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The badger vaccination programme: Is it working?

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Caught in a trap: An illegally snared badger

Caught in a trap: An illegally snared badger

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT issued a press release last week hailing its success in delivering 5,000 vaccinations against Bovine TB (bTB) in the Intensive Action Area against the disease in North Pembrokeshire, South Ceredigion, and North-West Carmarthenshire.

The press release read: ‘More than 5,000 doses of badger vaccination have been administered to animals inside the Intensive Action Area (IAA) in West Wales over the past four years. We are now half way through the fourth year of the Welsh Government’s five-year badger vaccination project in parts of Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, which forms part of a wider programme of work to eradicate TB from cattle in Wales.

‘The Deputy Minister for Farming and Food, Rebecca Evans, said: “Since 2010 we have introduced a number of additional measures in the IAA because it was identified as having some of the highest rates of incidence of TB in Europe.

“We are now half way through 2015’s round of the vaccination project and provisional results indicate we have successfully delivered over 5,000 doses of the vaccine in the IAA across the four years”.’

The statistics accompanying the summary were released at the same time.

The Herald delved into the data to establish what it told us about bTB rates and the effectiveness of the vaccination programme.

The history of bTB control

It is 55 years since the whole of the UK became attested on October 1, 1960. Each cattle herd was certified as being subject to regular tuberculin testing with immediate slaughter of any reactors. Progress was maintained throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

The ‘clean ring strategy’ was a badger culling strategy introduced in 1982. It involved cage trapping badgers on land occupied by affected cattle herds, then on adjoining land, expanding outwards until no further infected animals were captured. It was abandoned in 1986 as being non cost-effective.

Between 1986 and 1997, the UK Government pursued a strategy in which badgers were cage-trapped and shot. However, the strategy was only piecemeal, largely because of pressure from animal charities and single-issue pressure groups that meant that only badgers on land occupied by the affected herd would be culled.

Bearing in mind current claims that culling badgers is ineffective because of the proposition that badgers would simply leave the culling area to go to a neighbouring area, the methodology adopted between 1986 and 1997 in order to prevent wider scale slaughter of badgers appears both flawed and naïve: a strategy doomed to fail, and predictably so.

Culling in other countries

In New Zealand the success of culling the principal vector for the disease, the possum, has been markedly successful.

In 1990 the proportion of TB in cattle was about 7 times greater than it was in Great Britain. However in 1997 the proportions were about equal. By 2011, the proportion in New Zealand is about 40 times less than what it is in Great Britain.

Since the early nineties, control of the principal wildlife vector, the possum has increased whilst in Great Britain since 1986 control of the principal wildlife vector, the badger, has reduced.

The method of culling in Ireland relies on the use of snares and the subsequent shooting of trapped badgers. That method, widely condemned as cruel, is expressly forbidden in the UK. The effectiveness of the range of bTB measures – including culling – adopted in Ireland has driven rates of bTB infection in herds to their lowest ever level.

Bovine TB figures have, however, also fallen in Northern Ireland, were no licensed culling has taken place. That fact has been alighted upon by those opposed to a cull as evidence of the ineffectiveness of shooting badgers in order to control bTB. However, bTB rates are still substantially higher in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland: in 2013 6.4 per cent of cattle herds tested positive in Northern Ireland compared to 3.8 per cent south of the border.

As might be ruefully observed, the validity of statistical evidence and the science deployed by those on either side of the culling debate is likely to remain subjective and views remain entrenched. Wildlife and animal charities will continue to deride culling, while those who deal with the personal and economic fallout of bTB will favour it.

The Welsh decision

It was against the background of apparent comparative success of culling in other countries that the Welsh Government decided to begin a five year vaccination trial in West Wales and worth recalling that the Welsh Government embarked upon a vaccination programme as very much a second preference.

In 2012, Welsh Labour abandoned a previous policy, formed in coalition with Plaid Cymru, which supported a badger cull and decided to pursue a policy of vaccination. In doing so, it was criticised by the then Chair of the British Veterinary Association for ignoring scientific evidence supporting a cull and accused of ‘cowardice’ in the face of a celebrity-backed campaign against the cull and pressure from animal charities.

The decision not to proceed was described as a betrayal of farmers whose herds remain affected by the reservoir of bTB in the wild badger population.

But what, it is fair to ask, is the Welsh Government’s ‘Plan B’?

What if the data suggests that vaccination is no more effective than doing nothing?

A farmer’s experience

The Herald spoke to one farmer, who provided his observations on life in the IAA on condition of strict anonymity.

The farmer told us: “My dairy herd has suffered from bTB for 12 years. In 2012, badgers began to be vaccinated in the area, along with strict cattle control.

“I, like many farmers find this to be a costly exercise which doesn’t reach the root of the problem, the over population of badgers in the area.

“The stricter cattle controls and improved biosecurity measures also brought in in the IAA looks to move the blame of bTB onto the farmers, which is unfair.

“Because of the desperation I face with losing cattle to slaughter because of bTB and falling milk prices, I am left with no alternative but to shoot badgers which are on my land. “This is a population control measure and I take no pleasure in the culling of an animal. It’s either the badger or my cattle, and for the sake of my family and my income, it’s the badger.”

Data and dates During the vaccination programme the absolute incidence of bTB has fallen markedly, with numbers of affected cattle falling. One key piece of data is not encouraging when it comes to weighing the effectiveness of the vaccination programme. In the period immediately preceding the vaccination programme the incidence bTB had fallen even more sharply.

Bovine TB cases had climbed sharply over the years to 2008/09, topping out at 29% per hundred head of cattle in the IAA that year. The rate of detected infection in the last full year in the most recent Welsh Government report (2014/15) shows that infection rates remain above where they were in 2006/2007, when they were at around 16% and that in the current control area was 8%.

After an initial increase in incidence following the introduction of interventions in the IAA, incidence has been decreasing since 2011/12. Incidence has also decreased in the Control Area (CA) in the last year, halving from 12 % to 6 %. In 2013/14, there were three times as many new bTB incidents per 100 unrestricted herds in the IAA (18 %) than in the CA (6 %,).

That means that the gap in the incidence of positive tests in the control area, where no vaccinations have been trialled, and the Intensive Action Area where they have has widened over the course of the vaccination programme. From the start of the IAA in 2010/11, and historically judging by the Welsh Government’s own data, the ratio had been around two to one. While one would expect the gap to narrow if vaccination were more effective that not vaccinating, the gap between the incidence in the IAA and the control area has widened.

We asked the Welsh Government about the issue the above analysis presented. A Welsh Government spokesperson said, “The downward trend in levels of bovine TB in the Intensive Action Area is encouraging and is broadly in line with the trend seen in other parts of Wales. We know that it may take years to fully see the benefits of some of our additional measures in the area, which includes six monthly testing and badger vaccination. Therefore it is too soon to draw any conclusions on the effectiveness of the measures in the IAA.”

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Farming

Farming Connect’s face-to-face training back on

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DUE to the restrictions of Covid 19, although it’s not ‘training as usual’ as yet for Farming Connect, face-to-face training courses held exclusively outdoors can now resume immediately. This means that provided the Welsh Government’s current Covid 19 regulations are met and every individual involved stays two metres apart, face-to-face training is available.
Training can also be carried out in large, open sheds, barns or outbuildings, where the two metre distance rule and other Covid 19 regulations can be adhered to. Welsh Government has warned that its guidance is subject to change should there be a resurgence of the pandemic.  It is hoped that a full resumption of Farming Connect’s indoor classroom-based training will be possible in the autumn.

Kevin Thomas, director of Lantra Wales, which together with Menter a Busnes delivers Farming Connect on behalf of the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, welcomed the announcement.
“With all Farming Connect face to face training either fully funded or subsidised by up to 80%, it is very good news for the industry that so many face-to-face courses are now available again.

“Personal, business and technical development is critical as farmers and foresters prepare for a future outside the EU and with over 80 subjects to choose from, this could be the ideal time to learn something new or expand your knowledge on a specific subject.

“New skills will also be especially beneficial for those who have had to adapt their business model due to the changed market conditions caused by the pandemic,” said Mr. Thomas, who added that all Farming Connect training completed will be added to each trainee’s online ‘Storfa Sgiliau’ professional development records.
Registered individuals who received an approval for face-to-face training but whose courses were postponed due to the pandemic lockdown, should contact their selected training provider as soon as possible to discuss their options. Those who have not already applied for funded training can do so within the next skills application window which will be open from 09:00 on Monday 7 September until 17:00 on Friday 30 October 2020.

Farming Connect’s range of subsidised digital or ‘remote’ training has steadily increased since the pandemic first surfaced, and is now available for a number of Farming Connect courses including food safety; business-related training, poultry related training and animal health and welfare topics.

Training options within Farming Connect’s fully funded ICT and animal health training programmes can all be provided remotely, either one-to-one or via for example, a ‘virtual’ group animal health workshop. In addition, Farming Connect’s range of fully funded e-learning interactive modules has recently been refreshed and expanded to deliver more topics.
For further information about Farming Connect’s skills and lifelong learning programme, either contact your local development officer or your selected training provider. Visit www.gov.wales/farmingconnect for further information, a list of all training providers and the courses currently available.

Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra, has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

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Wales can lead on net-zero farming

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NFU CYMRU hosted a farm visit for the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma MP, to demonstrate that Welsh farmers are well-placed to deliver on the industry’s net zero ambitions.

The event saw NFU Cymru launch its new document, which sets out that Welsh farmers are part of the solution to climate change.

NFU Cymru President John Davies presented the report to the Secretary of State, who also holds the role of nominated President for COP26, as part of the on farm meeting.

The visit was hosted by NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member Llŷr Jones, whose 1,600-acre sheep, beef and egg farm near Corwen also produces renewable energy to satisfy the farm’s energy needs, exporting the surplus power to the grid.

As part of his visit to Derwydd Farm, Mr Sharma was also able to learn about the scale of work carried out on the farm as part of Welsh Government’s Glastir agri-environment scheme, including creating habitats for wildlife, tree planting, protecting some 30 acres of peatland, hedgerow management and soil and grassland management.

During his visit, the BEIS Secretary planted an apple tree as an example of the environmental work the agricultural sector carries out to sequester carbon, while also providing food and aiding biodiversity.

Speaking after the visit, NFU Cymru President John Davies said: “By focussing on improving farming’s productive efficiency; improving land management and enhancing land use to capture more carbon; and boosting renewable energy and the wider bio-economy, Wales’ farmers will be able to play their part in addressing the issues brought about by climate change. By reducing carbon emissions in these ways farmers are in a strong position to achieve the industry’s goal of achieving net zero by 2040.

“I am thrilled that we were able to welcome the BEIS Secretary, Alok Sharma MP, on farm today to see Llŷr Jones’ exciting and impressive farming enterprise, which has carbon capture and renewable energy at its heart. Llŷr’s farm is just one of a wide network of farms across Wales who are harnessing innovation to reduce emissions and produce climate friendly food. These businesses are net zero leaders not just in the respect of farming, but in a wider business context.”

Alok Sharma, COP26 President and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said: “I was very pleased to visit Llŷr Jones’ farm and see first-hand the actions being taken to mitigate climate change and support nature on their land.

“I welcome the NFU’s ambitious commitment to reach net zero by 2040, and I look forward to working across governments, business and civil society in the run up to COP26 to raise global commitments to reduce carbon emissions.”

NFU Cymru Next Generation Group member Llŷr Jones added: “I take great pride in the work we do to maintain and enhance the environment, encourage biodiversity and support the local community alongside my core role as a food producer.

“I was pleased to be able welcome the Secretary of State on farm today to show him how we’re always striving to positively influence the carbon impact of our business. I hope Mr Sharma enjoyed his visit to my north Wales hill farm and that what he has seen shows him that our industry has a vital role to play in the climate change challenge now and in the future.”

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Farming

Broadband must reach rural communities

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THE FUW has responded positively to news that there are plans to bring full fibre broadband to an additional three million homes and businesses in some of the UK’s most isolated rural communities, but stresses it must really reach them.

The connection to 3.2 million UK premises, which was given the go-ahead after an Ofcom consultation, is reported to be part of a £12bn investment by Openreach to build full fibre infrastructure to 20 million premises throughout the UK by the end of this decade.

Places set to benefit include Aberystwyth in west Wales, Millom in Cumbria, Thurso in north-east Scotland, and Ballycastle in County Antrim. Openreach is due to publish the full list of the 251 locations, referred to as Area 3, where it will build the new network. Ofcom has estimated there are 9.6 million homes and businesses situated in this final third of the UK.

Responding to the announcement, FUW Ceredigion county chairman Morys Ioan said: “The last few months have served as a stark example of how vital connectivity is. Our own Union staff, many of whom live in rural areas, have been working from home and we have continued to assist members with digital paperwork for their farm businesses. Without an internet connection this would not have been possible.

“It is really good news that this extra funding is being directed at rural communities but we must make sure that it really does go to those premises who currently are not benefitting from full fibre broadband.

“Our rural towns and villages have been left behind in the race for better and faster connectivity and it is critical for the competitiveness and viability of rural businesses, and the economy, that tangible improvements are made now.

“The FUW has stressed on many occasions that those without a connection cannot diversify their businesses, that they cannot support their children’s education and that they cannot connect readily with Government programmes for advice and support payments as they are mandated to do.”

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