28 November 1997

Goodbye expansion


PEAK District dairy farmer Ed Barker believes badgers are responsible not only for the TB restrictions on his 93-cow dairy herd, but also for the complete disappearance of all the ground nesting birds from his farm.

Mr Barker, a tenant on Shawcroft Farm, Wootton, Ashbourne, planned earlier this year to increase his herd to 120 head to maintain his annual milk income at £143,363, following this years drop in milk prices. He had already employed a new farm manager to help with the expansion.

Disaster struck

But then disaster struck. In the spring, 20 cows tested positive for TB, since when the herd has been under movement restriction, leaving Mr Barker unable to replace the slaughtered reactors or buy the extra cows he wanted.

Badgers have always lived on the farm, but Mr Barker attributes his TB problems to the recent population explosion. And things are made worse by the farm being within the area where the government has imposed a ban on badger culling.

Brian Jennings, chairman of the NFUs animal health and welfare committee, said one of MAFFs reasons for the moratorium on culling badgers in new TB areas was a suspicion that badger removal disrupted setts and actually exacerbated the spread of infected animals.

"So, what we have here is just one huge experiment that farmers are being involved in. In other areas where we do see removal, although cases of bovine TB have not dropped, the situation is at least stable.

"In the new outbreak area we had eight herds under restriction when the moratorium was introduced. Now there are more than 40, and two new cases in Cheshire," Mr Jennings said.

Mr Barker said the main sett on the farm now housed about 50 badgers. And another had just appeared. "The main badger city is in a hedge that I left for conservation purposes 20 years ago. Im very keen on conservation and one of the main problems of having too many badgers is the damage they do to the ecosystem."

No lapwings

"I now have no lapwings or curlews on the farm because there are so many badgers around looking for food that they take all the ground-nesting birds eggs in the spring."

Mr Jennings said there was still no indication of what recommendations the Krebs committee had made, or when government would publish the findings. But the NFU maintained that badgers must be culled in areas suffering bovine TB. And their setts must be blocked to prevent any healthy badgers moving in and picking up infection.

Ed Barker (left) and Brian Jennings look at one of the many entrances to the main badger sett on Mr Barkers farm in the Peak District.

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