Sunday, June 23, 2013

Glastonbury 2013: Kill the badgers

Here's something cheery to think of as you see all the environmental pledges scattered across the Glastonbury site: Michael Eavis wants to kill badgers.

He supports the Tory coalition's badger cull:

"As a dairy farmer I am not on the side of the badger," he told the Guardian, in his first public comments on the controversy over badgers' role in causing bovine TB in cattle. "They've also uprooted all the orchids, and killed or eaten all the hedgehogs. They're still treated like a protected species, but they're actually quite a damaging animal."
Eaten all the hedgehogs, eh?
Hugh Warwick, a hedgehog ecologist, said that Eavis was mistaken in believing that badgers were responsible for the loss of hedgehogs in the countryside.

"Hedgehogs and badgers have coexisted for millennia. When there is plenty of food for both, these animals can live together," said Warwick. "The reason we're seeing a decline in hedgehogs cannot be wholly blamed on badgers although badgers have some part to play in it."

Badgers and hedgehogs compete for the same food – worms – but when food is scarce, badgers will turn on hedgehogs. Hedgehogs do suffer if badger populations reach a certain density but they are also rapidly declining in areas where there are no badgers.

And badgers uprooting orchids? Perhaps they do - although the government's cost-benefit analysis of a badger cull repeatedly makes clear that sending people into habitats to cull badgers actually puts orchids at risk through having flat-footed gun-wranglers trampling across the landscape.

And as the EU discovered last year, the main culprit in the spread of TB amongst cattle is dairy farmers being sloppy about following guidelines:
Cattle in England must be regularly tested for TB, and those found to have the disease must be quickly isolated and then removed. But the EC report, based on inspections made in September 2011, found numerous "shortcomings", including missed targets on both the rapid removal of cattle with TB and the follow-up of missed tests, and "weaknesses in cleaning and disinfection at farm, vehicle, market and slaughterhouse levels, exacerbated by lack of adequate supervision". All these problems increase the risk of TB spreading between cattle.

The EC gave the UK €23m in 2011 for bovine TB control measures. Its inspectors found that the removal of cattle with TB was below the target of 90% in 10 days, and that in the first half of 2011 more than 1,000 cattle had not been removed after 30 days. They found that there were 3,300 overdue TB tests as of May 2011 and that "many" calf passports – used to track movements – were incomplete. They also found that only 56% disease report forms had been completed on time, with the authorities blaming lack of resources. Funding cuts were cited as the reason for the failure of local authorities to update central databases systematically.

The EC report stated: "Local authority surveys provided evidence that some cattle farmers may have been illegally swapping cattle ear tags, ie retaining TB-positive animals in their herds and sending less productive animals to slaughter in their place." There are 8.5 million cattle in Great Britain on 81,000 holdings, with 2.4m movements a year. In 2011, about 7% of herds were under restriction due to TB and 26,000 cattle were destroyed.
It should be stressed that, nevertheless, nobody is suggesting a cull of dairy farmers.

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