MADAM - Some badger cull facts.

Mary Wood's letter claims to give your readers some facts relating to the imminent badger cull.

Regrettably this is a collection of the usual misinformation and nonsense we are repeatedly being given by the farming community.

Dealing with the points in the same order: "Generalised disease is the norm in badgers".

Quite the opposite is true.

Studies have shown that very few badgers fall into the category of super-excretors with generalised disease.

So few in fact that it has given scientists reason to question how such a small number of animals could be involved in anything more than a very minor role with cattle TB.

"There is a huge reservoir of badgers with M.bovis in the Stroud area and much of the south west".

Studies at Woodchester Park have shown that TB prevalence in badgers fluctuates over time but is rarely more than 15 per cent. Many social groups of badgers are TB free.

Remember that the proposed culls will be indiscriminate, so healthy badgers will be killed along with infected ones.

"Cattle on farms surrounding the TB endemic Woodchester study area are ALWAYS going down with TB".

This is grossly misleading.

The number of breakdowns occurring around Woodchester is not statistically different to the rest of the region, despite the fact that there has been no official badger culling policy at Woodchester.

The biggest single risk factor for TB on farms is the movement of cattle.

Ms Wood suggests that badger culling took place during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and that when culling was stopped in the 1980s cattle TB increased.

There was no official badger culling until the mid-1970s.

It was stopped in the mid-90s after steadily rising, despite badger control.

Rather than cherry pick the data, we should focus on the fact that Defra's own estimate of the benefits of badger culling will be a meagre 12-16 per cent relative reduction in cattle TB after nine years.

Independent scientific opinion believes that it may well make the problem worse due to the changes that have been made to the culling strategy (ie industry led, culling by shooting, allowing six weeks for culling).

In New Zealand improvements to cattle testing have been taking place alongside the culling of possums.

The authorities there realise that the culling of possums (a non-native species that causes immense ecological damage) is not sustainable in the long term and have committed to developing a programme of oral vaccination.

The pilot culls are intended to assess the efficacy, humaneness and safety of shooting badgers with rifles and shotguns.

Efficacy can only be in the context of whether the prescribed number of badgers can be killed.

How can this be done when the government has no means of estimating badger populations to set a culling target?

They have already produced three wildly different estimates; indeed, last year's cull was abandoned when the second estimate revealed a much higher than anticipated culling target.

How can humaneness be satisfactorily monitored when a wounded badger escapes into a sett?

Answer - it cannot be done.

As for safety, readers should be reminded that tragic accidents have occurred in shooting operations, particularly at night.

How can public safety be assured when Defra will not say when or where the shooting is going to take place?

It is difficult to understand why the farming community continues to delude itself on the badger culling issue.

Make no mistake, badger culling is not justified by the science and is a distraction from the much more vital issues of improving the cattle testing procedure and farm biosecurity, as well as developing vaccines for both badgers and cattle.

Dr Chris Cheeseman Badger ecologist Retired head of Woodchester Park Badger Research Station