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Smoke, mirrors and badgers

I sent this earlier this evening and thought I'd share to keep everyone in the loop.

To: Ranil Jayawardena MP

From: Nick Cole

Wed 08/03/2023 20:50

Dear Mr Jayawardena, Thank you for your letter of 31st January (RJ36366-SW) enclosing Lord Benyon's letter to you of the same date ( MC2022/25065/MO). I'm grateful for, and encouraged by, the efforts you are making to pursue the truth about the cull in Hampshire. I'm sure you're as frustrated as I am that your colleague Mark Spencer MP chose to side-step your question and instead offer a pointlessly generic response about the national cull. Please press him on the issue when it comes to Hampshire specifically as the epidemiology justifying culling in this county is wafer thin at best and I think he knows it. I'll explain why that's the case below. You may or may not be aware that Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb recently asked a similar question about the Hampshire cull in the House of Lords. I've attached both her question and the response she received from Lord Benyon. I'm afraid that the reply he gave was both misleading and disingenuous. Again, I'll explain why below.

In his letter to you of the 31st January, Lord Benyon points to numerous reports of which I am already aware and which I've read. It's kind of him but not in the least bit helpful. In particular he refers to "previous badger found dead surveys" and provides a link to one of them. In his reply to Baroness Moulsecoomb above he provides the same link. Unfortunately, in both instances the link is not to a "badger found dead survey" at all but to a report entitled "APHA Local reservoirs of Mycobacterium bovis infection in the Edge Area of England December 2020". It's a very short report and worth reading. Most of it is repeated in the paragraphs that follow in italics. I've underlined the especially pertinent bits. "The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) was asked to develop criteria to identify areas with a likely reservoir of TB infection in badgers. However, since infection data from badgers in the Edge were sparse, criteria were developed using TB surveillance data from cattle, because cattle and wildlife, including badgers, can share the same reservoirs of infection. The accompanying map shows the estimated spatial distribution of local reservoirs of TB across 25 km2 hexagonal spatial units in the Edge, noting that there is uncertainty in the precise distribution without confirmed infection data from wildlife. The local reservoirs that have been identified all have evidence for TB in cattle not attributed to cattle purchasing, for persistent or recurrent infection in cattle since 2013 and for recent infection in cattle confirmed by post-mortem tests. A buffer has been added to the putative reservoir boundaries, which encompasses the usual maximum ranging of badgers. The detail of this work is being submitted for publication through the peer reviewed scientific press. However, due to ongoing consultations between Government, the farming industry and other stakeholders about badger controls, the map showing current understanding of the locations for Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) infection reservoirs has been published, before the external peer review of this work has been completed." Quite why this APHA report was rushed out ahead of the detailed "Downs et al" report to which it refers is unclear, as is the identity of the "other stakeholders" referred to above. The full, peer-reviewed, "Downs et al" report was eventually published in 2021. It included the actual data compiled from "badgers found dead" with (and without) confirmed TB. You can see from it (below) that there is absolutely no data confirming badgers in Hampshire found dead with TB at any time up to the report being produced and there have been none since.

Mysteriously, despite there being no confirmed "badgers with bTB" in Hampshire at any time and no confirmed badger infection data here either, and after applying a "TB surveillance from cattle" approach instead, a perceived reservoir of bTB suddenly materialised in the eyes of the APHA based on nothing but the weakest supposition. As a consequence, the badger cull was swiftly rolled out to Hampshire in 2021 before the full "Downs et al" report had even been peer-reviewed, let alone published. I can understand why the Minister chose to link to the rushed December 2020 APHA report rather than the final, peer-reviewed "Downs et al" paper to be published the following year. It's because his preferred version predates the start of the Hampshire cull and offers the tiniest shred of invented "epidemiological justification" to introduce culling to Hampshire in 2021. As you know, 578 badgers were culled here that year and none of them were even tested for bTB. That appalling figure compares to the tragic number of 185 cattle slaughtered due to bTB in the county in the 12 months to June 2021. The difference, other than in numerical terms, is that the cattle were a confirmed reservoir of the disease in Hampshire and the badgers were not. I've also repeatedly asked how it is that the 2022 cull target for Hampshire was increased by 115% compared to 2021 with a new "Area 67"cull zone added to the existing "Area 56" zone. I've yet to receive a satisfactory answer to that question from anyone. It seems Lord Benyon, Mark Spencer and others at Defra, including the laughably misnamed "BTB Engage Team", are uncomfortable acknowledging that no genuine justification exists to cull badgers in this county or that the increase in cull target numbers from 2021 to 2022 was arbitrary, unfounded and obscene. Furthermore, Lord Benyon consistently avoids addressing the thorny fact that the Hampshire cull company is registered at one of his tenant farms on the Englefield Estate. To be clear, a Minister of State responsible for the badger cull policy area owns the land from which cull operations in Hampshire are being directed and refuses to properly address the woeful lack of science supporting the killing of badgers. It's entirely unacceptable and more and more of the local nature community here is expressing concern. Earlier this week I had a discussion with a Director of the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and the Englefield Estate being home to the Hampshire cull director and permitting culling on its land. The Trust was previously unaware of either fact. It has an arms-length relationship with the estate by virtue of an arrangement it has with Basingstoke & Deane Borough Council to manage land leased by the council from the estate. It now feels understandably compromised, concerned and disappointed given the Trust's very public stance against the badger cull. I understand the Trust's CEO will be taking this up with Lord Benyon directly and joining me in calling for an immediate end to the cull in Hampshire. Enough is enough and it's time to end the cull here. I was fortunate to recently address the Wilder Bramley Biodiversity Group in your home village and deliver a presentation on badger ecology, the anthropogenic threats to the species and detail the immorality and injustice of the badger cull in Hampshire. Without exception, those in attendance were and remain appalled. Many have joined our group. We're now in the process of reaching out to all the other community nature groups in the area to ensure they are made aware of exactly what is happening to a protected species in this part of Hampshire. Please ask the Minister once again to address the absence of any confirmed positive bTB in badgers in Hampshire at any time and the absence of any confirmed, "definite" or even "most likely" badger sources of herd infections in the "APHA Year-End Descriptive Epidemiology Report: Bovine TB in the Edge Area of England 2021 County: Hampshire". Please also ask him how that report inexplicably led to a 115% increase in the badger cull target for 2022 and up to a further 1,586 further badgers being slaughtered. It is noteworthy that the case file for the 2019 complaint to the Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats remains "on standby" due to the Government's current cull strategy and, if Hampshire is anything to go by, the evidence supporting the complaint is becoming overwhelming. Please provide me with the Minister's response when you have it. And please may I ask you to do what you can to expedite a reply from the "BTB Engage" team at Defra to my email of 17th January. Thank you. Yours sincerely, Nick Cole

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