More than 1400 West Country farmers have said they are ready to carry out a co-ordinated badger cull to reduce bovine tuberculosis.
The VLA 9 group – named after a strain of bovine TB – has 1450 farmer members. It is based in an area of Devon and Cornwall that has suffered one of the highest concentrations of TB breakdowns in the UK.
The group has been drawn together by officials from the National Beef Association and NFU in the region.
NBA south west of England co-ordinator Bill Harper told Farmers Weekly that the move had been triggered by the findings of the Krebs badger culling trial, which showed how severely the area was hit by TB.
“In the Krebs report the area over north Cornwall and north-west Devon was declared a hot spot and VLA 9 TB breakdowns were marked on maps by a mass of red,” said Mr Harper.
“The close groupings of the VLA 9 strain showed us the disease did not move quickly and therefore to us it was wildlife movement and not cattle movements from farm to farm that were to blame.
“We thought the area would be a logical place for a badger cull and, when the trial showed that culling could cut TB by 23%, we expected that a cull would be given the go ahead,” he said.
Independent Scientific Group
But the Independent Scientific Group, set up to review the Krebs trial results and consider the effectiveness of a badger cull in cutting TB, came to a different conclusion.
“The ISG said that for culling to work a whole list of criteria had to be met,” Mr Harper said.
The ISG concluded culling would need to be:
- Over large areas (at least 265sq km)
- Sustained for long periods of time
- Carried out competently and efficiently
- Undertaken where there are natural boundaries to dispersal.
In fact, the ISG’s criteria for a workable cull were so prescriptive that it added it could see no situation in the UK where the right conditions could be met.
And because of that finding it said: “Culling can provide no meaningful contribution and is not cost-effective as a control measure for combating bovine tuberculosis.”
But Mr Harper and the VLA 9 group rejected that statement as work was already under way to establish a culling area.
An independent committee had been established comprising a vet, two scientists, two farmers and two DEFRA officials to look into the practicalities of a cull. The committee’s codename was Tea Bag.
“We began working alongside the Tea Bag members who advised us on how to refine a culling area,” said Mr Harper.
“At 1400sq km our area is well in excess of the ISG minimum requirement.
“In May 2007 we put forward this area to members of Tea Bag believing it is ideal with the boundaries as they are,” he said.
It was a first step and the Tea Bag committee reviewed the submission. However, it was rejected because there were no hard boundaries to prevent infected badgers moving into new areas, a phenomenon known as perturbation.
“So it was a case of refining our proposal in accordance with the committee’s advice,” said Mr Harper.
“And this we have done. The area is now bounded by the north Devon and Cornwall coast and runs down the A30 which is chain-link fenced. The other boundaries are the Okement, Torridge and Camel rivers,” he explained.
With the hard boundaries in place the group set about getting farmers involved in July 2007.
Eight meetings took place with between 40 to 100 farmers present each time. Sub groups were organised into 63 parish units with a leader in each one.
“By February this year we had 1450 signed up, accounting for 70% of farmers covering 80% of the land within the area.
“These members have now signed applications for culling licences and we are ready to take ownership of a badger cull,” Mr Harper told Farmers Weekly.
“It would be effective, cost-effective, co-ordinated and cheap. We will bear the cost and take the responsibility,” he said.
“Hilary Benn said a badger cull would have to be founded in science. So my message to him is we have met the science. If he throws it out it’s because of public perception, nothing more. And that would be out of order. This is not a political issue it is an animal health issue,” he added.