Science advisor says badger cull plan is a 'crazy scheme'

Tony Gosling tony at
Tue Sep 18 00:24:27 BST 2012

Science advisor says badger cull plan is a 'crazy scheme'
The pilot areas West Gloucestershire pilot area description: mainly 
in the county of Gloucestershire, predominantly within the council 
districts of the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury, and parts lie within 
the districts of Wychavon, Malvern Hills and the south east part of 
the county of Herefordshire. The area does not include the public 
forest estate in the Forest of Dean. West Somerset pilot area 
description: located in the county of Somerset. The application area 
predominantly lies within the council district of West Somerset and 
part lies within the district of Taunton Deane. Source: Natural England
By Pallab Ghosh - Science correspondent, BBC News  17th Sept 2012
The scientist whose research is being cited by the government to 
justify its plan to cull badgers in England has described the scheme 
as "crazy".
Lord Krebs spoke to BBC News after the government's environment 
advisory body Natural England has issued a culling licence to a 
consortium of landowners in Gloucestershire.
The cull is intended to control the spread of TB in cattle.
A second licence will be issued to farmers in Somerset within days.
Both groups will then have to show that they can pay for the culling 
and shoot them in sufficient numbers before full licences are 
granted. BBC News has been told that these could be issued in three 
weeks and intensive culling could begin immediately.
The culls will be monitored by an independent group for a period of 
six weeks. If the body is satisfied that the culls are effective and 
humane it will advise ministers to continue the trials for four years.
This would pave the way for further applications. Natural England 
will issue a maximum of 10 licences each year - with future culls.
The culls are intended to reduce TB in cattle by some 16% over nine 
years in the immediate area. Across England though the effect is much 
smaller, around 5%.
The aim of the pilot schemes are to assess the effectiveness of the 
government's plan to slow down the spread of TB in cattle in England. 
The Welsh government has opted for a system of vaccination while in 
Scotland the disease is not a problem.
The plan is based on the results of a nine-year trial which showed 
that the spread of the disease could be slowed slightly if more than 
70% of badgers in an area could be eradicated. If it was less than 
70% - the spread of TB to cattle might even increase.
But the scientist who carried out the study has told BBC News that 
these pilot studies make no sense.
Lord Krebs, who is one of the government's most respected scientific 
advisers, said that the Department for the Environment, Food and 
Rural Affairs (Defra), which is administering the scheme, has no way 
of knowing how many badgers there are in the area, so will not know 
when they've killed 70% of the badgers in the area.
"I would go down the vaccination and biosecurity route rather than 
this crazy scheme that may deliver very small advantage, may deliver 
none. And it's very hard to see how Defra are going to collect the 
crucial data to assess whether it's worth going ahead with free 
shooting at all," he said.
Defra has said that it would be using data from previous studies and 
would commission its own research to estimate badger numbers.
According to Prof Sir Robert Watson, a former science adviser to 
Defra, which is overseeing the process, culling alone will not solve 
the problem.
"Culling won't solve the problem nationally (across England)," he 
told BBC News in a recent interview.
"But farmers in Devon, Cornwall and Gloucestershire are arguing that 
it can get between a 16% and 20% reduction which they think is 
significant and that they are willing to pay for."
The culls are paid for by local groups of farmers and carried out by 
private contractors. Prof Watson said that he himself questioned 
whether the cost of the culls would be economically worthwhile.
"I would say the economics is very close as to whether it is worth 
it. But the government has made a decision that (it should be tried 
if farmers are willing to fund it)," he said.
"The question (then) is: 'Is it a significant effect? Is it cost 
effective? Is it socially and ethically appropriate?"
Animal welfare and wildlife campaigners have opposed the cull, which 
will allow wild badgers to be shot when they come out at night, but 
lost their fight in the High Court last week.
Defra says the action is necessary to protect cattle from bovine TB, 
which leads to the slaughter of thousands of cattle each year.
Defra Minister David Heath said: "Our priority has always been to 
ensure that any culling of badgers is carried out in a safe, humane 
and effective way.
"The licence for Gloucestershire issued by Natural England today 
meets all the strict criteria we imposed, and the pilot in this area 
will help us assess the effectiveness of controlled shooting before 
we look at a wider roll out to control the spread of bovine TB in cattle.
"No one wants to kill badgers but the science is clear that we will 
not get on top of this disease without tackling it in both wildlife 
and cattle."
Plans to begin culling in Wales were recently abandoned in favour of 
a vaccination policy. There are no proposals to cull badgers in 
Scotland, where TB incidence is low.

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