Farmers have no choice about culling badgers?

cow and farmer

Despite Daisy’s worries, this is not the case. Farmers, you do have a choice.

My posts recently have been expressing my intense dislike of the slaughter of badgers in the UK in an attempt to limit bovine TB in badgers. My opinions about the cull have not altered in any way and I would ask you to take a peek at the other relevant posts to see what I believe. However, I do think it’s about time to consider the other side of the story.

Whatever my opinion about the cull, bovine TB is a problem which has to be dealt with. I have heard plenty of people saying “Why don’t we just vaccinate the cows?” Others ask about vaccinating badgers to stop the spread from them to cattle (and also to prevent cattle infecting healthy badgers).

Now both of these suggestions seem to be perfectly reasonable, so why isn’t it being done? Well, there are reasons for that. The most successful vaccine available at the moment is BCG. It is not 100% effective in all cattle. At best, the vaccine appears to fully immunise only 50% of cattle, with 25% being given partial immunity and 25% none whatsoever. However, the 25% do not suffer the disease as virulently as would normally be the case. It is not known if the same would apply to badgers.

The cost of vaccination is around £8 a shot (though doubtless this includes some fantastic profit margins on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry). Not only that, but it is only effective for 1 to 2 years. Then there is the problem of testing. The quickfire skin test that is used on cattle shows up positive with vaccinated cattle. So does the more expensive interferon gamma blood test. A modified blood test plus the skin test can tell the difference between TB infection and the effect of the vaccine alone. This all costs money…a lot of it. For 10 million cattle in the UK the vaccination alone costs £80 million pounds. For badgers, the cost is estimated at around £660 per animal. to vaccinate 150,000 badgers would cost £1 million. Culling badgers at the present minimum estimate of £2000 per animal would cost hundreds of millions.

Now, whilst I don’t think it’s fair of DEFRA to assume the same effectiveness in badgers, since no study has ever been carried out, it does seem likely that the vaccine will not be 100% effective. Add to that, the fact that not all badgers will be trapped and vaccinated.

So where does this leave us with respect to cattle and badgers? Well, clearly, there need to be trials done on the effectiveness of the vaccine in badgers, otherwise DEFRA are going to continue to dismiss the idea, based on guesswork. Also, a better test is required that can economically distinguish between vaccinated cattle and infected animals.

Having said all that, the beef industry is worth £2 billion pounds to the UK. Dairy accounted for £3.7 billion in 2012. I said in earlier posts that it looks as if the problem rose sharply in 2002 due to infected cattle being brought in from abroad. That excessive importation will have stopped now and there is every chance that the number of cattle being slaughtered due to the illness will subside back to the level it was pre-2002, ie 5000 per year. Those cattle are worth around £1.5 million, or 0.075% of the market value of the beef sales, or <0.03% of the combined beef and dairy industry value.

I repeat, this is simply not the big problem it is being made out to be.

Farmers in the UK, don’t believe what you are being told by the government. You don’t have to cull badgers: you simply have to maintain your vigilance, as you are at the moment, wait for developments in vaccines for cattle and don’t be tempted to try to get around the rules for moving and selling infected stock. I can’t imagine how soul-destroying it must be to have a herd infected, but culling badgers is not the answer.

 

 

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Badgers’ Vital Statistics

cattle tb graph

Here’s a snapshot of an excel graph that I produced to show the reality of the badger cull. The source is a UK government document produced by Oliver Hawkins for the Social and General Statistics section of the UK government. They can hardly say that I’m making up figures, can they? His basis was DEFRA’s own figures.

It puts the whole thing into perspective. The line is a line of ‘best’ fit, though as an engineer, I feel guilty about adding a line to represent such higgledy piggledy figures. That line shows an increase of 2,000 cattle slaughtered per year: like I said, I don’t think it’s fair to add the line in the first place: if the 2002 rise is neglected and a line is put through the other figures, the rate of rise is…843/year. If it’s put through the period 2008 to 2012 its a drop of 3874 per year. Which is right? probably none of them.

Remember that the government seeks to reduce the rate of rise in cattle TB by 16%. I don’t know what figure they are using for the rate of rise, but it’s no more likely to be accurate than my guess of 2,000. That means that they are hoping to prove that cattle death due to TB will only go up by about 1,700 per year from now on. This, they will undoubtedly hail as a success. Given that the average swing in slaughter rates from one year to the next is 5,500 cattle and the largest variation is 17,800 in one year, just how the hell do they think they can attribute a downturn of 300 to badger culling?

This is what I meant in my earlier posts, when I said that mathematically, the government’s claims are absurd.

There are a couple of other things that this graph shows quite clearly:

Number 1. Bovine TB rates were pottering along at around 5,000 per year until a five fold leap in 2001-2002. Why is this? I strongly suspect that it is due to re-stocking UK herds from abroad, following the epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, which eradicated a huge proportion of UK herds. It is very possible that farmers unwittingly introduced high levels of TB into the UK herds, when they did this. This surge can be nothing to do with badgers, yet they are being blamed for it.

It follows that badgers can only be contributing to the 5,000 or so deaths, which represent 0.05% of UK cattle population, or 5 in every ten thousand cattle…that’s not a lot.

Number 2. Whilst the rate of infection climbed from 2001 until 2008, it appears to be subsiding again, presumably as the control of cattle movements and TB checking strategies begin to take effect. Last year had the lowest incidence of bovine TB since the 2002 jump. Badgers were not being culled in this period, yet infection rates are falling rapidly. Be very wary of any politician claiming that a reduction next year has anything to do with the culling!

Number 3. You would think from what the politicians are saying that bovine TB is at epidemic scale and that this is why the badgers have to be slaughtered. This is simply not the case. At its peak in 2008, total losses, which includes animals which are TB-free being slaughtered because of direct contact with infected beasts, the death rate was less than 0.4%…hardly the end of the world.

The relative cost of TB.

Government estimates that £50 million pounds per year is spent on TB in this country. Bear in mind that with or without badgers, some of this money still has to be spent. I’m not sure of the split, because to buy a new calf costs between £1,400 and £1,600, making the cost of 5,000 deaths in livestock alone £7 million to £8 million. there will be more cost to add to that because a dairy farmer can’t milk a calf! Nor can a beef farmer sell the calf until it is fully grown, unless it is sold for veal.

The cost of each badger death has been touted variously at around £2,000 per head. I would expect this figure to rise as the cull is extended in Somerset and Gloucestershire. There is no reliable data on badger population in the UK, but I have seen estimates varying between 288,000 and 300,000. On this basis, to cull 70% would cost around £588 million. The culling could not stop there either, but would have to continue to control the population.

So, the financial argument is £50 million a year to keep going as we are without culling, or a proportion of that cost to maintain TB checks with an additional yearly cost to cull and a whopping great £0.5 billion pounds for the first big cull.

Financially, the cull makes no more sense than the science and maths that are allegedly behind its inception.

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For every Conservative there are 475 dead badgers.

Badger-007

Well,

this appalling slaughter continues to fall short of the expectations of the so-called experts behind the plan. In Gloucestershire, as with Somerset, the cull has not met its target. In a repeat of the farce in the other pilot cull, the original population was apparently overestimated and has been reduced from 3,400 to 2,350. The target of 2,900 kills has been reduced accordingly to 1,650. They have managed to destroy ‘only’ 708, fewer than half.

Do these buffoons have any idea of what they are doing? They are applying for an extension from the six week cull, which could be for a further 8 weeks.

I have to ask several questions about all of this. Firstly, just how many badgers are really in the area. It seems like a sick joke to simply pluck figures out of thin air. What if there are only a thousand animals, or maybe four thousand? On the one hand, the cull could eliminate badgers entirely. On the other, it could leave two thirds of the animals alive.

Protagonists for the slaughter claim that if 70% of badgers are killed, the rate of increase of bovine TB will be slowed by 16%. Yes, you read that correctly: the rate of increase will be reduced by a tiny amount. If fewer than 7 out of ten are killed it will have no effect whatever. I would suggest that if the organisers of the cull haven’t got the faintest idea of how many badgers are present, they cannot possibly know how successful their efforts have been.

Also, the idea is to kill the target number in a short time, thus preventing the movement and spread of the badgers to other areas. As with Somerset, they are asking to more than double the original timescale. Add to this that if they have found less than half of the revised target in six weeks, the rest are going to be scattered more widely and will be even harder to locate.

No, its a shambles. Costs must be soaring and may rise even higher. The government is talking about introducing more culls throughout England next year. If this happens, it will do so without knowing what effect these two culls have had. They point to ‘success’ in Ireland as justification. In Ireland, TB in cattle was reduced from 17% to 3% without killing a single badger. The 1989 ERAD report in Ireland states that the primary mechanism for spread of the disease is still contact between infected cattle, either directly or indirectly. It follows that TB will not be eradicated, even if we make badgers extinct in Ireland and the UK without further measures. Some farmers in Ireland want to see the cull extended to deer as well as badgers. Just how many species are we prepared to slaughter in the interest of  wealth?

Do you know why I think the culls have started, especially in these two counties? Politics. A UK general election is looming. The coalition government is already splintering. The Conservatives are worried about their voters defecting to UKIP. They want to get voters back on their side. Somerset and Gloucestershire are rural, farming counties and all of their MPs are either Conservative or Liberal Democrat, with the majority being Conservative. The badgers in these counties are unlucky. They are simply being killed to keep some worried Conservative MPs on their big fat salaries. So, how many badgers does it cost to keep a Conservative MP in power? well, 5 out of 6 in Gloucestershire and 3 out of 7 in Somerset are Conservative. The rest are Liberal Democrat. If we need to kill 3,800 animals (the total revised ‘guess’), that means each Conservative MP needs 475 badgers to be shot to regain power.

This could also be the reason that the cull is to spread further next year, with or without any evidence for its efficacy. My worry is that there are 304 Conservative Members of Parliament. Does this mean the pointless execution of  close to 150,000 animals? Probably.

One final thought on the topic: bovine TB is largely spread aerially in the animal’s breath. It can infect humans as well as badgers and cattle. It follows that humans can spread the disease to cattle as well as each other. Maybe, since farmers are in closer proximity to their herds than many badgers get, we should shoot all the farmers, too? Oh, while we’re at it we’d better shoot ramblers and hikers because they could spread the disease.

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My environmental concern bites me on the…finger!

Well, I’m glad it didn’t bite me on the ***e instead.

What am I talking about, I hear you asking? Sometimes I ask myself the same question. No, I have been quite pro-active about preserving nature and the environment recently. I would have thought that my stance on such matters would have filtered out into the wider world by now: apparently it hasn’t.

At least, it hasn’t as far as one particular beetle was concerned. Now, I always worry when I see a butterfly, moth, wasp, bee or the like, stupidly squatting on the road. Normally I pick them up and move them to safety, although butterflies are incredibly thick and tend to fly right back to the lethal tarmac again. Wasps or bees never sting me when I lift them: in fact wasps seem to enjoy licking the salts from my skin.

All in all, then, these acts of kindness are generally well received by the invertebrate population. I thought that my gentle administrations would be equally well received by a stunning beetle that I saw struggling across the car park of the local supermarket yesterday. I picked it up and the b***ard tried to bite me on the finger. Still, we all have our off days. I put it on a credit card and dropped it off in the grass verge.

Here’s a picture of one of its mates: not the bloody minded individual that I picked up because I didn’t have a camera at the time. I was fascinated by it because I hadn’t seen one before. It turns out that its a Sexton beetle, named after the old position held by someone who maintained a cemetery.  They’re fascinating insects which work as a couple to dig under an animal corpse, burying it for their young to feed on. They exude a fungicide to stop the carcass smelling, so that it does not attract competition. They clean the carcass of fur or feathers with which they insulate their underground home. If the body is too big for one pair to handle, others come to assist and they all live in a commune under the body…fascinating.

It still tried to bite me and I’m not even dead yet…ungrateful little beetle!

sexton beetle

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Noisy cat update

Several people were interested in the post about my cat Maisie and her antics.

I thought I should let you know what I’ve found out about her incessant yowling when she comes in through the cat-flap.

A friend of mine has assured me that the behaviour can be sorted out by use of Feliway, a cat hormone, which is like a plug-in air freshener for cats. It is supposed to soothe them. She also said that it was her belief that the problem stems from an over-active thyroid gland. I have yet to try it out but I have found that I am more tolerant of her behaviour now that I know it is not something she can help. I’ll let you know if I get one of the plug-in things and whether or not it works.

Meanwhile, say hello to the readers, Maisie!

maisie miaow

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Sci-co?

Following my recent posts where I got a bit hot under the collar about ecological issues, I wondered again about classing myself as an Eco warrior. It does not seem right for me to claim such a title, in one sense. I have not taken part in protests, so I am hardly a warrior.

This got me wondering about how I should label myself. I started by merging words, hence the title. I am passionate about science, science-fiction and ecology. I would like to think that I am following a responsible path with regard to the environment. Putting these together, I came up with ‘sci-co-path’. This seemed to be wrong somehow, though it combined all the elements perfectly.

I could hardly describe myself as an activist, either. Some days I am so inactive that time lapse photography would be hard pressed to detect signs of life in me.  I ruled out words involving any sense of urgency.

When I think about it, it is much more the case that I love nature and want to live in harmony with it to the best of my ability. People who hate war and love peace are pacifists, so the best way to describe me would be as a naturist? No, that’s no good, even if I would love to go around nude at times. Even being regarded as a nature lover has all sorts of sexual connotations that I’d rather not think about, most of them illegal.

I guess I’ll just have to do without a label, which is a good thing because I don’t see why everybody has to be shoe-horned into one category or another.

 

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Let’s all shoot badgers!

Yeah!

Let’s kill the little (medium sized) bugg**s! Here they are…evil aren’t they?

badgers

After all, it has been said in the UK that they are responsible for the spreading of bovine tuberculosis. That’ll be right then. Ah, but hang on a second: who said it? Well, the farmers who own the cattle. The disease is costing them money and you have to feel for the poor UK farmers, don’t you? Well, don’t you?

No. Personally, I don’t, though I am not unaware of the problems that they face and don’t entirely blame them for the current desire to slaughter one of the few remaining large mammals in my country. Firstly, I live in a rural area. There is a local auction that deals with farm sales. I have seen the farmers who turn up there to trade. I have never yet seen one arrive in a car as old, small and battered as my own. Invariably, they arrive in Mercedes, BMW, Range Rovers, Jaguars and the like. All of these cars are not basic models. They are all top of the range. I don’t see British farmers as being poor in general.

Right, so assuming farmers are not really that destitute, where does the idea come from? Well, it’s all about money, naturally: money doesn’t make the world go round, it simply slows its progress. Farmers don’t want to pay for TB inoculations, because they reduce their profit by a tiny amount and therefore their aspirations to upgrade from a Jaguar to an Aston-Martin might have to go on hold. The government won’t pay for the jabs because they know that the farmers can afford it but the politicians can’t justify the added subsidy to people who already get paid, even when their businesses are failing due to mismanagement. They can’t risk losing the votes, though and so have to do something.

So, what was the conclusion? Yes, we’ll blame badgers. We can convince people that badgers are costing them money every time that they shop. We will do ‘scientific studies’ that prove the point, so long as we smudge the findings a bit in our favour. This way, the stupid farmers are kept happy and will vote for us and we haven’t spent too much in the process. The general public are so daft, they’ll be blinded by our ‘science’ and will reluctantly agree. Perfect!

So why am I so mad about all this? Given what I said earlier about being a closet eco-warrior, you may be drawn to the conclusion that I would protest first, think second…not a bit of it. I object for several reasons, most of them being entirely scientific.

Firstly, the original study that was conducted gave figures that were not statistically conclusive with regard to the efficacy of a cull. Secondly, after the cull (it’s such a bland word to mean extermination) began in two test areas, the organisers confessed that they had only killed 850 badgers and that the original badger population had been grossly overestimated. Finally (for now), it came to my attention that they were not testing the carcasses for TB.

Let’s examine these three points.

Number one: The original data did not suggest to me that culling badgers was likely to make a big difference to the cattle TB problem. I would happily talk to the authors of the report and discuss their findings (though I strongly suspect that they won’t want to talk to me, because I’m good at maths).

Number two: Even if the original report was correct, it assumed a certain badger population that could spread the disease. Since the cull has reported that the original estimate of badger numbers is a factor of two in error, it means that the initial (already dubious) findings, have been made on totally incorrect assumptions are therefore wrong.

Number three: I was extremely concerned that the slaughtered animals were not being tested for TB. Indeed, I was amazed that their corpses were totally untested. If you are conducting any scientific experiment, you want to find out the maximum amount of information that you can from it. The fact that they are not doing so leads me to the inevitable conclusion that they fear the results of such testing. Let’s face it, if they had to announce that out of 850 animals, only 2% (for example) tested positive for the disease, it would hardly endorse their mass extinction of the species. I just can’t see how, after all the cost of catching the animals that they have to shoot them, instead of inoculating them. Also, while I’m at it, how proud do you feel, you who shoot animals in cages at your feet? Is it good? Do you sleep at night? I wouldn’t. I would have visions of innocent blood splattering my jeans as I fired at cage after cage: you’re sick.

Lastly, and I know I said that I had three problems with the cull, there is the added problem that they don’t know what they will cause by taking out a high order predator with respect to the rest of the UK’s ecosystem. Whenever man has attempted to control the environment by adding a species or removing one, it has had significant and lasting effects. Sometimes this is beneficial in the short term but not in the long term. More often than not, it has been totally disastrous. How do we know, in the UK, that badgers do not contribute to the overall well-being of crops? If we kill them, might not other farmers suddenly suffer increased losses? I have never heard any argument that suggests that the deeper reaching impact  of the cull has been considered.

No, this is just plain wrong! If you try to kill badgers in Cumbria (my home county) I will come out in protest. I’ve even got a tent now and my daughter is eager to back me up, I may be only one (two, if you dare to have a go at my daughter) person, but I will not accept this.

Finally, and I do realise that some people will wrongly assume that my next statement erases the validity of my previous logical arguments (wrongly)…it is simply immoral to eradicate a species. There may even be a good financial reason behind what we all know to be true: we simply have to think about it! I know it’s emotive but take a look at the badgers below: ask yourself why it’s emotive? Perhaps it’s because deep down, we know it matters. I know I’ve used the same pic twice but it is gorgeous.

badgers

I am adding to this post to make clear that I am not personally calling all farmers stupid. The reference was intended to question the attitude of the politicians who instigated the idea of the badger cull.

Also, I’ve noticed the copyright on the badger photo, owned by John Connor Press Associates. I have now obtained their permission to use the photograph and would like to thank them for this.

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Sci-fi eco warrior?

The phrase eco-warrior has been around for some time. By some people it has become synonymous with scruffy, dirty odd-balls who rove around interfering with the lives of perfectly decent people. That naturally begs the question, ‘Who is decent?’

Well, I have dreadlocks and wash only when I need to, not to mask my human scent with artificial chemicals that cost a lot of money and serve no real purpose other than to inflate the bank-balance of somebody I don’t know from Adam. I rely on the streetlight outside my house rather than turning the light on in my living room. Maybe I’m an eco-warrior but I just don’t know it? I certainly do not consider myself to be indecent. I judge people by the way they are towards me and others, not on their bank balance or anything else. I do not have a grudging admiration for protesters: I salute them (except where I think that they are misguided).

I would have to say that on balance, I would enjoy a conversation with one such dedicated environmental protester more than I would with anyone else. That settles it, then. I’m a wannabe eco-warrior but don’t quite know how to break free.

I don’t go on protests because I can’t, unless I throw away the sociological rule book completely. I have a daughter who needs education. That forces me to stay physically where I am. Mind you, I have my doubts as to the efficacy of the education system in the UK. My daughter might well be better educated if I were to do it myself. Of course, the problem there is that nobody would accept my tuition as being as good as the state’s, even if it’s better. I am therefore stuck with the guilt that I would be denying my daughter of her future prosperity…and that’s where they get us.

Nevertheless, I have become increasingly frustrated by the way that governing bodies suppress our right to individual expression, in so many indirect ways. I write about this in my books but I am beginning to feel that this is not enough.

Rightly or wrongly, I have come to the conclusion that enough is enough. I’m thoroughly pi**ed off with the way the world is run. It’s not right, so I’m going to bitch about it. My first direct protest is about a genocide that is rearing its ugly head in the UK.

See you later!

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Dragons!

Now there’s a title that stirs the blood.

As a child I was fascinated by them. I read Tolkien and that got me more intrigued. The attraction of the mythical creatures has never left me. I incorporated them into the first novel that I ever wrote but never again. Why did I not write more about them? That’s a good question and one that I struggle to answer. At least I am in the process of editing and publishing this novel, so my dragons will at long last be released from my mind upon the unsuspecting public.

I do not hold to the relatively new concept of dragons being ferocious and almost evil. I conceive them to be wise, as was the case in much early literature. They are not to be trifled with, though. They have great understanding and can act in ways that seem to be callous at first inspection. They are never this way. In the forthcoming book, I will endeavour to tie up the ancient myths about these creatures in a way that makes scientific sense. My dragons are not just tales from the past: they are alive now and will play a vital role in how our race progresses. Read about it all in ‘Biform Solution’, which is the name of the trilogy.

Why did I not write about them more? I suppose that I felt that I did them justice with the one trilogy and that adding more was unnecessary: I may change my mind about that. their passion, power and playfulness may urge me to write about them again.

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Depression

It’s a depressing word, isn’t it? It’s also one that is used by people when referring to everyday life, which is why the clinical meaning is so little understood by the general populace.

I hear people saying things like: “Everybody gets depressed at times: it’s no big deal.” They are referring to things that happen in their lives that they can cope with. That is why it is no great concern. They then transfer these feelings onto someone who is clinically depressed and think that they should be the same: well, they’re not.

Yesterday, I could barely force myself to collect my daughter from school. Why was that? I had plunged into one of my deep lows. At times like that, I have no interest in anything, even being alive. I struggle to concentrate on what people are saying and want no contact with anybody, not out of anything antisocial in the usual sense, but because I am incapable of interacting with others. I know that I will appear standoffish, surly and resentful. So I deliberately set off so as to arrive slightly late: that way I avoided the need to engage in conversation.

This may seem strange but there are times when I can’t even read a bedtime story for my daughter. I can see the words and I know how to pronounce them but the link between brain and vocal cords is severed. If I try to speak, at best I stammer, and mumble: at worst, nothing comes out of my mouth except unintelligible grunts. I become paranoid and pessimistic  in the extreme. I can’t speak to friends at these times and so I cut myself off from the only source of help that I have. I even know that I am doing this, which exacerbates my frustration.

Yesterday, I was like this: today I am not. Yesterday I could not edit my next novel, or even add a post to this blog: today I can do both.

Why am I writing this? There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m writing it because I can. Mainly, I’m writing it to convey something of what it’s like to be depressed, in the hope that my words spread greater understanding.

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