so, the WAWC will have the usual animal rights critics on one side and suspicious hunters, shooters and land managers on the other side, so the route may not be easy.
It’s early days, but this is a voice that is long overdue and deserves to be heard.

A knight’s tale

The 2016 political party conferences did not seem to have the usual collection of fringe meetings dedicated to animal issues.

The Countryside Alliance attended each conference, addressing differing issues from accessing broadband in rural areas to how the BBC portrays countryside matters, but one noticeable feature was that the three main parties all had a reduced number of exhibition stands. According to one exhibitor who attended the Labour Party conference, newly-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn personally vetted those who could and could not have a stand, barring the larger companies and businesses he dislikes.

This doesn’t explain the reduced number of animal stands. The RSPCA, for example, normally holds a ‘Beer and Curry’ evening at each conference which is always well attended, yet no such event this year, perhaps as a result of the recent internal turmoil and a shortage of funds. Those opposed to the badger cull, usually highly vocal both inside and outside the conferences, were nowhere to be seen or heard.

Two fringe meetings concerning animals that did take place are worth a mention.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes at the Liberty and Livelihood March in 2002

A strong message: Sir Ranulph Fiennes at the Liberty and Livelihood March in 2002.

The Liberal Democrat conference was held in Brighton and a fringe meeting was organised by the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association to discuss the difference between animal welfare and animal rights and how well the Animal Welfare Act is working. Unlike events organised by certain other groups there was an opportunity here  to ask questions, though the answer to the most pertinent query i.e. what is the plan to give all animals rights and avoid all use of them, was a little hazy. There was a call for an increase in penalties for the most heinous acts of cruelty to animals, something with which I and many others would agree. Some might say that talking to those opposed to hunting is futile, but I have found that often it is worthwhile engaging in conversation, if for no other reason, to make people think. It allows for an explanation of wildlife management, the use of scenting hounds in that process and a chance to ask that crucial question: “We know what you may dislike, but what do you actually support?”

It was a question that I would like to have asked a couple of weeks later in Birmingham at the Conservative Party conference where the League Against Cruel Sports held a reception with the famous explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes as guest speaker. Sir Ranulph had taken part in the Liberty and Livelihood March in 2002, yet now here he was at the Conservative conference calling on the government not to repeal the Hunting Act. He explained that he had never been in favour of hunting and had marched for other rural and libertarian reasons. This came as a surprise, given that the enormous media interest at the time left absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind that the march was about opposition to the forthcoming anti-hunting law and how liberty was being curtailed, not on the basis of sound animal welfare evidence, but prejudice, bigotry and blinkered class war.

Sir Ranulph at the Conservative conference with a different message.

Sir Ranulph at the Conservative conference 2016 with a very different message.

What many who were present wanted to know was why Sir Ranulph had changed his mind so dramatically? What new evidence had come to light that prompted such a volte-face? Apparently, it was the sight of a fox “injured and clearly distressed following an exhausting chase at the hands of the Cheshire Hunt.” The animal, we were told, took six days to die.

There is something rather strange here. Had the fox actually been caught by hounds? If so, it is highly unlikely to have escaped. If not, how does Sir Ranulph know its injuries were caused by a hunt? His explanation does not take us very far, “How did my wife and I know that the fox had been suffering the effects of the hunters’ chase? Because we had watched it being chased with our own eyes.”

If some kind of dirty trick had been played by the hunt, such as releasing a wounded animal, a criminal offence would have been committed and should have been reported to the police. So many questions and yet no time was allowed to put them. Time was available, however, for ‘selfie’ pictures with some of the audience, but an attempt to talk to Sir Ranulph about his experience was blocked as he was whisked out of the room.

Nevertheless, conversations with some present did take place, with one former LACS employee being the perfect example of how the Hunting Act is supported by a kind of blind faith. Asked if this is good law, the answer was, “Of course!” But then, when illogical (and certainly not animal welfare-based) exemptions were described, that view changed to one of the need to strengthen the legislation. And there is the anomaly; the Hunting Act is either good law or it is bad law – it cannot be both.

I asked a LACS official if a meeting with Sir Ranulph might be arranged and was told that a message could be passed on to him…but only if I purchased a copy of his book.

The Government has announced the culling of badgers will be extended to Devon, Cornwall and Herefordshire, adding to the existing cull areas in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset in the attempt to curb bovine TB. In addition, new scientific work has shone further light on how the disease is transmitted.

Whenever a new aspect to this heated debate is added, the calls to re-evaluate the culls come thick and fast and invariably claim such ‘new information’ backs the case for ending the cull. It’s an easy thing to do when the science appears to be so divided and complex.

I can remember doing jury service many years ago and when the arguments both for and against in any case became too difficult to follow or understand, it was the smaller, simpler things about the defendant or a witness that seemed to decide whether the person in the dock was guilty or not. I know that wasn’t the right way to make a decision, yet I’m fairly sure that many verdicts are reached on just such a basis.

It’s really no different in the case of badgers and the attempts to control a disease that has already cost the tax payer well over half a billion pounds, quite apart from the animal welfare concerns. The science surrounding this serious problem has been used, abused, exaggerated and cherry-picked. Add into the mix a fair amount of lies, intimidation, ‘celebrity’ campaigning and a degree of political nervousness and you have the situation we face today.

While no one should decry any genuine science on this, or indeed any other issue, I know there are numerous experts in this field who are slightly bemused by the conclusions of a recent report by Professor Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London. The findings, which indicate that the disease is more commonly spread from badgers to cattle through urine and faeces in the environment, seems to confirm what many scientists have been saying for years. The Guardian newspaper, which has been vocal in its opposition to any badger cull, implies that this study somehow justifies their stance. It does not.

A response to the report was submitted to the newspaper by the secretary of the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management and while it sums up the situation perfectly, it’s no surprise that the letter was not published, but it can be read here:

Dear Editor

As your perceptive readers will realise Professor Woodroffe delivers us a dazzling glimpse of the obvious from her recent study on the transmission of bovine TB from badgers to cattle (Carrington, report 5.8.16). With over 30% of badgers in large areas of the country infected with bovine TB and the advanced clinical cases shedding vast numbers of tubercle bacilli into the agricultural environment it doesn’t need much imagination to realise how cattle sharing the same pasture and yards become infected.

Furthermore, Ms Woodroffe is clearly ignorant of the striking difference in the pathology of the disease between cattle and badgers. Whereas badgers suffer a protracted fulminating disease that eventually spreads to all body organs, cattle wall off the infection in fibrous tubercles. Cattle do not therefore shed large numbers of tubercle bacilli into the environment as do badgers, which accounts for why cattle to cattle transmission is not a major factor in the spread of disease. This was declared by the Chief Veterinary Officer as long ago as 1995 and it won’t have changed since then.

Yours sincerely

Dr Lewis H. Thomas

Vaccination has no effect on badgers suffering from bovine TB

Vaccination has no effect on badgers suffering from bovine TB

This new study and the calls for a re-think on how bovine TB is tackled should not be used to suggest that the culling of badgers is fundamentally flawed. Infected badgers suffer over long periods before death and it is unrealistic to think that this can be prevented by vaccination. Some protesters opposed to a cull argue that animals in the wild die awful deaths in any case, as if that somehow justifies a lack of action by humans – a very strange version of animal welfare.

It’s not helped by press reports that are completely untrue and misleading. I like Rod Liddle, the Sunday Times journalist, and get on quite well with him, but his latest piece on the badger cull almost deserves an award for cramming so many falsehoods into one article.

“There is not the slenderest scientific evidence to suggest that killing badgers will stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis to cattle” writes Rod. Really? How then are the figures for a dramatic decrease in cattle reactors in the two culling areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset explained? In the 11 month period to November 2014 the number of cattle showing signs of bovine TB dropped by 42% and 39% respectively and stand in stark contrast to surrounding counties where no culling took place. Furthermore, veterinarian Roger Blowey, an expert in this field, feels that the number of badgers in these areas was over-estimated. This put the numbers to cull (70%) at an unrealistically high level, thereby giving credence to the argument that the operation had failed.

The data produced by the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), which took place between 1998 and 2005, has been re-examined. This latest report includes recent information from the Animal and Plant Health Agency which appears to refute the allegation that culling has a significantly detrimental effect on surrounding areas by infected badgers moving further afield (known as perturbation). The RBCT is often quoted by anti-cull groups as evidence against the effectiveness of culling, yet even this research showed a 23% drop in reactors to bovine TB. The review further states that it is not until the fifth year that the true benefits of a cull were seen, which clearly has implications for trial culls over a shorter period.

Rod claims, “Checking the spread of the disease — which these days is of scant threat to the public — is best done by stopping the spread from cow to cow, or by vaccination.”  Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? Well, apart from the fact that it doesn’t work. Cattle to cattle transmission, while it may happen in certain circumstances, is far less likely to occur as bovine TB reacts differently in the animals. The nature of the disease in badgers is quite different from that in cattle, effectively walling off the infection in fibrous tubercles, hence the reason why whole herds are not slaughtered when reactors are discovered. The badger, on the other hand, becomes what is known as a ‘ super excretor’ thereby further spreading the bacterium.

Testing for bovine TB; stressful for cattle and farmers.

Testing for bovine TB; stressful for cattle and farmers.

Vaccination, quite apart from being a time-consuming and sporadic process, is simply not proven in the field. It is only partially successful even in humans and does not help badgers already infected with the disease. Added to this is the fact that there is now a world-wide shortage of the vaccine.

Rod continues, bringing in his dislike of hunting with hounds, “This mindset is hugely out of step with public opinion. There is no appetite whatsoever for a repeal of the Hunting Act.” I can’t believe that Rod really thinks Government policy should be decided on the back of e-petitions or dodgy polls commissioned by pressure groups. How, for example, can the tens of thousands of signatures on an e-petition be equated to, say, a few hundred dairy farmers battling to avoid bovine TB? Come on Rod, get real.

As usual, there are no answers or concerns about the suffering of badgers or the disruption and cost of testing tens of thousands of cattle. No real worry about their slaughter either, just calls to ‘save the badger’ from those who claim to care for the animal.

While the shooting of badgers will continue, DEFRA is rightly looking at other control methods. Identification of infected setts is currently being explored, as is the use of humane fumigants, though frankly this should been done years ago. How do the pro-badger people feel about this route?  It would be nice to hear some answers, because all the time there is a significant reservoir of the disease in badgers, the inevitable link to cattle will always exist unless all cattle are removed from all pastureland – surely a situation no one wants.

Further information on badgers and bovine TB can be found at the Veterinary Association for Wildlife Management website:

http://www.vet-wildlifemanagement.org.uk