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badger

The Express5,000 badgers die yet TB evidence goes up in flames”

The Guardian24 hours following the badger cull in Somerset”

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Badger vaccination ‘would be cheaper to implement than cull’ (Guardian)

Expert analysis shows the high cost of policing the expected protests means the expense of the cull now exceeds vaccination
Badgers can carry bovine tuberculosis

Vaccinating badgers to curb the rise of tuberculosis in cattle would cost less than culling them, according to a new analysis of the government’s own data.

Ministers have insisted that trapping and innoculating badgers is too expensive to pursue. But the high cost of policing the expected protests against the night-time shoots – due to begin at any time this summer – means the expense of the cull now exceeds vaccination, according to the UK’s top badger expert, Prof Rosie Woodroffe.

“Vaccination does not prompt protest, so it is cheaper to implement than culling,” said Prof Woodroffe, who was a key member of the team that spent 10 years and £50m testing badger culling before concluding that culling could “make no meaningful contribution” to reducing bovine tuberculosis (TB). “There is good reason to expect badger vaccination to reduce transmission to cattle,” she said.

Woodroffe’s analysis used the government’s own cost estimates of badger vaccination – £2,250 per square kilometre per year – and the proposed culling – £1,000/sq km/year. When government estimates of policing costs for the cull – £1,429/sq km/year – are added, vaccination becomes the cheaper option.

Bovine TB is rising in England: more than 37,000 infected cattle were slaughtered in 2012 at a cost to taxpayers of £100m. Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, argues that badger culling is an essential part of controlling the disease, alongside tougher restrictions on cattle movements. But many scientists say that culling risks making TB worse as badgers will flee cull zones. Two pilot culls, targeting 5,000 badgers, are due to begin at any time in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

MPs will vote on a Labour motion opposing the cull on Wednesday. The only previous vote, a backbench debate prompted by a 150,000-strong public petition, ended in defeat for the government policy but was not legally binding.

“The injectable badger vaccine has no effect on infected badgers and there is little evidence of its effectiveness,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. “Research shows that culling will reduce TB infection in the badger population more quickly than vaccination.”

But Prof Woodroffe disagreed: “Vaccination is often dismissed as a management option because it has no direct effect on infected badgers. But this is based on misinterpretation of the available evidence: culling does not prompt a rapid reduction in the numbers of infected badgers.”

Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, said: “This incompetent government cancelled five of Labour’s six badger vaccine trials which would have given detailed information on the effectiveness of badger vaccines in the field. Despite this, these new figures show that vaccinating badgers is a cost-effective and humane way of reducing the number of infected badgers. That’s why Labour have called Wednesday’s vote to try to stop this futile, divisive and ideologically driven cull.”

Tom Hind, a director at the National Farmers Union which backs the cull, said: “Policing costs are a matter for the government, but are bound to reflect the threats made by some anti-cull protestors to disrupt a lawful licenced activity. There is no science to demonstrate that the vaccine will have any impact in reducing levels of TB in areas where the disease is rife.”

“The general public does not object to vaccination and there is likely to be no protest whatsoever,” said Woodroffe, adding that the Welsh assembly has chosen badger vaccination over culling as its TB control policy and seen no protests. Badger vaccination trials are also being undertaken in England by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the National Trust in Devon.

Andrew George, Lib Dem MP for West Cornwall who opposes the cull, is working to harness strong public concern into a volunteer-led vaccination programme that would reduce costs even further. “I can’t wait around for the government to pursue a culling policy which I think is destined to fail,” he said, adding that unlike culling, there was no chance of vaccination making TB in cattle worse.

Woodroffe said her analysis did not include the additional costs incurred by culling as a result of having to perform expensive surveys to measure badger populations. The cull must kill at least 70% of badgers to ensure escaping animals do not spread TB further but must not kill them all, as local extinctions are illegal.

“We know vaccinating badgers reduces transmission of bovine TB to other badgers, so there is good reason to expect it also to reduce transmission to cattle,” she said. “Vaccination is also expected to reduce the proportion of infected badgers, rather than increasing it as culling does, so it may have greater long-term prospects for TB eradication.” The Badger Trust has sent pre-action legal letters to the cull’s licensing body demanding a new cost-benefit analysis.

Anne Brummer, chief executive of Brian May’s Save Me campaign, said: “This ill-advised politically led policy is unscientific, unethical and is now a total financial disaster. When will this government listen to the experts they employ to advise them and offer a science led policy to solving bovine TB in our herd that is sustainable, cost-effective and actually works?”

The government’s cost-benefit analysis predicts a 16% reduction in TB in cattle after nine years as a result of culling, but found the cost of the cull exceeded the cost of the TB infections avoided. The scientist who set up the 10-year trials, Lord John Krebs, has described the cull as “mindless.”

Campaigners have also raised concerns about how the pilot culls will meet their objective of measuring the humaneness of the culling. A recently disclosed document revealing that observing the noises made by dying badgers “is the only method available to determine the degree of pain that may be experienced”.

On Saturday, an estimated 1,500-2,000 people marched on Downing Street in London to protest against the cull.

Article

David Cameron’s local hunt convicted after RSPCA prosecution (Guardian 17.12.12)

Prime minister has ridden with Heythrop Hunt, which admitted intentionally hunting a fox with dogs

Heythrop Hunt

Members of the Heythrop Hunt in the Cotswolds. Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty Images

Members of the David Cameron‘s local Oxfordshire hunt have been convicted of hunting foxes illegally in a prosecution brought by the RSPCA.

Richard Sumner, 68, and Julian Barnfield, 49, of the 176-year-old Heythrop Hunt with which Cameron has previously ridden, each pleaded guilty at Oxford magistrates court to four charges of unlawfully hunting a wild fox with dogs. The hunt, Heythrop Hunt Limited, also pleaded guilty to the same four charges of intentionally hunting a fox with dogs on land in the Cotswolds.

Outside court, Barnfield, a former huntsman with the Heythrop, claimed the prosecution had been politically motivated because of its links with Cameron’s Witney constituency. He said he believed the animal charity was trying to put pressure on Cameron “not to give a free vote” in parliament in any future debate on the Hunting Act, and to embarrass the prime minister.

Members of the so-called Chipping Norton set – an influential group of MPs and media professionals who live in the area – who have links to the Heythrop include the prominent supporter and racehorse trainer Charlie Brooks, husband of the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks. Their neighbour Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, has reportedly allowed the hunt to use his land and is among locals photographed at the Heythrop’s country fair. The prime minister is understood to have ridden with the hunt on six occasions before the legislation came into force.

The prosecution followed footage taken by anti-hunt monitors over four days during the 2011-12 season.

The court heard hounds had been encouraged to chase foxes, which is banned under legislation which came into force in 2005.

Barnfield and Sumner, a former hunt master, have since retired from their positions.

Jeremy Carter-Manning QC, prosecuting for the RSPCA, said the hunt was filmed on several occasions in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire during November last year and in February and March this year by members of the Protect Our Wild Animals group. Footage was passed to the RSPCA. It is believed to be the first prosecution of a hunt itself under the legislation, which abolished the hunting of foxes with hounds in almost all circumstances and, in particular, traditional fox hunting.

Footage shown to the court of an incident on 29 February showed evidence of “prolonged and deliberate unlawful hunting”, said Carter-Manning.

After a fox ran past hunt monitors, who were recording footage from a road nearby, Barnfield drew up on horseback. “Two route-followers indicated to Mr Barnfield the direction in which the fox had run. He immediately blows the hunting horn and enters the field as directed,” said Carter-Manning. Barnfield and another man then gave vocal encouragement to the remainder of the pack, shouting “tally ho” and “forrard”.

In a subsequent piece of film, recorded 40 minutes later, monitors are heard shouting: ‘There’s a kill, there’s a kill,” and: “Call the police.”

Describing the events, Carter-Manning said: “The hounds converge into semi-circles and the screaming [of the hounds] reaches a crescendo. The hounds are making a kill.”

On another occasion, in March, footage shot by a volunteer shows hounds beginning to squeal as they try to flush out a fox from dense cover, “and then almost immediately afterwards a double horn”.

Further footage captures the hounds pursuing a fox and cries of “on, on, on” from the mounted hunt. Barnfield was “filmed quite clearly amongst the pursuing hounds shouting ‘on, on, on’ in obvious encouragement”, said Carter-Manning.

Philip Mott QC, mitigating, said the charges related to four occasions within the full hunting season between November 2011 and March this year. During that period there would have been around 100 hunts, each lasting some five hours. “What you have here is unlawful hunting, shown and admitted, of no more than 15 minutes in total,” he said.

“It is our case that the rest of the time this hunt was operating trail hunting.”

Barnfield, of Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was fined £250 for each charge, totalling £1,000, and ordered to pay costs of £2,000. Sumner, of Salperton, Gloucestershire, was fined a total of £1,800 with costs of £2,500. The Heythrop Hunt Limited was fined a total of £4000 with £15,000 costs. All three were ordered to pay a £15 victim surcharge.

Following the hearing, the RSPCA’s chief executive, Gavin Grant, said: “These defendants were well aware that they were breaking the law in that their actions would lead to a fox being torn apart by dogs.

“No doubt the hunt will say that those involved have now left and they have no knowledge of this crime,” he added. “The truth is this hunt believed that they were above the law – they were wrong.”

The anti-hunt monitors who shot the footage thanked the RSPCA for having the “foresight and courage to take on the prosecution”.

Outside court, Barnfield said he had only pleaded guilty because he could not afford to fight the £327,000 case the RSPCA had mounted.

“We conceded because the money wasn’t there to defend ourselves. I would like to stand there and defend it but there was no way it was possible.

“I am staggered by it all. The fact that a charitable body can take on this political thing and spend so much money which other people have given them for another thing is stunning.”

Attributing political motivation to the animal charity, he added: “They could have picked on any other hunt but they picked on Heythrop because we are in David Cameron’s constituency.

“I think they are trying to put pressure on him not to give a free vote like he said he would, to embarrass him in some way.”

Since 1835 the Heythrop Hunt, one of the most high-profile in the country, has been an intrinsic part of the Chipping Norton community. Huge Boxing Day crowds gather to see it in Chipping Norton Square as one of the market town’s Christmas traditions. In 2003, Cameron, recalled a day out with the Heythrop, saying: “Nothing had prepared me for the sheer terror of a day’s hunting. I battled in vain to control my powerful steed and careered through trees and bushes – completely out of control.”

Original article

Video “Fox killed by Cameron’s hunt” (Guardian link)