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Guidance on badger culling

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01 September 2011, at 12:00am

RICHARD GARD has waded through the guidance notes on the scheme to kill badgers and is just a little underwhelmed...

SPECIALISTS in gobbledy and specialists in gook have been incarcerated in a locked room and messages passed under the door from people with an axe to grind. The results of their labours have become Guidance to Natural England (www. defra.gov.uk/consult/2011/07/19/ bovine-tb/) and one of the proposals could appear as a notice on the information board outside Settworthy Village Hall (Figure 1). Leading up to the placing of this notice has meant a great deal of work and understanding. Each participating landowner, in order to belong to the group, has signed a “TB Management Agreement” with Natural England which contains a disease risk selfassessment questionnaire. Each identified shooter has undergone a Government-approved training course which has been designed, organised and delivered by the farming industry and subject to independent audit. A badger control plan for the zone has been submitted and approved in order that 70% of the badgers are shot. The cost of four years of the shooting has been paid up front plus a contingency sum. By applying for a licence, the landowner agrees that Natural England may access the land to monitor compliance with the details of the licence in each year. A veterinary assessment, based on field observations, will also be carried out to monitor compliance and some badger carcases will be examined to establish that the animals have been killed humanely. If non compliance is identified, Natural England has the right to take over management of the licence and charge the landowner for costs incurred. A number of details of the culling arrangements have been identified to include evidence of the competence of operators, the areas to be covered by each operator, the number of main setts in each area, the frequency and times of shooting. The person who will collate the culling information for the licence returns has been nominated and the Ordnance Survey map reference of the location for each badger shot is to be recorded by each operator. Farmers who are bound by a TB Management Agreement must take reasonable steps to maintain high standards of biosecurity. These include the use of electric fencing around silage clamps, badgersecure buildings with solid doors and gates, closed feed stores or solid feed bins with lids. The gap between the bottom of gates, doors or fences and the ground to be less than 10cm with feed and water troughs raised to 75cm above ground level. Mineral blocks and salt licks to be inaccessible to badgers and any feed spillage to be cleaned up with the farmyard kept tidy. In the fields, livestock to be kept away from badger setts and latrines, with feeding concentrates on the ground to be avoided and water troughs to be cleaned regularly. Spreading manure from TB infected cattle onto pastures known to be used by foraging badgers is to be avoided together with intensive grazing or strip grazing on pastures known to be used by badgers.  If Natural England considers that reasonable biosecurity measures have not been set in place, then a licence may be withheld. By 30th April each year, the licence holder is to submit written proposals to include the date on which operations will begin in the open seasons in that year; the number of badgers it proposes that Natural England should specify as the minimum cull in that year in order to achieve an effective cull, and the maximum number of badgers.

On and on...

The rules, regulations and advice contained within the guidance go on and on. Badgers must not be shot when in groups and only when 30 metres or more from a sett or other cover. Automatic or semi-automatic weapons are not to be used. Firearms certificates must be amended by the police to include badgers as they are not considered vermin. Note too: “Persons solely assisting the person shooting, e.g. by using a spotlight to illuminate the target, need to be covered by an appropriate Wildlife & Countryside Act licence, but not a Protection of Badgers Act licence, as long as the person they are assisting is covered by an appropriate Protection of Badgers Act licence and
is acting lawfully. Image intensifying (‘night sights’) or infra-red sighting devices used as sights on a rifle are prohibited under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.” The guidance continues: “The
correct target area for shooting badgers in the field is the heart/lung area of the chest. The badger’s anatomy differs significantly from that of deer or foxes, and the badger’s rib-cage is located appreciably further back than might be anticipated by those used to shooting these species.” See Figures 2 and 3. Shots must only be taken when the animal is stationary and when the target area is clearly visible and the
animal more or less broadside on, so the shooter is confident of an accurate and humane shot. A head shot presents an unacceptable risk of wounding and must not be attempted and a neck shot is unacceptable in any circumstances. A skilled marksman using a centrefire rifle (not a rim-fire rifle), and using
a bullet of a type designed to expand or deform on impact, should, in reasonable field conditions, be confident of a clean kill up to a range of 50 to 70 metres. Shotguns are only suitable for use at very short range. The shooting distance when a shotgun is used must not exceed 20 metres and where possible should be within 10 metres. One shooter has commented that
he regularly shoots foxes for local farmers and he would be happy to have a pop at badgers but he is not going to “jump through hoops for Natural England, whoever the hell they are”.
It is surprising that veterinary and farming organisations have welcomed this guidance but that was probably before they had been able to consider the impracticality of the content. The guidance, in true Sir Humphrey style, has annexes A to F and runs to more than 100 pages. Clearly, the last thing the TB issue needs is increased bureaucracy. As this guidance includes all
landowners, it is likely that veterinary surgeons venturing into the countryside will be asked for a view and you may conclude that these proposals are designed to be rejected.