Event: ZSL Event

I attended one of the Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) Science and Conservation events last night at London Zoo with Brian May. The

debate was billed as: Is the coalition government’s proposal for a ‘SCIENCE-LED PROGRAMME OF BADGER CONTROL’ an effective way to reduce tuberculosis in cattle? The speakers were:

 

Professor Bob Watson – Chief Scientific Adviser, Defra;

Professor Christl Donnelly – Imperial College London;

Dr Rosie Woodroffe – Institute of Zoology, ZSL; and

Professor Quintin McKellar – Principal, Royal Veterinary College.

 

This meeting was chaired by Andrew George, a Liberal MP from a farming community. As a rebel who voted against the coalition government and whose outspoken comments often get him in trouble, he didn’t disappoint! His opening speech was a startlingly honest address. He said that the government decision was not usually science based but had a little bit of guesswork back-filled with policy pressure. He also reiterated, at the end of the meeting, that he didn’t believe the government would listen to the public or the science and that the badger cull would go ahead. He was against the cull.

The science was presented and the government took out the bits they wanted and ignored the bits they didn’t. To a year 9 student the problem stares you in the face and the clue is in the titles. Bovine TB is a bovine disease spread by bovines and unless we halt the spread by stopping cattle movements it will continue to spread. No single solution can prevent the spread and no effective group of solutions has been shown to work.

Bovine TB has been sweeping across the country from the west over the last 10 years at an alarming rate. The strange thing is that the badgers haven’t been migrating but interestingly enough cattle have been tripping from county to county.

It seems the farmers are to be given a license to kill badgers on their own land if they reach the required criteria. No one knew what hoops the farmers would have to jump through to be able to take a pot shot at a badger. The density and low slung body of a badger doesn’t make them good for shooting. The rifle velocity would need to be immense to kill them outright, so injury would be high along with a slow death and a miss...well that could see the bullet end up in the next county. This unproven method of badger control is weak at best and downright dangerous at worst. It’s a health and safety issue of monumental proportions with the highest possible risk.

I asked during the evening what measures they would impose on these “gun slinging” farmers and why they were basing it on “theory” whilst ignoring the scientific data. They mumbled about “models being science” but with selective input, the models are no more than guesstimates - “Lies, damn lies and statistics” springs to mind.

Professor John Bourne, who headed the research of the previous culls, spoke from the floor on the subject at length and had no confidence in the government interpretation and rejections of his clearly compiled and detailed research. He was given no answers to his concerns.

There was little reference to this cattle trafficking being stopped.

All the scientific nous, 11,000 dead badgers (that’s 8.9km of dead badgers), thirty trial culls and yet no movement halt for the farmers.

Brian stood up and said that as a human being he found the cull unacceptable morally, as they were solving a man made issue by sacrificing our wildlife. As a scientist he was horrified that the science wasn’t there to back up this mass slaughter. Brian has really raised the profile of the badger cull issue and has vowed to continue to fight the cull.

This is a bargain basement government handing down cheap, quick fixes with guessed outcomes based on assumption after assumption. It is pointless and reckless. The sacrificial badger is being presented as the solution when he is merely an innocent bystander infected by the cattle time and time again as the cattle move from county to county. The badger is being hung out to dry as the scapegoat because his carcass is worthless! Anyone who can read the data will see the truth.

I just hope our coalition government does the right thing but my confidence is not high at the moment.

For even more information on the badger cull, please visit Brian’s Save Me Trust page.

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