Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by Dr Elaine King, National Federation of Badger Groups (J13) (continued)

  200.  The NFBG would urge the Agriculture Committee to press the Government and the ISG on how it can account for this problem.

201.  Absent external auditing

  202.  The first report of the Independent Scientific Group, published in July 1998, recommended that an external audit be conducted to check the efficiency of the culling (Bourne et al, 1998).

  203.  Despite this recommendation, it is regrettable that MAFF failed to appoint external auditors before the trial began on 2 December 1998. Cresswell Associates were appointed to conduct the external audit in November 1998 but did not start fieldwork until some months later.

  204.  The Government has stated that the auditors will ". . . check that our procedures for surveying, trapping and culling are effective." The Government further states, "They will produce a report on the trial which will be published". (MAFF, 2000a.) However, a report has still not been published, almost two years after the auditors started work.

  205.  It is important that the report is published because external auditors, who have specialist knowledge of badgers, are crucial in ensuring the trial is scientifically robust. This has been acknowledged by Professor Bourne, who has admitted to the NFBG that the internal audit has "imperfections" because few MAFF officers have a detailed knowledge of badger ecology and an ability to interpret field signs.

  206.  Before the trial started, the NFBG urged the Government to also appoint an external auditor to monitor animal welfare. The Government refused to do this and welfare is not part of the Cresswell Associates' remit (see late section on animal welfare).

207.  Culling inefficiency

  208.  Whilst the NFBG opposes the initial intent of the trial—namely, to eradicate every badger in proactive trial areas—we are equally concerned, from a scientific point of view, at the Government's failure to eliminate all the badgers in the proactive trial areas. We believe that, as long as large numbers of badgers remain, the trial will never be able to distinguish between the alleged role of badgers in causing bovine TB in cattle and the role of other factors. Indeed, the NFBG has been reliably informed that there is still significant badger activity in proactive areas of the trial.

  209.  We believe that the trial is fundamentally flawed because badgers can never be culled in order to produce sound statistical conclusions in the trial. It is our contention that this is why it is imperative that MAFF puts greater effort into other scientifically robust assessments of TB solutions which can be controlled. For example, it would be more sensible to examine alternative husbandry solutions in the trial areas. We are very concerned that solutions like these cannot be tested because the proactive badger culling trial utilises all the major TB hot spots where a statistically significant change in TB outbreaks could be most readily detected.

210.  Absent badger population estimates

  211.  There is still no validated method for assessing badger densities, despite the ISG and the Government stressing that information on badger numbers is critical in answering many questions in the trial.

  212.  For example, the ISG states that the trial will ". . . study the distribution of TB in badger populations, and how this is affected by variables such as population density, social group size and structure, disposition of badger territories, and past badger removal operations". (Bourne et al, 2000.)

  213.  However, badger populations and badger densities cannot be estimated, neither can social group size. Social group structure can also not be investigated. Indeed, the Government has admitted that this is not possible. For example, MAFF wrote to a member of the public admitting that, "without any validated technique to measure badger populations, any estimate must, therefore, be considered only that. Only when the trial has ended will we know for certain how many badgers have been removed". (MAFF, 2000d.)

  214.  We will indeed know the number of badgers killed at the end of the trial. But the critical point is that we will never know the proportion of badgers which were killed by MAFF and the proportion left behind.

  215.  The NFBG welcomes the fact that two separate research groups are currently developing an accurate method to estimate badger densities, but regrets that the results will be available too late to be of use in the trial.

  216.  The Government has still not explained how it will deal with this vital lack of information.

217.  Poor delineation of badger territory boundaries

  218.  A further practical problem, which will undermine the scientific validity of the trial, is that the territory boundaries of badger social groups are difficult to define. The demarcation of territory boundaries is critical, not only for identifying boundaries of the trial areas, and boundaries for culling social groups in the "reactive" areas, but also in examining the epidemiology of the disease in badger populations.

  219.  The ISG states that the trial will need to record badger territories and recommends that boundaries of badger territories are established using the "Dirichlet tessellations" method backed by field signs (Bourne et al, 1998). However, scientists have concluded that the Dirichlet tessellation method is unlikely to be an accurate method for predicting social group boundaries in areas where badger populations have been previously disturbed by MAFF culling operations. (Delahay et al, 2000.) The majority of the 10 triplets in the trials have already been subject to MAFF badger removal operations since the early 1970s and therefore the Dirichlet tessellation method may be of limited accuracy in the trial.

  220.  Furthermore, the method makes various assumptions which do not always hold true in reality. It assumes that each social group has only one main sett, that neighbouring territories are contiguous, that the boundary of neighbouring social groups is positioned mid-way between each main sett and that territory configurations approximate to polygons. The Dirichlet tessellation method also assumes that territory boundaries do not change between years.

  221.  The alternative territory identification technique is bait-marking—in which boundaries are identified by feeding different social groups different coloured beads which are then located in boundary latrines. It is labour-intensive and time consuming but more accurate.

  222.  The Government has not explained how it will estimate accurately badger social group territories in the trial.

223.  Severe delays in implementation

  224.  The Government has demonstrated gross incompetence in organising the trial and coping with the workload. The Krebs Report recommended that the trial started in spring 1998. However, survey work has been delayed further and further due to delays in surveying and delays with other areas of the trial.

  225.  The Government admitted to having problems, largely through "difficult terrain" as early as November 1998, "By mid-October it had become clear that progress . . . was slower than had been hoped. It was considered that it might not be possible to complete culling in both proactive areas by the end of January". (MAFF, 1998.)

226.  Poor organisation of trial

  227.  In addition to poor communication with the police and landowners, the NFBG has learned that the Government is jeopardising other research projects.

  228.  On 17 October 2000, MAFF arrived at a farm in Staffordshire to site traps in the proactive area of the Staffordshire/Derbyshire triplet. However, this area had, for the past three months, been part of a research project co-ordinated by Oxford University, to investigate bovine TB in wildlife other than badgers, outside the trial. MAFF did not inform the researchers of their plans to conduct proactive culling in the area, despite having been notified previously that the researchers were working in that area.

  229.  The result of MAFF's lack of communication is that the researchers' work is now invalid, as they have had to leave the area and find a new location to carry out the project. The NFBG has been informed that MAFF's incompetence in this case has resulted in the wasting of £45,000.

  230.  The researchers had asked MAFF for maps of the trial areas, to ensure that overlapping areas were not chosen. However, MAFF refused to provide the necessary information.

231.  No Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

  232.  The NFBG believes that the Government has manifestly failed to give due consideration to the wider environmental impacts of the trial. The Krebs Report, the Report of the ISG and the Government's nature conservation advisors have recommended that an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) be conducted to assess the effects on other flora and fauna of removing such large numbers of badgers across such wide areas.

  233.  The trial began without an EIA being conducted first and with no methodology in place to assess the impacts of badger removal as the work proceeds. We understand that MAFF is now funding a study to assess the impact on other wildlife of removing badgers. However, the study is being conducted in tandem with the trial and the results will be known only after thousands of badgers have been killed.

  234.  It remains the case that the Council of the Countryside Council for Wales has refused to support the cull in the absence of this and other information.

235.  Doubts about the statistical analysis of data

  236.  The NFBG has for some time expressed serious concern over the ISG's persistent failure to explain how it will ensure that the results of trial are statistically valid. These concerns were echoed by the Agriculture Committee in its report, in which it made a number of key recommendations (HMSO, 1999).

  237.  The ISG and the Government have manifestly failed to comply with all but one of these recommendations.

  238.  The Committee urged the ISG to satisfy itself, and hence interested observers that, the trial can be completed within a reasonable timescale and that the results will be statistically sound. The ISG has admitted that timetables are slipping but has not explained how this will be resolved. The ISG has still repeatedly failed to provide specific details on how data will be analysed to ensure the results are meaningful.

  239.  The Committee also recommended that the ISG undertakes regular, preferably quarterly, power analyses, which should be verified independently by an expert, and to keep the Minister informed of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the trial. It also recommended that the original data behind the power analysis conducted by Dr Donnelly from the Bourne Group, from which she concluded that the trial required 10 triplets and should take five years, be verified by an external expert and the results of this check be made publicly available.

  240.  The ISG has not conducted regular power analyses and an external expert has not examined the data behind the power analyses, Indeed, MAFF confirmed to the NFBG that an external expert was appointed as late as 22 August 2000. (MAFF, 2000e.)

  241.  The NFBG is extremely concerned that Ministers are unaware of the significant failings and weaknesses in the trial.

242.  Over-estimation of the power of the trial

  243.  The NFBG is also aware that a scientist has recently raised serious concerns over the design of the trial and its statistical robustness (Matthews, 2000). Matthews points out that the trial has only a 50 to 60 per cent chance of detecting a 20 to 30 per cent reduction in bovine TB incidents in cattle. We are alarmed to discover that the power of the trial appears to have been greatly overestimated. The fault appears to lie in a number of areas. However, the key problem appears to be MAFF's inability to trap and kill all the badgers in proactive and reactive areas and its failure to secure 100 per cent access to land in the trial areas.

  244.  The public might assume that the NFBG would be delighted that so many badgers appear to be avoiding capture. However, we are concerned that the Government's inept delivery of the trial will lead to it being extended for many more years than first anticipated.

  245.  If Dr Matthews is correct, two possible outcomes might be considered. In one, the trial fails to detect a 20 per cent reduction in bovine TB, because the power of the trial is too low. The farming lobby could then claim that the trial is a statistical failure and call for the immediate resumption of intensive badger culling. Under these circumstances the Government is likely to cover its own failings and comply with these demands.

  246.  The alternative outcome is that the Government admits, several years from now, that the statistics are indeed fundamentally flawed. With no alternative strategy to fall back on, the Government has no choice but to continue the trial for as long as it takes to acquire sufficient data to be certain that a drop in cattle TB has, or should have been, detected.

  247.  The third and less likely outcome, is where the trial, through luck rather than scientific judgement, does detect a drop in cattle TB.

  248.  Whatever the outcome, it is bad news for badgers and for farmers who have placed their faith in a Ministry which is incompetent.

  249.  We urge the Agriculture Committee to bring all the pressure it can to bear on the Government to review urgently the statistical power and the data gathered in the trial so far, to determine whether the trial is remotely realistic.

  250.  In the light of the BSE inquiry, we also urge the Committee to ask the Government to make available the data requested by Dr Matthews so that she and others may examine the statistical validity of the trial in an open and transparent way.

  251.  We regret that the Ministry cannot be trusted to review its own performance alone. This is illustrated only too clearly in the independent audit of the humaneness of the culling trial. In that audit, the Ministry ensured that focus centred on the more humane aspect of the trial—the shooting itself—while failing to ask the auditor to investigate those areas where the suffering of animals was most likely to arise.

252.  Poor animal welfare

  253.  The NFBG believes that the Government continues to place the practical considerations of the trial above animal welfare considerations. There are still many aspects of the trial which compromise the welfare of badgers and other animals.

254.  Illegal killing of badgers

  255.  Evidence for the illegal killing of badgers has been discussed in earlier sections of this report. In addition to weakening the scientific validity of the trial, the illegal killing of badgers is a serious threat to badger welfare and the NFBG believes the Government is taking insufficient action to prevent it. The walkover survey of only 10 per cent of setts in "survey only" areas of the trial, is clearly designed only to detect interference which may compromise the statistical analysis of the trial. It is not being conducted with a view to ensuring the welfare of badgers in all trial areas.

256.  Starving badger cubs

  257.  One of the NFBG's major concerns about the culling trial has been the welfare of badger cubs whose mothers are killed. The NFBG has repeatedly urged Ministers that if they insist on carrying out the trial they must impose a closed season of at least six months (December to May) on the trial, to cover the breeding season.

  258.  Regrettably, the Government ignored our concerns and accepted the three months closed season (February to April) recommended by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG).

  259.  The Government's decision contradicts its own nature conservation advisors. English Nature in England observe a closed season of seven months, from the end of November to the end of June, when licensing building work which may damage or destroy a sett or disturb the resident badgers. This is expressly to avoid the risk of licensed activities involving cruel ill-treatment, which is prohibited by the Protection of Badgers Act 1992 and cannot be licensed.

  260.  The NFBG has repeatedly asked the Government and the ISG why the closed season is so short. They both refused to answer. A series of Parliamentary questions finally forced ministers to admit "culling would not be a practicable policy option if that season lasted longer than three months." (Hansard, 2 November 1998). The decision was therefore due to MAFF needing enough months of the year to kill badgers—it was not based on a concern for animal welfare.

  261.  The Agriculture Select Committee also expressed concern over lactating sows in its report on the TB issue (HMSO, 1999) and recommended that MAFF records the number and age of cubs and lactating sows killed in the trial, to monitor the effectiveness of the closed season.

  262.  No figures have been published on the number and age of any cubs trapped and MAFF has been unable to confirm whether these data have been recorded.

  263.  However, there is now evidence that female badgers were indeed killed in the trial in 2000, leaving dependent cubs. MAFF admits that 51 lactating sows were killed in the Wiltshire trial area in May 2000 (MAFF 2000a). Furthermore, in May 2000, badger workers and members of the public observed young badger cubs wandering above ground in the daytime in the Wiltshire trial area.

  264.  In addition, James Kirkwood, the welfare auditor, observed a lactating sow badger trapped on 17 May 2000. As a result, he recommended that, "The timing and duration of the closed season should be kept under close review in the light of data on the dates of capture of lactating sows. Audit of the welfare of trapping procedures should include assessment of the welfare impact on animals which may be dependent on those trapped". (Kirkwood, 2000.)

  265.  The Government's culling trial is very likely to have resulted in badger cubs starving to death. This is cruel by any standards and is a criminal offence. There is now proof that the closed season is inadequate and the Government should ensure that this cruelty is not repeated next year.

  266.  Despite confirmation that animal welfare is being seriously compromised in the trial, the Government is taking no action other than to keep the timing and duration of the closed season under review. But the Government should have enough data now to conduct a review, unless it intends to kill badgers through another breeding season in 2001, before it makes any decisions.

  267.  More data exist for badgers killed in other trial areas in May 2000 and in subsequent months, although they have not been published. We urge the Agriculture Committee to insist the Government publishes all data collected in 2000. These data should be reviewed and the closed season extended, before more lactating sows are killed, and before more cubs die, when killing takes place in the 2001 badger breeding season.

268.  Injury to badgers and other animals in traps

269.  Non-target animals

270.  Badger cage traps used by MAFF are known to trap and injure, and even kill, non-target animals. In May 2000, a Parliamentary Question asked by Norman Baker MP, force the Government to give details of the animals which have died in traps or were so badly injured that they had to be killed by MAFF field staff.

  271.  The Government stated in a Written Answer "In trial operations to date 272 non-target animals and birds have been captured, of which 226 were released uninjured". (Hansard, 9 May 2000.) The 37 animals which died or had to be killed, included pheasants, grey squirrels, rooks, jays and a fox. Injuries included being caught in mesh bars of traps, head injuries and damage to wings and legs. Since this date, more non-target animals have been killed and/or injured in MAFF traps, but not all data have been published by MAFF.

  272.  Similarly, the welfare auditor observes a similar pattern of injuries and causes of death. These details were noted despite the welfare auditor stating, "The welfare of the trapping was outside the scope of this audit . . ."

  273.  It is fortunate indeed that the auditor investigated the humaneness of the trapping procedure, despite not being asked to do so. As the auditor pointed out, ". . . being trapped is a greater welfare insult that the despatch procedure. Trapping may cause fear, discomfort, frustration, injury and stress over a period of several hours, whilst the dispatch procedure renders animals immediately insensible . . .".

  274.  As a result of his observations, the welfare auditor recommended that the capture of non-target animals be regularly reviewed "with a view to seeking improvements to design or operation of trapping systems where a need is indicated." (Kirkwood, 2000).

  275.  The Government has confirmed that it is now recording these details and that it will review the records. However, the NFBG believes this approach is wholly inadequate and would urge the Agriculture Committee to insist that the existing wide mesh cages (two x two inches) should cease to be used immediately because they are inhumane.

  276.  The use of wide-mesh traps which are non-discriminatory and which cause injuries to non-target species, is also in breach of the Berne Convention, which prohibits methods of trapping which does not discriminate against non-target species.

277.  Badgers

  278.  The Government has known for some years that the design of badger cages used by MAFF to trap badgers cause injury to badgers (and non-target species). Indeed, the Government has even conducted its own research into this issue, but has never published the results.

  279.  For example, in answer to a Parliamentary Question on the number of badgers suffering injuries in badger cage traps, the Minister replied, "One badger has died in a Ministry set trap. Information on injuries sustained by trapped badgers is not regularly recorded. However, studies conducted by the Ministry's Wildlife Unit in 1990 and 1992 showed that about one quarter of badgers caught in Ministry-set traps had abrasions or other minor injuries". (Hansard, 31 March 1998.)

  280.  It is a disgrace that the Government knew that cage traps injure badgers and yet specifically did not ask the welfare auditor to investigate the humaneness of using cage traps.

  281.  Fortunately, the welfare auditor did make a note of injuries he observed, even though MAFF does not routinely record this information. It was reported that four of 18 badgers had trap-related injuries, including hair-loss and abrasions on forelimbs and snout.

  282.  In addition, the NFBG is extremely concerned at evidence which has been submitted to us, which shows old and extremely rusty traps being used in the trial. This will result in an increased severity of injuries suffered by trapped animals.

  283.  In view of the evidence already available, the NFBG believes that the Government should cease immediately to use the existing wide mesh cages (two x two inches), especially those that are rusty. Instead, MAFF should use only cages of a mesh size of two x one inches which are known to be more humane.

  284.  Studies have already shown that the narrower mesh sized cages cause fewer and less significant injuries to badgers, and trap and injure fewer non-target species. The Government should not need an independent expert to inform it of what it must have known for many years. After all, it has been trapping badgers using the same cage traps since 1982, when gassing ceased.

  285.  The NFBG would respectfully ask the Agriculture Committee to ask the Minister and the ISG to publish all available data immediately. MAFF should also be urged to make the necessary changes to trapping procedures and to trap design, to improve animal welfare immediately.

286.  MAFF sets rape alarms on traps

  287.  The NFBG has evidence of cruelty to animals by MAFF staff. In May 2000, it was discovered that MAFF field staff were attaching rape sirens to badger traps. It required action by the NFBG and the police to compel the Government to deal with this horrific cruelty.

  288.  The Wiltshire Police investigated the incident and concluded that, as no badgers had actually been trapped while the alarms were set, a prosecution could not be brought. However, the fact remains that the traps were set, and if badgers were trapped in cages next to a shrieking alarm, an offence of cruel ill-treatment would have been committed under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

  289.  A number of alarmed traps did contain a pheasant. Causing unnecessary suffering to animals is also an offence under the Protection of Animals Act 1911.

  290.  Baroness Hayman, Minister of State for Agriculture, investigated the incident and later admitted to the NFBG that MAFF staff had set the alarms, without authorisation. Badgers could have been trapped for hours with high pitched screaming in their ears, yet the managers of this supposedly carefully supervised operation had no idea that the rape alarms were being used.

291.  Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986

  292.  The NFBG is extremely concerned that the badger culling trial is not licensed by the Home Office under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The Act requires that any procedure causing "pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm" should be licensed.

  293.  There is evidence that the trapping procedure in the trial causes lasting harm (non-target animals have been found dead in traps or injured so badly that they required euthanasia). The NFBG also contends that the trapping procedure causes pain, suffering and distress to both badgers and non-target animals. Indeed, the welfare auditor stated in his report, "Trapping may cause fear, discomfort, frustration, injury and stress over a period of several hours . . .".

  294.  However, the trial raises much wider issues about Home Office licences. The Act does not specify that a licence is required to trap animals per se, despite evidence that it is a procedure that can cause "pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm" which normally requires a licence. It has been suggested to the NFBG that such a requirement would result in a massive increase in licences, and associated administration, for the many individuals involved in mammal trapping. For example, many conservationists monitoring small mammal populations in Britain would require a licence, because trapping often results in the death in traps of small mammals, due to cold or stress, such as shrews.

  295.  The result is that badgers and other animals are being trapped, animal welfare is being severely compromised and there is no legal monitoring procedure in place, through a licensing system.

  296.  The NFBG believes that trapping of animals in the trial should be licensed and would urge the Agriculture Committee to seek expert legal advice on this matter.

  297.  An additional concern is that Schedule I of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 sets out, for the purposes of the Act, the standard methods of humane killing. However, these methods apply only when animals are killed under a Home Office licence in establishments specifically designated under the Act. The result is that methods of killing are being used for badgers in the trial, which would not be allowed in a designated establishment.

298.  External welfare audit of the trial

  299.  Before killing started in the trial, the NFBG urged the Government to appoint an independent welfare auditor to monitor the trial. However, it was not until the BBC's Natural History Unit secretly filmed MAFF killing teams shooting badgers inhumanely, that the Government took steps to appoint an external independent auditor to monitor welfare.

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