Guidance to Natural England on the implementation and enforcement of a badger control policy
20th September 2011
Category: Health Fact Sheets
National Beef Association Response:
Subject: Guidance to Natural England on the implementation and enforcement of a badger control policy
We at the National Beef Association (NBA) are fully committed to ridding the UK of TB and are delighted to be able to comment on the draft guidance to Natural England (NE) regarding licences to cull and vaccinate badgers in specified control areas.
It is very positive that we are heading towards a situation where the industry and Government can work together to tackle this disease issue on all fronts, and the NBA is enthusiastic about the idea of taking measures in areas of high TB infection to reduce infected badger numbers in addition to the existing exhaustive cattle controls. We see this issue as entirely about disease control; not the extermination of badgers but rather action to protect healthy badgers from the 10-mile per year spread of TB within the species.
Based on our members’ experience in earlier badger culls, we believe 30 per cent reduction after 10 years is the minimum we could expect from this programme and refute any lower figures based on flaws within both the Krebs trial and the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). This is the opportunity we have been waiting for so livestock farmers throughout the UK, and especially those in TB blighted areas in England, can work together in a co-ordinated manner to advance this disease control process. It will give farmers dependent on the maintenance of healthy cattle herds for their livelihoods a chance to prove that reduction of the infected badger population over a sustained period triggers a substantial fall in both cattle TB reactors and badgers dying of TB.
Before we respond to the specific questions about the badger control policy guidance, the NBA would like to raise two very important points that influence our response to all of the questions. We feel the current rules and regulations will deter many applications from potential control areas and believe addressing these two issues could create a more workable scheme:-
1. The importance of confidentiality, not publicising the location of control areas and protecting the identity of farmers/landowners and cull licensees working within them
Recent communications put out by NE, including media appearances, make us seriously concerned about the organisation’s commitment to badger control areas and we worry this will jeopardise the personal safety of farmers/landowners and staff in the areas. We believe NE does not want to be seen to approve culling and many individuals within NE are willing the first two control areas to either not get off the ground or fail at a later point. Because of this we do not believe that NE should have details of the farmers, landowners and licensees involved, in case this information should be leaked to ‘anti-cull activists’.
The Dale Farm issue and recent inner-city riots are clear evidence of how quickly activists can be mobilised through social networking and other internet sites and so we advocate the use of code numbers to protect the identity of everyone involved.
The NBA suggests limited companies are formed in the selected control areas to organise each cull. Each company would hold the details of farmers/landowners who sign up their land to the cull, and also the licensed shooters and other personnel working within the area. This information would be encrypted so any Government authority, including NE, needing information on the cull area and participants would have the detail they require but not the names and addresses of specific individuals – see full details in our responses to questions (a) and (b).
This is absolutely essential, as we are sure farmers will not volunteer their land or financial support if they, their children and their properties are likely to be threatened by ‘animal rights’ terrorists. We are also concerned about other people in rural communities, as activists converging on one area to protest about culling could cause large amounts of stress to the people living there, as well as damage to property. Given the publicly stated anti-cull views of NE, we identify this organisation as the biggest risk of a leak and information rapidly becoming available on the internet.
If information is leaked and interference by activists means it becomes too difficult and/or dangerous to continue the cull, the participants cannot be responsible for financing Defra/NE to take over and continue the cull. If confidential information is proved to have been leaked by any members or employees of the licensing bodies, the offending organisation should be liable to meeting all costs past and future in that particular cull area.
2. The importance of Animal Health (AH) being brought in to work alongside NE
Given our concerns about NE and also the fact AH has disease control and management at the heart of its priorities and responsibility for all other animal health issues, the NBA would like to see a closer working relationship between the two bodies.
The NBA believes AH has a wealth of expertise and a less biased approach. We therefore suggest any necessary checking of biosecurity on individual farms in the badger control areas be done by AH staff and not NE. Checking 70 per cent of land has been volunteered, and the subsequent culling results, could be done by NE staff in the solicitors’ officers of the limited companies, where they can audit maps, the code numbers of farms taking part and their acreages and the culled numbers without taking electronic or other copies.
We cannot over-emphasise the importance of these two issues and their relevance to all our responses below.
a) Do you agree that the basic culling policy requirements set out in paragraphs 9a-9f and paragraph 10 of the draft Guidance form the basis for an ‘effective cull’?
The NBA agrees the criteria for selecting the badger control areas and the requirements set out in paragraphs 9a-f are appropriate, although we would question the necessity of 90 per cent of land within the application area being accessible or within 200m of accessible land.
We absolutely agree that current statutory cattle TB controls should continue to apply and believe the requirement for reasonable biosecurity measures to address cattle-to-cattle and badger-to-cattle transmission is in line with best practice. The majority of farmers in TB hotspots are already taking such measures and there is no suggestion this will cease when control areas are put in place.
However, the NBA does take issue with the technical requirements for conducting an effective cull in paragraph 10 of the draft guidance.
It is right that applicants must satisfy Government that they are able to deliver an effective cull. The NBA has already made progress in developing this concept and is absolutely committed to co-ordinated and sustained badger control measures to work alongside existing cattle control measures.
We believe a limited company should be formed in each pilot control area to manage the day-to-day requirements of a cull across the entire control area for the four-year programme. We feel this would be the best way to run a project without triggering NE intervention, as these companies would involve farmers and landowners, tap into local knowledge about where setts are and habits of the badgers within, develop existing relationships with vets and local officials and proceed in the most advantageous manner to manage an effective cull and the associated resources. NE intervention must be avoided, as we feel this would cause costs to escalate out of control – and therefore three issues within paragraph 10 need addressing.
The NBA believes the 42-day controlled shooting period should be extended to 70 days, to give the cull teams time to cover the selected areas properly. This is the first time a badger control programme of this type has been run in the UK and, therefore, the initial success requires a longer period of time for controlled shooting. We appreciate the extra resources this might require (e.g. policing levels) but believe the absolute necessity of protecting all species from further spread of TB justifies this. We also feel it is appropriate to raise this point as we are concerned the 42-day timescale is based on the RBTC, which we do not believe was administered well, was not sufficiently successful and should not be used as a foundation for guidelines in this separate project.
We also believe continuous trapping/shooting should be permitted during the open season along the perimeters of the control areas. This is because physical barriers (such as waterways and major roads) selected to define the control areas will not stop 100 per cent of badger movements and trapping along the perimeters will go some way to protecting badgers and cattle within and outside the area from the effects of perturbation.
We would also ask Defra/NE to consider some ‘maintenance culling’ within the closed season:-
- Within the control area if a sett is not dealt with sufficiently during the open season. If the controlled shooting period is only 42 days this flexibility is particularly essential.
- Within the control area if a badger population suddenly flares up.
- Along the perimeters of the control area if a lot of badger movement is seen.
2. Administration of culling within control areas.
The NBA believes there should be no ‘gold plating’ on this issue and that the limited company in each control area must be given the flexibility and ability to carry out the task in hand.
For example, it is unnecessary to request both a shooter and a separate lamper when night-scope technology is now so advanced. A massive amount of people will be needed to carry out a cull on such a limited timescale and substituting a second shooter for a lamper in many instances will not only address this problem but also increase the effectiveness of the cull, as we believe the fewer people dealing with a sett the less chance of badgers scattering over large distances. To be successful we need the best professional, licensed marksmen, using the most up-to-date technology to work unhindered and unrestricted during the cull period. Insisting otherwise will cause the cull to fail.
3. Stipulation of cull figures.
While we take on board the 70 per cent figure as the minimum number of badgers to be culled in the first year of the programme, the NBA has grave concerns about Defra/NE stipulating a specific number of badgers to be killed. Given that no one knows the exact numbers of setts/badgers in any specific area, as the latest figures are 15 years out-of-date, we believe ranges should be set instead of a specific minimum number. These ranges must be set in conjunction with the limited company running each control area and must be realistic and reassessed each year.
b) Paragraph 9g of the draft Guidance requires applicants to take reasonable measures to mitigate the potential risk to non-participants. Do you agree that the mitigation methods proposed in the draft guidance to applicants at Annex H are appropriate and adequate?
The NBA agrees reasonable measures should be put in place and that effective boundaries and badger control measures around cull areas are absolutely vital, particularly to reduce perturbation and ensure the success of any programme. However, we would draw attention to certain proposals in Annex H:-
3.3. In addition to the boundaries and buffers, it is essential that badger movement around the control areas perimeters is monitored and controlled, as outlined in our response to question (a).
3.3a. All ‘A’ roads and major ‘B’ roads should be considered as a physical barrier.
3.3c. Measures to reduce badger-to-cattle and badger-to-badger transmission are essential but must also be reasonable. Many reasonable measures are already well tried and tested and utilised by farmers in TB hotspots, such as not feeding cattle nuts or cobs on grazing ground, restricting cattle grazing in high badger activity areas, and ‘badger-proofing’ buildings. However, the ineffectiveness of electric fences in most scenarios should be acknowledged.
On the issue of reducing badger-to-badger transmission, the NBA suggests that once a sett is known to be cleared it should, if possible, be filled in to prevent TB infection of travelling healthy badgers. It would also be helpful to have an updated and more robust definition of an ‘active sett’. Instead of two sticks being lightly crossed across the entrance, which could be moved by wind or other wildlife, a small piece of mesh could be used instead. This should be strong enough not to be moved easily by a fox or rabbit, but capable of being moved by a badger left inside or an indigenous badger trying to get home.
3.4. We would again ask for acknowledgment that affordable badger-proof fencing is not possible apart from around buildings with concrete floors.
3.4.5. We do not think it is sufficient that farms with vulnerable livestock not participating in a badger cull simply acknowledge they may get more TB cases. They must take responsibility for the fact they may be harbouring a reservoir of disease on their land and could be jeopardising the potential success of the whole programme. They should have the option to trap and vaccinate badgers, at their own expense, and/or the option of allowing badgers to be drawn out onto land that is participating in the cull.
Clarification is needed on the minimum size area required to qualify as a participant or non-participant. All qualifying non-participants should be notified by the limited company that a cull will take place in their area but, again in the interest of protecting the participants, no timescale or identification of the actual cull area needs to be disclosed.
3.6. Given our response above, we are positive about proposals in 3.6 for applicants and non-participants to reach an agreement about badger control measures.
3.7a. For clarification, we would like to state that the ‘licensee’ liaising with the police will be the overseer of the limited company holding the licence in that control areas, as outlined in our response to question (a), and not any individual participant.
In order to protect all participants, we are also completely opposed to any form of publication of details of active badger culling, such as posting notices. We believe there is a precedent for such confidentiality when cormorants were shot under a similar control programme, and also note that no warnings need to be given when foxes and rabbits are shot in the dark, or even deer shot under NE licence at night-time. For the safety of the general public, notices instructing them to remain on footpaths and in public areas could be temporarily displayed, without specifically mentioning a badger cull. Shooters will avoid town and villages, roads and rights of way in order that no one comes into range of firearms.
To ensure information about active badger culling is not accidentally publicised (bearing in mind our concerns with NE outlined in the introduction) we suggest all areas, land and licensees should be coded. For example, VLA6 to refer to an area and VLA6q to refer to a farmer within that area.
At this point we would also like to raise our grave concerns regarding paragraph 31 in the draft guidance. Again for the safety of everyone involved and the local rural community, we completely disagree with potential control areas being made public for a 28-day ‘opportunity to comment’. We have already gone through a large number of consultation periods and, once at the point of submitting pilot areas applications, it is not appropriate to seek further public opinion.
3.7b. We would again raise the issue of incorporating the latest night-scope technology into the best practice guidance for shooting, as outlined in our response to question (a).
c) Are the requirements at paragraphs 9h and 9i of the draft Guidance for all participants to enter into a TB Management Agreement (under section 7 of the NERC Act) and deposit the total cost of the funds upfront proportionate and appropriate to ensure that culling will be delivered effectively?
The NBA believes in the merit of participants entering into some form of written agreement, but only agrees to doing this under the NERC Act if the agreements can be held by the limited company running the control area and the identities of the participants be kept confidential. If this cannot be done under NERC then an alternative agreement should be put in place.
We agree financial planning at the start of the process is critical and that funding should be sorted before any culling begins. It is absolutely critical that everyone knows in advance how costs and a contingency will be calculated and who by, and the NBA proposes that the limited companies take this in hand, agreeing a properly informed budget with Defra/NA before the cull starts.
We accept the industry will cover the cost of this cull, and preliminary work by the NBA has already resulted in a positive response from farmers and landowners in potential control areas, made on the expectation of a cost and commitment over four years. The expectation is that a fee would be submitted to an account held by the limited company, but not that the entire amount be paid up front. Paying it all in advance would be a major disincentive and a huge barrier to the project getting off the ground, whereas there is a willingness to make an initial payment followed by a commitment to regular instalments, in order to make it affordable. This applies particularly in the first two pilot areas.
We are hugely concerned by the proposal that, should NE have to intervene, the Government might be able to access funds and levy additional funds from the original participants should that be necessary. We recommend that the minimum number of badgers to be culled be specified as a range instead of a specific figure, reducing the risk of NE needing to intervene, as outlined in our response to question (a). Also that the terms, conditions and financial implications of NE intervening be stated in advance of the cull beginning, and that these include the involvement of an independent scientific body to assess if the cull is working. If there was any concern the cull was not working this would be discussed by the limited company and Defra/NE well in advance of any intervention and NE would not be able to automatically access funds and levy additional funds, but instead invoice the limited company should it take on culling responsibilities itself.
In line with industry having a financial plan in advance of a cull, we ask for clarification of which costs must be covered by the applicants and which by the Government.
A key point is regarding the disposal of badger carcases and the NBA believes the cost should be minimised and managed, in a similar way to the National Fallen Stock Scheme (NFSS). In addition, because research by the NBA shows virtually all local hunts have got rid of their incinerators, making rendering plants the only safe option for carcase disposal, we propose the Government should licence sensibly located collection points where badger carcases (double bagged, sealed and tagged) could be taken by participants and stored securely. Carcases could go from the collection point to an approved renderer whenever a suitable number was reached, improving logistics compared to small numbers of carcases being moved long distances to a renderer each night. We propose that the Government initiates a competitive tendering process, in line with usual protocol, to ask the NFSS and others to provide these collection points.
We also we ask that the Government locates any badger traps used in previous trials and makes them available for use in the control areas.
d) Are the measures included at paragraph 11 of the draft Guidance, in addition to the proposed monitoring described above (at paragraphs 42-43), adequate and appropriate for ensuring that controlled shooting is carried out safely and humanely?
The NBA agrees the measures are adequate and appropriate but would raise some additional points in relation to paragraph 11.
11.a. While a Government-approved training course is the best approach to ensure marksmen can shoot badgers humanely, the identity of individuals applying for training must be treated as sensitive information and be kept confidential.
11.b. While monitoring and assessment is appropriate to ensure culling is in line with best practice guidance, vets and assessors carrying out field inspections must consider personal safety and the impact their presence could have on the shooting and trapping process and follow any instructions given to them by the overseer and shooting/trapping teams. This also ties in with our comments about the fewer the people the better when clearing a sett, as outlined in our response to question (a).
11.c. While we agree the two approved culling methods are humane, we urge the Government to also consider progress being made in the ability to gas badgers. We encourage Defra to continue research into foam gas and its application in badger setts, and would welcome access to this resource in the very near future. The potential of foam gas is huge and would complement the other two methods in control areas.
11.d. While we agree that badger carcases must be disposed of appropriately we would reiterate our argument about Government licensing badger carcase collection points, as outlined in our response to question (c).
e) Do you consider that the measures at paragraph 12 of the draft Guidance and the proposed monitoring described above (at paragraph 41), are appropriate to address concerns about the impact on the badger population?
The NBA stresses the huge importance of maintaining badger populations in the UK and suggests even farmers massively burdened by TB and cattle control measures do not want to see badgers completely exterminated in any area. Our support for the badger cull is not specifically about the killing of badgers but rather the reduction of TB and maintaining healthy badger and cattle populations.
To this end, we support the principle of having minimum and maximum number of badgers to be culled. However, given that data on badger populations is limited and out-of-date we again ask that specific figures are avoided and ranges put in place instead, as outlined in our response to question (a).
The NBA supports the idea of Defra carrying out a national survey to update badger population data and would be willing to assist in this.
In response to the suggestion that badger activity in control areas be monitored to ensure local populations are not put at risk, we would like to raise concern about the safety of people being out while firearms are being used and suggest any people carrying out this monitoring task also bear in mind the impact their presence could have on the shooting and trapping process, as outlined in our comments about vet field assessments in question (d). We reiterate that the lowest number of people should be out each night during the culling period, as the most effective and safest way to shoot badgers is for minimum personnel, all of whom are focused entirely on the matter in hand.
We also ask that clear parameters are put in place in advance of the cull to determine what will be considered as ‘putting a population at risk’. If it felt that an ‘at risk’ situation is being approached then the situation must be discussed by the limited company and Defra/NE with the Secretary of State acting as an independent arbitrator. Under no circumstances should NE be able to automatically add licence conditions or stop culling.
f) Do you agree that the measures included at paragraphs 11a-c, 23 and 27-28 of the draft Guidance are sufficient to mitigate the risks to the safety and security of those carrying out a cull and to the general public?
The NBA believes the safety and security of those carrying out the cull and the general public is of utmost importance. We do, however, have particular comments to make about some of the draft guidance:-
11a. The training of shooters is particularly important for the safety of people involved and the general public and the NBA suggests more should be done to communicate a positive message with the general public about the necessity of a badger cull and the fact it is being carried out humanely by trained, professional and licensed marksmen using the latest technology, not ‘farmers running around with rifles’. It should also be emphasised that rifle shooting is a proven and efficient technique used to shoot around half a million deer safely and humanely each year. Similarly it is estimated that over 100,000 foxes are shot by rifle each year to protect farm poultry and ground nesting birds.
23. It is essential that everyone knows the rules from the start and that licence changes during the cull period are only made if absolutely necessary and in line with our response to question (e). We believe safety is jeopardised when rules change and people do not know where they stand and this is even more of a risk when firearms are involved.
27. Individual requests for information must be turned down on the grounds of the personal safety of all involved, the safety of rural communities and the risk of damage to property, as outlined in our introduction.
28. Information must only be released to the police when entirely necessary and must only be transferred to Government authorities if the data is coded and individual identifications cannot be ascertained.
We would also repeat our concerns about paragraph 31 of the consultation document and plans to give the public a 28-day ‘opportunity to comment’, as outlined in our response to question (b).
g) Do you have any other comments on the draft Guidance to Natural England?
We reiterate some of the suggestions made above, in that they are additions to the draft guidelines and warrant specific attention. These include:-
- The formation of limited companies in each control area to hold and encrypt confidential information and employ an overseer to run the culling programme on a day-to-day basis.
- The vital nature of controlled culling on the perimeter of the control areas.
- The importance of Defra continuing to look at foam gas and making this available in the control areas in the immediate future.
- The potential cost savings of Defra finding and making existing badger traps available to the teams in the first two culling areas.
- The need for an updated and more robust definition of an ‘active sett’.
- The practicality of collection points for badger carcases and the Government licensing these through a competitive tendering process.
There are three other points that we would like to raise that are not included in the draft guidance:-
1. The importance of tackling TB in species other than cattle and badgers.
It is essential that we have control methods for other species that match the control for cattle and remove diseased animals. Camelids are an important species to consider, as alpacas in particular seem to be prone to picking up, spreading and suffering from TB. We suggest compulsory testing of camelid herds, with removal of reactors, and a limitation on the movement of untested animals.
Approaches to TB in other countries show that, without the control of the disease in all species, we cannot control it in cattle. To date, farmers in this country have done everything asked by them of the Government to manage TB, including two, six and 12-month testing, pre-movement testing and many other management practices. The increase of herds repeatedly re-infected in England West (Cornwall to Shropshire) from 0.3 per cent in 1988, 6 per cent in 1998 and 23 per cent in 2010 shows cattle control measures alone do not work.
2. The need to avoid additional cattle control measures
Existing cattle control measures are already a major burden to farmers across the UK and we ask that the industry be consulted if any proposed changes are being considered in the badger control areas.
The value of more severe measures was disproved by the failure of very extreme controls imposed by SVS vet William Tait in Cornwall in the 1970s, and the NBA has also heard reports that additional measures recently put in place in Wales, in the area where a badger cull had been planned, has already forced some farmers out of business.
3. The possibility of using PCR devices for testing badger setts
The NBA understands that AHVLA at Shrewsbury, Shropshire, and Starcross, Devon, have a workable assay for use in real-time PCR devices to identify TB complex within a sample, followed by individual spoligotyping of bTB in alpaca carcases. We suggest samples from TB lesions and urine from known TB-infected badger carcases be similarly tested and then the work trialled to see if healthy badger setts can be identified and culling of these setts avoided. This could have a very positive impact on a successful culling programme, protecting badger numbers and maintaining a healthy badger population.
The NBA recognises the commitment by the Government to ensure the long term survival of the livestock sector and its wildlife and hopes to continue working towards a positive future. We feel very strongly that the proposed rules and regulations must encourage, rather than discourage, applications for control areas and would be willing to meet with Defra"