As you know, we've been collecting and submitting RTA badger carcasses as part of this project in the belief the results will help demonstrate there's little causal link between bTB in badgers and in cattle in Hampshire. We've been encouraged by the results so far as only 1 badger carcass has tested positive for bTB (April 2021 to the end of October 2022) out of 79 submitted from Hampshire to the APHA.
The announcement on 29th October that the Hampshire badger cull target for 2022 had been increased by 115% came as a shock. As you know, the minimum/maximum targets for 2021 were 543/737 and 578 badgers were ultimately shot as a result. The figures for 2022 are 1,064/1,586 and no explanation has been offered for the increase. Furthermore, it transpires that cull licenses were granted by Natural England in late August, and culling began then, well before the numbers were made available to the public by DEFRA at the end of October.
We've tried to understand what's going on and asked questions of the APHA but been met with a reluctance to engage. So we've withdrawn from the project with immediate effect because we no longer have any confidence in the decision making process within DEFRA, Natural England and the APHA when it comes to culling badgers in Hampshire and doubt the results of the "Southern Edge" project will make any difference to what increasingly looks like a badger persecution and cattle-farmer appeasement exercise.
Did you know that more domestic cats tested positive for bTB (one) in Hampshire during 2020 than badgers (none) ot even wild deer (also none)? Yet a target was set to kill up to 737 of our badgers last year and 578 lost their lives. We're not aware of a single badger from Hampshire testing positive for bTB in 2021 and none of the 578 that were culled were tested. The APHA has confirmed that in response to a Freedom Of Information request we submitted earlier this month. It's also confirmed that none of the badgers culled in Hampshire in 2022 will be tested for bTB either.
The fact is that since at least 2020 only 1 badger from Hampshire has tested positive for bTB, at least 578 have been shot (we've no idea of the 2022 death figure yet) and that the APHA, and therefore DEFRA and NE, are well aware that in 2022 so far only 1 out of 79 badgers tested under the "Southern Edge" project was carrying bTB and that animal was found right on the border with Wiltshire.
I've written to Ranil Jayawardena, our local MP, about all of this today although he still hasn't replied to the last letter I sent him in September. My latest message to him is copied below as I think it's important that as many people as possible can read it and see exactly what's going on here. I'll post his reply as well if I ever get one. I'll place a bet with you now that it won't adequately answer my questions.
Please take the time to read the rest of this post. It's my email to Ranil from earlier this evening and a brief email exchange with the APHA after I'd received the reply to my FOI request. If anyone has any questions about any of the content or thinks we should be continuing to expend time and effort on the APHA project, I'd be interested to hear from you.
Dear Ranil, I wrote to you on 27th September but haven't received a reply. Things have rather moved on since that date and I'm therefore writing again specifically about the badger cull. As you know, I chair North East Hampshire Badger Group and I'm writing to say that we've just formally withdrawn our support for the APHA "Southern Edge bTB Project" following the announcement of the shocking 2022 Hampshire badger cull targets by DEFRA on 29th October. As you'll see from the email exchange below with the APHA, we've sought to understand how a 115% increase in badger cull numbers has been determined based on the number and direction of herd infection rates in Hampshire to June 2022. DEFRA's failure to publish an APHA Year-End descriptive epidemiology report for 2021 hasn't helped and further calls into question how the 2022 cull target numbers were calculated, and on what basis, before licenses were issued in August but kept out of the public domain for a further two months. Frankly, the whole process lacks transparency, doesn't represent good practice and isn't acceptable or in any way reassuring or informative. I'm interested to know, as a self-proclaimed advocate of nature and the environment, what you think of a 115% increase in the number of badgers, a protected species, being slaughtered in Hampshire based on a paucity of scientific evidence and the reluctance of DEFRA or the APHA to provide the "credible justification" I've requested? I'm also interested to understand why it's still the case that the Government approves of the mass slaughter of a protected mammal yet refuses to introduce and enforce mandatory herd management and biosecurity protocols in the county and across the country? The APHA Year-End descriptive epidemiology report for 2020 covering Hampshire (the most recent one produced) included the statements at the foot of this email. They're very clear and very telling. Why are badgers in Hampshire still being shot in large numbers whilst cattle farmers are only being encouraged to adopt "best practice" despite herd management failings across the county being well documented and an inability to adhere to "best practice" being evident? Why are badgers in Hampshire being shot at all when none tested positive for bTB in 2021 and only 1 has tested positive for bTB in 2022? In fact, according to the APHA report for 2020, more domestic cats tested positive for bTB in Hampshire (one) in 2020 than badgers (none) or even wild deer (also none). Yet, opaquely, a decision was taken that led to 578 badgers being shot in the county last year and not to test any of their carcasses for bTB. Even more mysteriously, a more recent decision has been taken to introduce an increased cull target for Hampshire from 737 in 2021 to 1,586 in 2022 and not to test any of the carcasses for bTB? Who made those decisions and on what basis? I'm also interested to learn what part your colleague Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for DEFRA and owner of the Englefield Estate where our local cull Director is based, has played in the unjustifiable 115% increase in the 2022 cull target, the delay in publishing the 2022 cull license details for 2 months after culling commenced on his land and the failure to ensure the APHA epidemiology report for 2021 is not yet available for scrutiny. Please ask him for me and let me know what he says. I look forward to hearing from you. You may not regard badgers or other wildlife in Hampshire as a constituency priority but you should. Our members across your constituency certainly do. Nature is important to us and the needless destruction of it has to stop.
From the APHA Year-end descriptive epidemiology report: Bovine TB in the Edge Area of England
Year-end report for: 2020
"Movements of undetected infected cattle accounted for the single highest percentage of most likely attributable sources (36% of weighted source pathways) in Hampshire in 2020."
"Risks to Hampshire in 2020 continued to be movement of cattle with undetected infection from the High Risk Area (HRA) and Edge Area and movements within the country from six-monthly testing parishes to annual testing parishes. Potential establishment of new endemic areas through cattle movements was illustrated by a cluster of M. bovis genotype 11:a incidents in west central Hampshire".
"There are no livestock markets in Hampshire, which means that to purchase or sell stock farmers have to rely on markets in neighbouring counties or online auctions. The markets predominantly used are in the HRA. Therefore, there is a flow of cattle, especially for fattening, from the HRA into Hampshire".
"Since 2019 the increase in TB incidents n the north-west quadrant of the county which were confirmed as M. bovis genotype 10:a has not continued in 2020...(Hampshire culling commenced in 2021!)...There were only two 10:a incidents in the county during 2020. These were in southern-central Hampshire and on the western border with Wiltshire. The incident in southern-central Hampshire was likely introduced by movement of undetected infected cattle from northern Hampshire and the other incident either by cattle movements from the HRA or from residual infection."
"TB incidents with M. bovis genotype 10:u continue to be centred around the north Hampshire and Berkshire border in the six-monthly testing area of the county. Two incidents were identified outside this group. One to the east of the northern sector of the county with known epidemiological links to the main 10:u genotype homerange and one in central western Hampshire many miles from any other 10:u incidents where movement of undetected infected cattle was the most likely risk pathway".
"The sole TB incident of M. bovis genotype 9:d had a confirmed link via cattle purchased from Wiltshire. The concern with this incident was that it occurred in a herd which had grazing rights on the New Forest".
"Other possibilities include historic movements of cattle into the area. Genotype 11:a was associated with a purchased animal on a local farm in 2014, and more recent purchases into one of the three 2020 TB incident herds, which was traced back via a farm in Warwickshire to a herd in Devon where genotype 11:a is extensively found. The fourth farm with spoligotype 11 in 2020 was a dairy in the south-west of the county close to the coast with no epidemiological links to the other three incidents. This farm had a previous incident in 2013 with genotype 11:a, so the 2020 incident could have been a recurrence from residual infection left in the herd".
"The key drivers of the TB epidemic in Hampshire during 2020 were as follows:
Purchase of undetected infected cattle from markets in the HRA continues to be an issue, despite pre-movement testing
Internal cattle movements within Hampshire from the six-monthly testing area to the annual testing area. There are situations where dairy heifers are reared in higher incidence areas of the county than the location of the home dairy.
Likely endemic infection in wildlife in north-west Hampshire possibly leading to infection in cattle, including some cases of re-infection. (1 badger tested positive for bTB out of 79 by the APHA Southern Edge bTB project April 2021 to October 2022. None of the 578 Hampshire badgers culled in 2021 were even tested. In fact, more domestic cats than badgers (or wild deer) tested positive for bTB in Hampshire during 2020 according to the APHA report).
North East Hampshire Badger Group
From: SM-APHA-Southern Edge RTA (APHA) <SouthernEdgeRTA@apha.gov.uk>
Sent: 16 November 2022 09:02
To: Nick Cole
Subject: RE: Southern Edge badger survey - no test result
Good morning Nick,
Thank you for your email. We are sorry to lose you as a valued collector from this project but obviously fully respect your decision. I am extremely grateful for your contribution and it has been a pleasure working with you over the last couple of months.
Many thanks again for all your help.
All the best,
Nicky Dessi | National Wildlife Management Centre
Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)
Address: Woodchester Park, Tinkley Lane, Nympsfield, Gloucestershire, GL10 3UJ
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From: Nick Cole
Sent: 15 November 2022 17:35
To: SM-APHA-Southern Edge RTA (APHA) <SouthernEdgeRTA@apha.gov.uk>
Subject: Re: Southern Edge badger survey - no test result
I've now received a reply from your colleagues to my FOI request. As I feared, none of the badgers culled in Hampshire in 2021 were tested for bTB and, hence, none tested positive for bTB. In addition, none of the badgers currently being shot as part of the 2022 cull will be tested for bTB.
I went back and read the APHA Year-End descriptive epidemiology report for 2020 covering Hampshire to try and understand the derivation of the 2021 cull target (minimum 543, maximum 737) which led to 578 badgers being shot in the county last year. The report references in several places that movement of undetected infected cattle accounted for the single highest percentage of most likely attributable sources (36% of weighted source pathways) in Hampshire in 2020. The report is clear that the risks to Hampshire in 2020 continued to be movement of cattle with undetected infection from the HRA and Edge Area and movements within the county from six-monthly testing parishes to annual testing parishes. Yet the total number of new incidents in Hampshire in 2020 (37) was lower than in 2019 (40) and continued a decrease in new incidents seen from 2018 to 2019. The level of OTF-W incidents also dropped from 17 in 2019 to 14 in 2020.
Despite the above, and proven sources of herd infections from poor herd management/biosecurity practices up to and during 2020, Hampshire was included in the cull in 2021 for the first time and 578 badgers were killed. No mandatory herd management/biosecurity protocols were introduced alongside the cull objective, simply an encouragement for cattle farmers to adopt and adhere to "best practice" advice.
I've been waiting to see the APHA Year-End descriptive epidemiology report for 2021 covering Hampshire to understand how the cull target for 2022, belatedly announced at the end of October despite culling here having begun in August, could possibly have increased by 115% (from 737 to 1,586) but despite it being due for publication by the end of October it's nowhere to be seen. If you're able to provide me with a copy, I'd be grateful. Instead, I've looked at the Bovine TB summary for Hampshire over the 12 months up to June 2022 to try and comprehend how Defra, the APHA and NE can possibly justify the increased 2022 cull figures.
New herd TB incidents in the Edge Area (which includes Hampshire) from July 2020 - June 2021 are down 22%.
Herds not officially TB free from June 2021 to June 2022 are down 23%.
New herd incidents where OTF status is withdrawn from July 2021 to June 2022 are down 37%.
Total cattle slaughtered numbers from June 2021 to June 2022 are down 31%.
The Bovine TB summary for Hampshire over 12 months up to June 2022 shows 831 herds in the county, 21 of which were not officially TB-free due to a bTB incident, a decrease of 19.2% since June 2021.
In the 12 months to June 2022 there were 970 tests on officially TB-free herds in Hampshire resulting in 24 new TB breakdowns, a decrease of 27.3% since the 12 months up to June 2021.
Nothing in these figures appears to justify a 115% increase to badger cull targets in 2022 unless Hampshire has been identified as having reservoirs of bTB in badgers and a causal link has been evidenced leading to herd infections. No such reservoir has been evidenced and no causal link seems to have been proven. Indeed, we now know that, of 578 slaughtered animals, not a single one was tested for bTB or tested positive for bTB and that out of 79 RTA badger carcasses examined under the APHA Southern Edge bTB Project from across Hampshire between April 2021 and the end of October 2022 only 1 badger has tested positive for bTB and that animal was arguably a visitor from across the Wiltshire border. Unless somebody can explain to me, with credible justification, how the 2022 cull target numbers for Hampshire were more than doubled, and by whom, from 737 in 2021 to 1,586 in 2022, I'm unable to support the Southern Edge project any further and withdrawing the help of our group. Enough is enough and it's beyond time that cattle farmers were held to minimum legal herd management and biosecurity protocols and "protected" Hampshire wildlife was left in peace. Yours sincerely, Nick Chair North East Hampshire Badger Group www.northeasthampshirebadgergroup.com