Archive for October, 2012

Foxing the badger debate

Guess who said this, “Given the choice of being pursued until your muscles are paralysed and then ripped apart by hounds; or shot with a bullet, with the chance of an instant death, which would you choose?” Well, it was Brian May, famous rock star and highly vocal advocate for wildlife.

It’s a common line that’s often used in the debate about hunting with hounds and it works well on members of the public, most of whom know little about hunting or shooting.  The groups and politicians opposed to hunting have exploited it to the extreme, so it’s odd that now those very same groups and politicians disapprove of the same method when it comes to badgers.

Often, in emotionally charged arguments such as those surrounding hunting or the bovine TB situation, the detail and consequences of actions or inactions are lost – all that matters is winning. Whether or not the proposed badger cull goes ahead next year, playing party politics will not eliminate certain questions about this disease that demand answers. It also raises questions about how our legislation is now made.

Funny that during the numerous hunting debates the lack of any scientific basis for a ban was not felt to be a problem according to anti-hunting groups; it was blindingly obvious that hunting must be cruel…for no other reason than they said it was. They knew full well that a majority of the public would swallow that message.  Even when validated science showed that certain shooting regimes would lead to many foxes inevitably being wounded, that research was simply ignored and instead non-validated, unpublished and flawed “studies” were hailed as countering the initial work.  Clearly, any form of shooting – shotgun or rifle, appropriate ammunition or not, correct distance or not, experienced shooter or not – was preferable to the selective and non-wounding hunting with hounds.  So it is peculiar that the ‘humaneness’  of using highly controlled and trained marksmen in the proposed badger culls is now in question.

In none of the many media interviews with those who oppose a cull, Brian May included, do they talk about the torment of badgers that have bovine TB. Perhaps they are unaware, as are many people, that badgers with the disease are not just carriers, but suffer from it too and will eventually die a miserable death over days or weeks. It’s hardly an animal welfare-minded view that says just let nature take its course.

The bovine TB situation raises other questions too, many of which those opposed to the trial culls fail to address.  How will the reservoir of the disease in badgers be eradicated? When will an effective vaccine be ready? Will it work?  How would such a vaccine be administered to each badger? Other questions are more uncomfortable.  Is the badger over-protected and are there simply too many of them? Is the occurrence of bovine TB in the badger population the result? Does other wildlife, such the once common hedgehog and ground-nesting birds, suffer as a result?

Man has a duty to properly and humanely manage the natural environment and that includes keeping wildlife diseases at a minimum. Sometimes this will mean undertaking unpalatable steps. Had the previous government taken those steps to halt the spread of bovine TB, it is clear that it would not be at its current level, but they didn’t and now, to add insult to injury, many of those same politicians appear to advocate a policy of ‘wait and see’ if an effective vaccine can be found. Very easy when you are not the one suffering.

The graph below needs no explanation.

Further questions relate to the way in which our legislation is formed. The bovine TB situation is a catastrophe, already costing the public purse half a billion pounds, as well as the death of many thousands of cattle. The anxiety and dismay felt by many farmers is obvious.  That, at least, is accepted by all parties. What is not agreed by everyone is the method to deal with it. Whether or not shooting in the control areas is the most viable means to eradicate the disease remains to be seen and is part of the reason these trials are taking place, though it must be stated that in every country where bovine TB has taken hold the culling of the reservoir species has played a significant part in successfully curbing the disease.

Can it be right, therefore, that animal welfare/right groups wield so much influence in such circumstances, especially when they change their minds and policies when it suits them on what is humane and inhumane and, in doing so, cynically manipulate the public into supporting them? The vast majority of people will have limited knowledge of exactly what is happening to wildlife and the bovine TB situation. It directly affects very few of them and yet they have been sold a naive and misleading “Save the badgers “ line, just as they were sold a “Save the foxes” slogan during the hunting debate.

Through demonstrations and letter writing campaigns they then place pressure on the DEFRA ministers who are trying to halt this awful disease – ministers who are already subject to the worst aspects of political point-scoring by their parliamentary colleagues who contributed to the problem by ducking the issue when in government.

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VAWM symposium

A one day symposium on Wildlife Diseases and Conservation

to be held at The Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London, W1G 0AE on Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 1000h

0915 Coffee and registration


1000 Introduction and welcome       Tony Mudd, Chairman, VAWM


1005 – 1315h  Session 1,        chairman: Dr. Caroline Hahn

One health – integrating human, domestic animal and wildlife health   

Professor Richard Kock, Royal Veterinary College

Vector–borne infectious diseases; biology is crucial but not the whole story

Professor Sarah Randolph, University of Oxford

1105 – 1115h              Break

Bat white nose syndrome                                                                 

Mr Alex Barlow, AHVLA

Exotic pathogens and alien wildlife                                                

Mr. Vic Simpson, Truro, Cornwall

Pets Travel Scheme – a threat to UK biosecurity

Mr. Harvey Locke,

Cetaceans Strandings Investigation Programme

Dr Paul Jepson, IOZ, London 


1315 – 1400h              Lunch


1400 – 1530h              Session 2         chairman: Dr. Lewis Thomas


The Big Society and Conservation                                     

Mrs Teresa Dent, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge

The Big Society and grey Partridges – success in the private sector      

Professor Nick Sotherton,, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge                                       

Life in the Wild        

Mr Jim Barrington, VAWM


1530h                          Tea


1600 – 1730h              Session 3         chairman: Katie Colvile                     


UK species translocations – past present and future                                            

Mr Leigh Lock, RSPB Sandy

Sea Eagles in Europe and the threat from lead poisoning                       

Mr Bjorn Beckmann CEH Wallingford

Predatory birds and anticoagulant rodenticides                                                   

Mr Lee Walker CEH Lancaster.

Poster: Poisoning from lead gunshot still a threat to wild water birds in Britain

Julia Newth, Wildfowl and Wetlands trust, Slimbridge


Registration:  £115 (subscribing members), £135 (non-members), £75 (vet students) – includes symposium booklet, lunch, tea and coffee. Tickets are limited to 150 – some places are still available.

Please apply to:

Mrs. C.A.Lewis-Jones MRCVS, Ponchydown Cottage, Blackborough, Cullompton, Devon,

EX15 2HQ, enclosing a cheque payable to VAWM for the appropriate amount.

Tel: 01884 266498 (preferably after 6pm) or 07931 364614,

E-mail: charmianlj@btinternet.com

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