Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Badger Cull

I've always had a lot of time for Ceredigion's Plaid Cymru AM, Elin Jones. During my period as Chair of the Environment, Planning and Countryside Committee up to the last Assembly Election, she was a very good colleague. OK, I know she talked some tosh about 'Independence' at Plaid's recent Spring Conference, but she's proving to be a sure-footed Rural Affairs Minister. Yesterday, she told us that she is going to sanction the slaughter of a lot of badgers. This was a difficult and controversial decision to take. But she took it. Elin Jones has assured us that she intends to 'walk the walk' while her Labour and Liberal Democrat predecessors would only 'talk the talk'. Love badgers as much as I do, I believe she has taken the correct decision.

The present truly disastrous mess cannot continue. Over the last 10 years, the number of cattle slaughtered as a result of Bovine Tb in Wales alone has increased 10 fold to almost 8,000 in 2007. Over the last 7 years, the cost of compensation to farmers has increased 8 fold to over £15 million in 2007/08. 16% of Welsh farms are currently under movement restrictions, a financial and human disaster which devastates the lives and businesses of the farming families involved. The Chief Veterinary Officer for Wales says that the disease is out of control. It has to be tackled. It should have been tackled a long time ago.

Of course, all we have so far is a decision in principle. Next step is to decide where the one 'intensive treatment area' is going to be. Over recent years I've consistently argued that it must be only one area, and a big enough area to be meaningful. It should have as much 'natural' boundary as possible and be a 'hotspot' of infection. It always seemed to point to the Pembrokeshire/Carmarthenshire area where the sea creates much of the boundary. I recall making this argument in Montgomeryshire which local farmers believed should be considered for the pilot cull.

I hate the thought of slaughtering wildlife for no reason - but I'm not a sentimentalist either. The only slight doubt in my mind is that I've never seen cast iron evidence that slaughtering badgers will succeed - so I'm against extending the slaughter programme to any other areas until there is definitive evidence from this first pilot scheme. I suspect that will it will be years until we have the proof we need. I anticipate Elin Jones being heavily criticised for her decision by wildlife groups, and I've already heard articulate speakers condemning her on the media. Daresay I'll be criticised for giving her my full support. All I can say is that I have a deep commitment to the welfare of wildlife, and I've no reason to believe that Elin doesn't share it. I believe in the longer run, yesterday's decision will be good news for badgers as well as for the livestock industry.

NOTE - I will check over this post and edit it when I'm home later tonight.

12 comments:

Benny Austwick said...

I have to say that I agree with everything you say. I'll be blogging about it tomorrow sometime.

Anonymous said...

I will be editing this post later tonight too ...

Glyn Davies said...

benny - looking forward to reading your take on it.

Anonymous said...

I don't like this talk about slaughtering wildlife ... unless we are talking Lib-Dem wildlife.

Glyn Davies said...

anon - I deliberately use the word 'slaughtering' rather than 'culling' - which is too euphamistic for me. Language should convey to people the reality.

Roman Jones said...

I must confess I still feel that badgers are used as an excuse for bad farming practice and that most credible evidence shows that a holocaust of badgers in other areas such as Irleand has little or no effect on bovine TB, but does harm the numbers of badgers!

Glyn Davies said...

Roman - I suspect the majority may feel the same as you do. But I do not believe there is any justification for blaming bad farming practise - just as there is no point talking about whether its badgers that passes the disease to cows or the disease travels the other way. We simply do not know how this disease is being spread with any certainty. I just think that we have to run a genuine pilot scheme, where all animals with the disease are slaughtered - and clean animals introduced later. Because we cannot be 100% convinced that this will work, I don't believe this approach should be replicated without some real proof that it would be effective. But I have never dismissed those who disagree with this approach as being unreasonable. However it does seem that Wales' CVO and the Minister have come to the same conclusion as I did a few years ago.

The Half-Blood Welshman said...

I seem to recall that the Krebs report, those little bits of it that weren't sabotaged by an unlikely and involuntary alliance of local farmers and the ALF, did strongly suggest a link. However, as the surviving part of the scheme was the selective cull, whose main effect was to scare the hell out of the surviving badgers and send them charging away from the area affecting every other bovine animal in sight, it couldn't be considered exactly a rousing success.

Good on Elin for having the gumption to come out and do something that's going to make her a lot of unscrupulous enemies though. Makes me glad I voted for her!

Glyn Davies said...

Half Blood - I don't think there is any doubt that there is a link. The issue is what difference does it make and how is it to be controlled in both species - and deer probably. So far we've only been slaughtering the cattle, because we can catch them and test them.

I don't think the selective cull frightened badgers away. It did the opposite. It created space for badgers to come in, sometimes diseased badgers which could well have made the position worse. I don't know what it will do to Elin Jones' electability. If its a sucess, she will be rewarded.

Anonymous said...

Glyn: the greatest 'evil' we can do wildlife is destruction of habitat, and we do that when we built housing estates in green areas. Without thinking, we remove habitat, the silent killer of wildlife. Building parking lots near alleged badger haunts is also not a good idea - there's an ex-AM politician who knows all about that.

Roman Jones said...

Glyn: You are right, we do need a trial to test if a procedure does indeed reduce bovine TB - but that trial is not a cull of badgers, but forcing those farmers with bovine TB endemic on their farms to adopt better hygiene and farming husbandry rather than blaming badgers, acts of god, anything rather than their own cost cutting and bad practice. I grew up on a farm and have witnessed what short-cuts modern Mercedes driving farmers now do.

Glyn Davies said...

Roman - I'm not sure why you comment as you do. I've heard others say the same thing. I even heard an AM blame bad farming practise for the spread of blue tongue disease recently. There is absolutely no evidence for this.

Livestock farmers have acepted, and will accept every restriction and condition that the Government's Veterinary Service impose to control Bovine Tb. If you were blaming farming practise for diaeases such as footrot in sheep, Foul of the foot in cattle, or for conformation weaknesses in animals because of breeding for production and asimilar things, I could accept what you say. But I know of no farming practice, and I've heard no animal health authority (including the Vetrerinary Service) blame any farming practise for the spread of Bovine Tb.