THe FUW is reminding members that dead badgers can be submitted using the following number: 0808 169 5110. Alternatively, dead badgers can be submitted via the web at www.bfd.wales or via email: email@example.com
In October 2017, the Welsh Government introduced measures aimed at tackling bovine TB in Welsh cattle which split Wales into five different regions, according to disease levels, each with different rules for cattle movements and testing.
The move is the latest in a raft of measures introduced since 2005 under six different Welsh Government ministers, including compulsory pre- movement testing (2006) enhanced restrictions on herds with overdue tests (2006), a test of every bovine animal in Wales (2008), and the introduction of compulsory annual testing (2010).
As a result, the number of cattle annually tested in Wales has increased by around eight fold in the past two decades, from some 261,000 in 1997 to more than 2 million last year – a rise which is even more staggering when we consider that the number of cattle in Wales fell by around 25 per cent during the same period.
There can be little doubt that the increase in testing frequency meant more disease being rooted out at an earlier stage – something not possible in parishes previously under the four-yearly testing interval – leading, alongside other actions, to a fall in new herd incidences of around 25 per cent since the end of the last decade.
But the statistics can show a more mixed picture,
depending upon which measurement or region of
Wales is chosen, and while improvements are
welcome, they are against a background of extreme
increases in disease levels over the past two
decades: Since 1997, the annual percentage of
Welsh herds which have their official TB free status
withdrawn has risen ten-fold, while the number of
Welsh cattle culled annually to control the disease has gone from 613 in 1997 to 10,053 in 2017 a rise of 1,500 per cent.
With such high levels of disease, and control measures focussed almost exclusively on cattle, the cycle of testing, re-testing, movement restrictions and watching animals being killed on farm or removed for slaughter has taken a heavy toll on families, both financially and emotionally.
Whatever improvements have or haven’t taken place in different regions of Wales, the scientific evidence clearly shows that the removal of badgers in areas where disease has been found in the species, as originally intended by the Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition Government, would have complemented any positive impacts of the current programme.
Moreover, given that a five year cull of badgers during england’s Randomised Badger Culling Trials was found to have reduced confirmed TB incidences by 54 per cent in TB hotspots, had the original coalition plan been taken forward, there can be little doubt that levels of TB in Wales would by now have been considerably lower.
It is for this reason that the FUW has continued to lobby for proactive badger culling to take place in areas where the disease has been found in badger populations, and made it clear in its response to the Welsh Government consultation on the new rules introduced in October 2017 that the policy should only go ahead if accompanied by meaningful actions to tackle the disease in wildlife.
While the new Welsh Government policy of trapping, TB testing and culling or releasing badgers on farms with long term breakdowns comes nowhere close to the FUW’s policy, it must be recognised as a small step in the right direction.
Of course, culling badgers on just a handful of farms will have no impact on the overall disease picture for Wales; but if the pilots are successful, and the Welsh Government is genuine in its plans to roll out the measures to other farms with long term problems, this marks the first glimmer of hope to be seen for a decade.
But whatever action is taken to reduce incidences in badgers in the future, this will have to be based on clear evidence that the disease is present in local badger populations, so it is essential that a comprehensive disease profile for badgers across Wales is built up.
A Welsh Government survey of dead badgers in the two years to October 2016 found one in every fourteen to be infected with TB – more than ten times higher than the rate found in cattle, which is around one in two-hundred and fifty.
But with just 593 found-dead badgers tested – around 1 per cent of the estimated Welsh badger population – the survey cannot provide us with a comprehensive picture of disease presence and levels around Wales.
Given the testing level for Welsh cattle is 100 per cent, with many being tested more than once during the year, there could not be a greater difference between our knowledge of the location and levels of disease in cattle and badgers.