Activist ‘Pati’ Ruiz Corzo: The Singing Conservationist

The first time I met with ‘Pati’ Ruiz Corzo was in central Mexico. We sat at her office, located in the deep mountains of the Sierra Gorda region and I must admit I arrived knowing very little about her, but driven by curiosity. I knew enough to know I would be meeting a highly respected woman and had a hunch that one way or another, she would become a true influence for the rest of my life. A woman of deep spirituality and clear determination with an incomparable passion and dedicated to the defence of what she considers to be her one and only treasure in life. A story anyone can learn from.

In 1986, ‘Pati’ Ruiz founded the Sierra Gorda Ecological Group (Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda), an organisation that today represents a unique model of community ‘conservation economy’. Her goal was to create a sustainable way of living for the more than 120,000 people living inside the Sierra Gorda Reserve, the most densely populated reserve in the entire country; a non-exclusive conservation programme. And so, she did – and still does this – by empowering the historically-marginated female population of the region.

These women have lived always having to keep quiet – oppressed and humiliated by a traditionally ‘macho’ society.  But today, as Pati explains, things have moved on:  “When you hear their motivation as they talk, and how happy they are to be receiving their own extra ‘cents’ per month and when you see that for the first time, some of the fathers have to stay home and take care of their kids because the women have to go work… well, that’s truly my ‘cherry on top of the cake.” Her ultimate goal is to see these women become the voice of conservation in the Sierra Gorda.

Pati Ruiz Corzo spent the first part of her life as a music teacher. In Queretaro, located two hours north of Mexico City, she had spent her time among the upper echelons of Mexican society. She married, had two kids, Beto and Mario, and lived a typically normal life, until one day, she and her husband, decided to leave the city, tired of what she calls ‘the extremes of modern society’.

 “For a long time, I’d put up with the dictates of being ‘modern’; searching for material success, social recognition, being a perfect housewife. There were times when these suffocating dogmas felt a heavy burden.” Pati was certain that she didn’t want her children growing up within a system she didn’t agree with.

”I rebelled against seeing my kids in competition for a ‘camouflaged’ knowledge and not a digested one. In school, their natural talents were being taken away in order to programme them for a stereotype, which I myself was opposed to. I was a teacher for too many years to not be able to see and understand how the gifts of the spirit and the character were being sterilised. Someone’s nature should be respected and should never be expected to accomplish a task imposed by others.”

Such decision was not easy. “I was afraid to leave the only lifestyle I knew, but I wanted to discover other values. I wanted to develop an intimate connection with nature – one that we had clearly lost. I heard shocking examples of kids saying that tomatoes were grown in the back of supermarket stores…my God, they don’t even know were milk comes from, but we can’t blame them for that.”

The Sierra Gorda Reserve has the highest levels of biodiversity in Mexico (the 5th most biodiverse country in the world) with regions of semi desert, low jungle and a conifer forest that could easily pass for any Canadian landscape. In Pati’s words: ”This is were I found what’s truly real and valuable for me. Pure beauty… I found a treasure. Living surrounded by nature is a pleasure. It’s vibrant and alive. Here, there is no place for lies. We all live without labels”.

This is a woman who has the ability to inspire pretty much everyone that crosses her path. With an imposing charisma, Pati Ruiz manages to speak to large audiences without fear and she almost always ends a speech by singing – reminding us how she has kept alive what she valued the most of her past musical life. An emotional touch that brings pretty much everyone to tears.

She says she was welcomed from the start by the people of the Sierra Gorda. “I was well received from day one. I learned how to talk to them in a way which meant they wouldn’t feel a distance between us and I also brought my accordion with me ande I sang to them. That helped me build real solid bridges with the people of the Sierra Gorda.”

Today Pati Ruiz Corzo shares her passion for conservation and empowerment by holding workshops that attract people from all over the world. She focuses on sharing her message with those who initially were not interested by what she had to say.

When she started out she admits it took time to convince some people to share that journey with her. ”It took some time for some of them to believe me. It wasn’t easy but I felt that the local people just wanted someone to show how we could all move together. Now there’s a huge amount of will from the whole community to overcome all kinds of challenges we face.”

Pati fought not only to convince the local Sierra Gorda community that there was an urgent need to protect their natural heritage, but she has also had to stop many large outside interests and corporations from meddling into the affairs of this 300,000 hectare UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. A geographical isolated region, ideal for hidden and illegal activities to occur, such as mining and logging, underpinned by a country swamped by numerous corruption cases which has brought her into contact and conflict with just as many unsavoury individuals.

”I’ve fought all kinds of interests and individuals, some of them truly horrible. I’ve taken on Governors, the Ministry of Transport and the National Electricity Company. They’ve tried to build dams and highways and install high voltage cables. They’ve tried to take natural resources away from the local community, but as I tell them when I send them away; the only interest and objective of this territory is its total and genuine conservation! No one touches it!”

Clearly a position that has earned her more than a few enemies, especially in the Mexican government. “What they sign up for with international treaties should actually be carried out and not just written. They need to re-orientate public policies. There is a slow response from the Government; the politicians are not being efficient and even less farsighted. But I must say that we also lack a civil society capable of playing the role of a real auditor”.

Pati and her supporters are making headway. In the last five years, the Grupo Ecológico Sierra Gorda has garnered numerous conservation awards including been awarded with the United Nations Champions of the Earth and the National Geographic World Legacy Award (2012, 2016).

“We adopt and adapt. We’ve try to work inter-institutionally with the local and federal governments, as well as other international organisations, even if it means that sometimes I’m forced to put on the pressure and convince them of many things they wouldn’t had done without our campaigning. You’ve no idea – it’s been like organising an anthill!

“We’ve also tried to create an active public spirit. Mexico is a ‘thirsty’ country with galloping desertification levels and we are a small but significant rescue team”. And her work is not only environmental and economic, but cultural too.

“We organise festivals part of one big cultural party made to recover our identity – to remember that we are not ‘Gringos‘ (North-Americans) but ‘Huastecos‘ (Huastec indigenous people). With so many people migrating north, there’s a strong transculturation phenomena. It’s important to feel you belong to a place.”

I stayed for a couple of weeks in the Sierra Gorda and saw the proof of the outcomes Pati talked about. More than a conservationist, she’s an activist in a country that lacks the courage to value such citizens and she’s an example in Mexico and abroad, to anyone who lacks the motivation to speak out and act on their own social conscience.

“Only civil society can change this situation,” she says. “Local answers are the only solution. We have to put our hearts and our dedication into the work and put pressure on local authorities to do the right thing. We have to innovate, do things with love and for the wellbeing of all. 

“I want a total revolution! A change of values where we seek full abundance for everyone, where we recognise nature as a vital part of our lives and where we learn to treat nature with respect and care. I don’t believe in accumulating more and more. What accumulates stagnates and what stagnates rots. I believe in the simplicity of life. Once you know the true value of what is sacred you’ll have the energy to keep going to make those changes.”

This Author:

Tadzio Mac Gregor was born in Mexico City to a French mother and a Mexican father. He has been involved with several social and environmental projects in Mexico, Asia and the Middle East. Having started working recently as a freelance journalist specializing in foreign affairs, environmental conservation and human development he now contributes to several newspapers in Mexico, France, Brazil and the United States

 

 

 

 

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Dark days ahead for British agriculture? Or green shoots of a brighter future?

In June, a narrow, but clear majority of the UK electorate voted to leave the EU. This decision has dramatic implications for all areas of UK policy with over 12,000 EU laws and regulatory instruments set to be replaced or re-negotiated.

The UK agricultural sector is heavily influenced by EU policy. Not only is it subject to EU laws – including the Habitats, Water Framework, and Sustainable Use [of pesticides] Directives – but it is also dependent on the convoluted and flawed subsidy regime that is the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Unravelling this package is fraught with risks, but it also presents a unique opportunity to shape UK agriculture for a generation to come.

Formal negotiations on Brexit have yet to start, and the shape of the UK’s future relationship with the EU – and with other global trading partners – is still unclear. This uncertainty has created a policy void and groups are jostling to occupy the space and presenting competing visions for the future of UK farming and the countryside.

One vision is for the UK to tear up environmental rules and switch to an even more intensive model of agriculture. The EU’s pesticide regulation system in particular has come under attack with the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) complaining about “excessive use of the precautionary principle” and stepping up its attempts to water down restrictions.

Andrea Leadsom’s vision: ‘tear up the rulebook on the big fields!’

Meanwhile, we have a new Environment Secretary: Andrea Leadsom, a former banker who was prominent in the Leave campaign. Her comments on agriculture prior to her appointment were limited to a misguided proposal for environmental trading certificates:

“It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies.”

Under this approach, big, productive farms should be exempted from environmental management requirements, which would be left to smaller, marginal farms instead. The logical conclusion of this approach would be to turn huge areas over to intensive monocrops while destroying biodiversity on a massive scale. Measures to improve landscapes, plant hedgerows and support bird populations would be scrapped across vast swathes of the country.

In fact, our countryside needs more, not less, protection. The statistics are stark: Over the past 80 years, the UK has lost over 97% of its wildflower meadows and nearly 121,000km of hedgerows have disappeared (in spite of 30,000km new hedgerows being planted).

Over the last 40 years, our most vulnerable species have declined by 77%, and wild pollinators are in retreat: three of our 25 native bumblebee species are now extinct, and eight more are suffering major range contractions.

Pesticides: the agrochemical threat to our biodiversity

There is little doubt that intensive agriculture and associated habitat change is the driving factor behind these declines, but agrochemicals are also a big part of the problem. Since 1990, the total UK land area treated by pesticides has almost doubled from 45 million Ha to 80 million Ha.

Pesticides have direct impacts on biodiversity – many are toxic to insects, birds, fish amphibians and mammals and exposure can cause lethal poisonings. Broad spectrum insecticides, for example, can destroy beneficial insects as well as the pests they are targeting. Even sub-lethal doses can harm nervous systems and affect behaviour which can make individuals and communities more vulnerable to other threats.

Pesticides can also affect food availability – insecticides reduce populations for insect-eating birds, while herbicides destroy native plants and habitats and reduce food sources for animals that depend on floral resources and seeds. In the last 25 years, herbicide use has increased by 75%.

It is no co-incidence that farmland bird populations have collapsed. Since the 1970s, the grey partridge, corn bunting, and yellowhammer have all declined by between 53% and 92%. These farmland specialists are known to be affected by pesticide use.

Meanwhile pesticide runoff continues to pollute our water courses. Every year, water companies spend millions of pounds removing pesticides from our drinking water. In 2014, around a quarter of the UK’s drinking water protected areas were at risk of failing legal standards because of pesticides.

Pesticides are also a serious threat to human health. Many pesticides in use today have been linked serious illnesses including asthma, autism, birth defects, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and cancer.

Scientific research from the US over last five to ten years has clearly linked high pesticide exposure in farming families and rural residents near treated fields, with increased incidence of certain types of cancer, other chronic health problems and of reproductive problems and a host of developmental disorders in children.

This kind of detailed, long term epidemiological research is lacking in the UK but there is no room for complacency that current pesticide controls work well to prevent harmful levels of exposure, especially as there is virtually no enforcement or monitoring of pesticide use practices.

Most farmers are struggling, as agribusiness scoops the subsidy jackpot

What is perhaps most galling is that the system which allows this destruction and harm does not even work economically for farmers: Around 80% of CAP subsidies go to just 20% of landowners – the biggest ones, including many corporate enterprises.

For the rest, farming is of marginal or uncertain profitability. Incomes are low and farm gate prices often fail to cover the cost of production. Hundreds of farmers leave the industry every year: around a third of dairy farms have closed in the last decade alone. Of those that that remain, many are forced to supplement their income with second jobs or diversified activities. UK Farming is in crisis, and has been for some time.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. We at PAN UK have a different vision for the future of UK agriculture. We want to see an food and farming system which

  • allows farmers to make a good living,
  • supports them to grow more sustainably,
  • makes it easier for farmers to make space for the environment,
  • helps them to reduce their reliance on pesticides.
  • generates extra employment, with more rewarding jobs and better conditions for farm workers, and
  • improves social and economic welfare in rural areas.

To achieve this, the UK must move away from reliance on high levels of agrochemical inputs and fossil fuels and switch to farming methods based on agroecology, making better use of ecological interactions and natural resources. In this way, we can convert British agriculture to a safer, fairer and more sustainable system for the next generation of farmers.

We need a system that benefits both farmers and biodiversity

Once the UK leaves the EU, the CAP will no longer apply. Brexit has given us the opportunity to replace the CAP with a system that benefits both farmers and biodiversity and introduce a model that ties subsidies more effectively to social and environmental goods.

The CAP currently delivers more than £3 billion in support to UK farmers. It is an essential lifeline for many and makes up more than half of many farmers’ incomes. But less than 20% of this funding supports environmental and social measures and the vast majority of the funds are simply doled out based on acreage – the more land you own, the more money you get.

PAN UK is calling for a refocusing of support to help farming communities and the environment (see our five point plan below). We want to see subsidies maintained, but targeted at those who need it most and rewarding farmers who work with the environment.

As the Government charts a course out of the EU, Ministers must consult widely to come up with the best option for the UK: its people, economy and environment. PAN UK stands ready to be part of that process to create a truly sustainable farming system.

PAN UK’s five steps to a more sustainable farming system

1. Use subsidies to promote greener agricultural practices, support farmers and protect our countryside. The UK should move away from a system of flat rate acreage subsidy to one that supports practices that enhance biodiversity. Growing a wider variety of food, with more mixed agriculture, wider crop rotation and lower field size will create more resilient and sustainable farming systems better able to cope with and help tackle climate change. There need not be a conflict between productivity and sustainability – it is possible to have both.

2. Establish strong regulatory controls on pesticides including targets and incentives to cut pesticide use. It is possible to cut pesticide use while maintaining yields and profits, but farmers need help and incentives to do so. The UK should introduce a national target to cut pesticide use, ban the most Highly Hazardous Pesticides and promote less harmful and non-chemical methods of managing pests, diseases and weeds.

3. Support farmers wanting to adopt more environmentally friendly practices – including organic – with training and practical research. Invest in research to develop and improve sustainable farming approaches and provide training and advice to those who want help to adopt them.

4. Support diverse, family and small-scale farms. Target subsidies to support a thriving and diverse farming sector by giving small and medium scale farmers – not just big agribusiness – a greater share of the subsidies and help them to access markets. This will encourage young people to stay in the industry and reverse the exodus from the sector

5. Support the organic sector to grow. Organic farmers in the UK receive much less support than their continental peers, and as a result organic farming only accounts for about 2% of UK production, compared to as much as 10% in some European countries. The new system should provide more support to help farmers convert to organic and drive market demand for organic products.

 


 

Keith Tyrell is Director of Pesticides Action Network (PAN) UK.

 

New study suggests pro-nuclear countries are making much slower progress on climate targets

A strong national commitment to nuclear energy goes hand-in-hand with a weak performance on climate change targets, researchers at the University of Sussex and the Vienna School of International Studies have found. 

A new study of European countries, published in the journal Climate Policy, shows that the most progress towards reducing carbon emissions and increasing renewable energy sources – as set out in the EU’s 2020 Strategy – has been made by nations without nuclear energy or with plans to reduce it. 

Conversely, pro-nuclear countries have been much slower to implement wind, solar and hydropower technologies and to tackle emissions. 

While it’s difficult to show a causal link, the researchers say the study casts significant doubts on nuclear energy as the answer to combating climate change stating:

“By suppressing better ways to meet climate goals, evidence suggests entrenched commitments to nuclear power may actually be counterproductive.”

Professor Andy Stirling, Professor of Science and Technology Policy at the University of Sussex, said: “Looked at on its own, nuclear power is sometimes noisily propounded as an attractive response to climate change. Yet if alternative options are rigorously compared, questions are raised about cost-effectiveness, timeliness, safety and security. 

“Looking in detail at historic trends and current patterns in Europe, this paper substantiates further doubts. 

“By suppressing better ways to meet climate goals, evidence suggests entrenched commitments to nuclear power may actually be counterproductive.”  

The study divides European countries into three, roughly equal in size, distinct groups: 

Group 1: no nuclear energy (such as Denmark, Ireland and Norway)

Group 2: existing nuclear commitments but with plans to decommission (e.g. Germany, Netherlands and Sweden)

Group 3: plans to maintain or expand nuclear capacity (e.g. Bulgaria, Hungary and the UK) 

The researchers found that Group 1 countries had reduced their emissions by an average of six per cent since 2005 and had increased renewable energy sources to 26 per cent. 

Group 2 countries, meanwhile, fared even better on emissions reductions, which were down 11 per cent. They grew renewable energy to 19 per cent. 

However, Group 3 countries only managed a modest 16 per cent renewables’ share and emissions on average actually went up (by three per cent). 

The UK is a mixed picture. Emissions have been reduced by 16 per cent, bucking the trend of other pro-nuclear countries. However, only five per cent of its energy comes from renewables, which is among the lowest in Europe, pipped only by Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands. 

The team says that the gigantic investments of time, money and expertise in nuclear power plants, such as the proposed Hinckley Point C in the UK, can create dependency and ‘lock-in’ – a sense of ‘no turning back’ in the nation’s psyche. 

Technological innovation then becomes about seeking ‘conservative’ inventions – that is new technologies that preserve the existing system. This is, inevitably, at the expense of more radical technologies, such as wind or solar. 

Professor Benjamin Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy and Director of the Sussex Energy Group at the University of Sussex, said: “The analysis shows that nuclear power is not like other energy systems. It has a unique set of risks, political, technical and otherwise, that must be perpetually managed. 

“If nothing else, our paper casts doubt on the likelihood of a nuclear renaissance in the near-term, at least in Europe.” 

Lead author Andrew Lawrence of the Vienna School of International Relations said: “As the viability of the proposed Hinkley plant is once again cast into doubt by the new May government, we should recall that – as is true of nuclear fallout – nuclear power’s inordinate expense and risks extend across national borders and current generations.

“Conversely, cheaper, safer, and more adaptable alternative energy sources are available for all countries.”

 

Abstract here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14693062.2016.1179616

 

 

The Ethical Foodie: Pack up and ship more ethically out?

I’m going to make you a proposal. No, not like that, I am very happily married thank you. I would like to suggest something rather dull that will make a big difference to how your food impacts the environment, and it’s easy. In fact, it used to be commonplace and standard – not to mention a down right necessity. The dreary-sounding but decidedly efficient, cost effective and ethical packed lunch.

In these days of 24/7 cafés, fast food joints and mini supermarkets almost everywhere, it’s never been easier to buy food and drink on the go. However, once you commit to a more ethical and less impactful way of using food you will quickly find yourself very limited. I’ll expand, using the “Fresh” sandwich example which is a favourite.

Let’s imagine that you have stopped at a motorway service station/train station /airport etc and you’re feeling a little peckish. Off you stride, contactless magic money in hand to acquire a satisfying sarnie to fill the gap. You reach for the egg mayo and realise that the eggs are not free range. OK, sidestep those and head for chicken, same problem…err. No problem, a BLT will do the job, only the pork isn’t free range either and now you come to think about it it’s not really the right time for tomatoes.

So finally, you opt in the end for roasted Mediterranean veg and pesto, to avoid the ethical issues with the others, but of course none of those veggies are from the UK, in season or organic. Never mind, you’ve done your very best. So, add to that a bottle of water (Damn, single use plastic bottle, not to mention the madness that is trucking thousands of tonnes of bottled water about the place when everywhere has a tap) and a pack of crisps. So, you end up spending a tenner on some food you don’t really want to eat and a drink you would rather not have to wash it down. Then of course you end up throwing out the wrappings and the bottle.

It’s worse though, right. Here we are just looking at the fun stuff, the easy bit – the immediate effect. The direct impact if you like, but add in the waste created by sandwich businesses (See Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart if you haven’t already) and then we have the real killer. At home you have a left over portion of pasta from the night before last’s supper, its homemade, its tasty AND now its going to go to waste…. or something else will.

See what we’ve done here? We’ve gone and made a flipping mistake. I do it all the time, late for a train to London for a meeting and dash out the door, coffee in a disposable cup, cereal bar on the train that I know really is just sugar and a few oats held together with who on earth knows what, again wrapped in plastic – and all I can do is think about the homemade bread in the bread bin and that little pot of honey from the guy down the road. We all do it. It’s normal.

But, when I was a lad it was not normal! Brace yourself now for some wistful rose-tinted visions of the past circa 1987, when it was far from normal. In fact if you left home without lunch in a box having had a decent breakfast you had basically stuffed up the entire day. Being a forgetful child I was often pegging it home for my packed lunch at morning break time or scrounging a freebie off the diner ladies at school with some forlorn made up story of woe.

Romantic notions of a forgotten past to one side for now, I have been trying to make a difference in my own little way on this front. It started with the purchase of an insulated stainless steel clad coffee cup. My plan was (I do a lot of miles on the road each year) to get my cup re-filled at the various coffee outlets you are all familiar with when out on the road and in need of caffeine. (Thanks must go to Mr Fearnley Whittingstall for his efforts to unveil the non recyclable disposable coffee cup scam) However, once my homemade brew was finished and a stop was required I ran slap into an issue I had not expected in a well-known coffee chain…… It went a little something like this, and I’ve sketched it out for you npt only because I think it’s a bit funny, but also to give you heads up if you’re thinking of switching to a permanent cup too.

“Hi, can I please have a cappuccino (The foodie in me already upset at the idea as it’s now past midday and the Italians would have a fit, but I can’t face a pint of over-heated milk with a hint of coffee that most places seem to think is a cafe latte) “

“To eat in or takeaway Sir?”

“Takeaway please, can you put it in this cup here please?”

“Er, I’ll have to make it in a takeaway cup and give it to you to pour in there”

“I’d rather you didn’t as I really would like to not use a takeaway cup at all which is kind of the whole point, could you just make it and put it straight in my cup please?”

“No, sorry, I’m afraid its not allowed”

At this point I want to scream, not allowed by whom for heavens sake! But since I’m always having to contain the inner baffled/angry guy I manage to quell my inner rage, after all it’s not their fault is it?

“OK, fine, make it in a china cup then and I will pour it in there myself”

“No problem sir, but I will have to charge you the Eat In price if it’s in a china cup”

At this point I must add, that the lady serving was taking this all very well, she was trying to keep me happy and keep her boss happy at the same time. She was failing, but that was not her fault. It was my fault for being weird, and by weird I mean caring enough to make the point.

“OK, here’s the deal, I say. You sell me an eat in coffee, I’ll put it in my own cup, then I’ll give you the receipt and you can refund me the difference between the two prices” (It’s not much but let’s face it I am essentially saving them money as they don’t need to give me one of their bastard not actually recyclable cups and essentially I am serving my own coffee. Also, I starting to loose my inner cool)”

Luckily, in the nick of time the manager arrives. Surprisingly she actually says something brilliant!

“Why not use one of the self service machines sir? That way the coffee will go straight into your cup and you can pay the correct price from the off.”

“Great idea, thanks.”

So, now I buy my on-the-road coffee from the self-service machines and everyone’s happy, mostly.

The odd till attendant at the petrol station questions my honesty, after all that could be a double shot super duper god knows what in that cup…. But generally they can’t be that bothered and so they take my word, and my money.

I do the same for water, I take a plastic bottle with me and when its empty – here’s the killer – I just fill it up when I stop!

Sometimes there’s a sign that says “NOT DRINKING WATER” but I am not convinced. Am I supposed to believe that they have two separate water supplies for the place? That one is in someway unclean? And, if it is, and it makes me sick, well it’s my own fault for ignoring the signage right? No law suite from me. Then I swan off to my van and get my little cool bag out from the back, full of tasty home made leftovers for the journey.

It’s a win win for me. No more ethical quandary at the till, no more litter in the van and when I do succumb to temptation and indulge in a fizzy drink I know that at least the tin will be recycled, though my teeth may never recover.

I get to eat nice homemade food, I don’t waste anything at home and I save a fortune. I get to re-use the packaging or make sure it’s completely biodegradable and I avoid the queues and the heartburn.

So, before it all gets in-depth confusing and less than great at the ready-to-eat food outlets, pack yourself a lunch.

It takes a little planning, but not much. It’s a great solution for leftovers and you can plan your meals better. Win win win.

Not convinced? Too much hassle? I get it. But even if you could manage to make this change every other time a meal- on-the-go is needed it will still make a huge difference. And if that’s not worth the extra effort, I don’t know what is…

This Author

Tim Maddams is a passionate and creative foodie, unafraid to face the difficult arguments that surround food. Having grown up in rural Wiltshire Tim spent time cooking for various notable chefs in London before a return to the West Country to take the helm at the River Cottage canteen in Axminster, Devon, later taking on a key role within the Fish Fight campaign. Tim now works as a private chef, food writer and presenter, based in beautiful East Devon

@TimGreenSauce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

England’s £100m badger cull extensions condemned

The BBC and other media are reporting that the shooting of badgers will begin in early September in five new areas: South Devon, North Devon, North Cornwall, West Dorset, and South Herefordshire.

However there has been no such announcement from Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for the badger culls, or its controversial Secretary of State, former Tory leadership contender and Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom.

A spokesman for Defra would only say the department was “currently considering applications for further badger control licences as part of the usual licensing process.”

The badger culling policy in England is led by the National Farmers Union (NFU), but largely funded by taxpayers. It is already being carried out in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset at a cost to the taxpayer in excess of £25 million since it began in 2013. The NFU has also released no announcement.

By extending the badger culls to the five new areas of the country taxpayer will be liable for an additional £100 million by 2020, according to the Badger Trust. That’s even though there is no scientific evidence to show how, or indeed whether, badgers actually infect cattle with bovine TB – the official justification for the policy.

Indeed DEFRA statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise both in and around the culling zones. Bovine TB is being successfully controlled in Scotland and Wales without culling, relying instead on cattle movement controls and other biosecurity measures.

Ireland is also about to abandon its badger cull policy in favour of vaccination.

Ignoring the real cause: cattle to cattle infection

The Badger Trust has condemned the apparent decision to press ahead with the cull, citing “the complete failure of the policy over the last four years.” So far 3,916 badgers have been killed – and most remarkably, none of the badger carcasses have been tested for TB, throwing away a valuable opportunity to assess any role badgers may have as a TB reservoir.

“After 4 years of badger culling no one can now doubt that the policy has been a disastrous failure on scientific, cost and humaneness grounds”, said Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust. “For the new DEFRA Secretary Andrea Leadsom to ignore the facts and extend this policy into five new areas of the country defies belief. 

“The badger cull is built on three pillars of sand, incompetence, negligence and deceit, and will ultimately collapse because it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB, which is cattle to cattle infection. We could kill every badger in England but bovine TB would continue to spread in cattle herds, due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor biosecurity controls.”

He also condemned the use of the experimental ‘free shooting’ method of killing badgers, which can result in unrecorded hits that can condemn badgers to a slow, painful, lingering death. This practice has been condemned as inhumane by both the government’s Independent Expert Panel and the British Veterinary Association.

Any pretence of ‘science’ long since abandoned

The Chair of the Badger Trust, Peter Martin, added: “The badger is being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern intensive livestock industry that have led to a significant increase in bovine TB in cattle herds.

“Recent changes to the cull licencing regime have made it clear this policy is now just a ‘numbers game’ based on indiscriminate and untargeted killing of this protected wildlife species. They have abandoned any pretence of science or control.

“We now have conclusive scientific evidence proving beyond doubt that badgers actively avoid cattle in pasture and farm yards, and that cattle avoid feeding on grass where badgers urinate or defecate. This effectively means that the likelihood of badgers passing TB to cattle within the farming environment is so low that it is impossible to distinguish it from any other potential environmental vector, including cattle themselves.”

The government in Westminster is using badgers as a “political fig-leaf to mask its total failure to get to grips with bovine TB”, Martin continued, adding that the government should be following the far more successful example of Wales, which has achieved significant disease reductions in cattle without killing badgers:

“They should be looking to Wales to see how they have waged a far more successful campaign against the disease, based on more rigorous TB testing, tighter cattle control and biosecurity measures. New TB herd incidents in Wales are down by 14% in the last 12 months and all this has been achieved without culling badgers.”

 


 

Oliver Tickell is Contributing Editor at The Ecologist.

Also on The Ecologist

 

Why are our badgers ‘Badgered to Death’?

“Political factors will ultimately overrule scientific ones when a government takes a decision in a contentious field.” Nature, 2007

Dyer is the Chief Executive of the Badger Trust charity. Everyone who has joined in anti-badger-cull marches and rallies across the country will be familiar with the man leading from the front – whose passionate speeches in defence of one of our most iconic wild animals have constantly condemned the lack of science behind the killing.

Dyer’s first encounter with a badger was on the Isle of Wight. Years later, to his amazement, he saw one happily living in London suburbs. This badger helped his decision to leave a well-paid career and take up full-time work for wildlife conservation.

But why did he become such a champion for the badger?

“Over a period of time I became increasingly angry about the demonisation of the badger. I remember attending many farm industry events during my time in the food and plant science industries where farmers would regularly talk of the need to kill the animal, even discussing how to gas them. And I disliked the way the science and animal welfare concerns were dismissed in a mad rush to kill these animals.”

Being the CEO of the Badger Trust has given him many opportunities to study badgers, and as he says, “The more you get to see them in the wild the more enchanting they become. It does not take long to become hooked as a badger watcher.”

One also, of course, becomes more aware of the lack of science behind badger culling, and it is this devastating lack that Badgered to Death addresses.

Considering how long and complicated the history of badgers and bovine TB is, this could have been a dense and difficult undertaking. But this is not a book filled with references to learned papers and obtuse scientific arguments. Dyer simply and clearly describes the political process by which the badger became the scapegoat for the bovine tuberculosis in England’s cattle.

From the moment the first bovine TB-infected badger was discovered in 1971, no other cause for this disease in cattle has been properly or adequately addressed.

Scientists were saying it was very difficult for badgers to spread TB to cattle

He describes in some detail the experiment carried out by the Central Veterinary Laboratories in 1975, attempting to prove how badgers can give cattle TB. Under very controlled and artificial circumstances it took months for infectious badgers to pass the TB onto calves, even though both badgers and calves were sharing a small and highly restricted living space.

There have been no other such attempts, and later research has since demonstrated that badgers avoid cattle, and that cattle avoid areas where badger might urinate or defecate. There is no science, no evidence, to prove how badgers are supposed to pass TB to cattle.

The Randomised Badger Culling Trials are explored in depth, yet even here Dyer shows how the science gives way to politics. Despite the conclusion that culling badgers could make “no meaningful difference” to controlling TB in cattle, the results were, said the head of the RBCT Lord Krebs, “cherry picked” and skewed in order to justify a cull.

The President of the Royal Society Lord May went further and said the government were “transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.”

Only politically did the badger cull make any sense

Dyer’s documentation of the political process underlying Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision – and yes, it was his decision – to implement the culls is thorough, detailed and depressing in the government’s refusal to accept the lack of science. As Dyer explains, Cameron’s acceptance was all on the side of receiving rural votes in exchange for a cull.

Of all the strands that created the cull – the politicians, Defra, the NFU and Countryside Alliance, the farmers, scientists, vets, landowners and the hunting community about whom he writes, the clarity diplomatically masking the anger – which of those does Dyer think bears the most responsibility for the culls taking place?

“I think the Veterinary industry is most to blame. For a profession that puts scientific knowledge and animal welfare at the heart of what it stands for, the continued support for the hugely cruel ineffective badger cull is unforgivable in my mind.”

But apart from Cameron, who else could have stopped this useless brutal policy? It was, he felt …

” … the BVA which should have called for a stop to the cull when its Ethics Committee decided free shooting was cruel and ineffective. If they had made it clear that they would no longer support any culling using free shooting the policy would have collapsed on cost grounds.”

He is also scathing of some of the big ‘green’ NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and WWF that did not get engaged or mobilise their thousands of members to add to the political pressure on Cameron’s government.

Yet, at the same time, there are many vets and farmers who are against culling. Asked whether he thought farmers had been let down by Defra and the NFU, Dyer replied:

“Yes, many farmers contact me regularly to say they feel let down by the NFU; they know the TB testing systems are not fit for purpose, they are angry about not getting free access to gamma interferon testing and the delays in introducing a TB cattle vaccine.

“And they know the badger cull is being used as a political football whilst many of them struggle to stay in business.”

Short term economics and politics trumped the protection of nature

Asked to expand on that, he explained: “Science will always be manipulated by politicians to support their priorities. Money on the other hand is always a deciding factor in the success or failure of a policy.

“The government always stated the badger cull would be a farmer-led policy largely paid for by farmers. They lied; it’s a largely publicly funded policy that is spiralling out of control on cost grounds despite being a scientific failure.”

The book’s conclusion is that the culls will be stopped, not by science or validity, but by cost. Yet Dyer remains optimistic: “Despite all the incompetence, negligence and deceit, it’s the caring compassionate British public who have made a stand for wildlife that gives me the most hope for the future.”

His book pays tribute to the ‘Badger Army’, those many individuals from all walks of life who turned out to protest and importantly, once culling started, to protect the badgers out in the field.

Those people will be patrolling the countryside, day and night, in every area where badger killing is taking place this autumn. While determined to protect their badgers, many also want to see the government help and support farmers to beat the TB in their cattle – but with proper cattle-based measures, not by senselessly killing wildlife.

Badgered to Death is for them because it tells them just why they must keep fighting the culls. It will convince any reader how very wrong and ineffective the culls will prove to be.

And it should be read by all those battling against government policies that put money ahead of science and the environment. Our natural world is too important to be over-ridden in this way.

 


 

Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer who writes for The Ecologist and other media on the badger cull and other environmental topics, and on political issues for UK and international websites. 

The book: Badgered to Death is by Dominic Dyer and published by Canbury Press.

 

England’s £100m badger cull extensions condemned

The BBC and other media are reporting that the shooting of badgers will begin in early September in five new areas: South Devon, North Devon, North Cornwall, West Dorset, and South Herefordshire.

However there has been no such announcement from Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for the badger culls, or its controversial Secretary of State, former Tory leadership contender and Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom.

A spokesman for Defra would only say the department was “currently considering applications for further badger control licences as part of the usual licensing process.”

The badger culling policy in England is led by the National Farmers Union (NFU), but largely funded by taxpayers. It is already being carried out in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset at a cost to the taxpayer in excess of £25 million since it began in 2013. The NFU has also released no announcement.

By extending the badger culls to the five new areas of the country taxpayer will be liable for an additional £100 million by 2020, according to the Badger Trust. That’s even though there is no scientific evidence to show how, or indeed whether, badgers actually infect cattle with bovine TB – the official justification for the policy.

Indeed DEFRA statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise both in and around the culling zones. Bovine TB is being successfully controlled in Scotland and Wales without culling, relying instead on cattle movement controls and other biosecurity measures.

Ireland is also about to abandon its badger cull policy in favour of vaccination.

Ignoring the real cause: cattle to cattle infection

The Badger Trust has condemned the apparent decision to press ahead with the cull, citing “the complete failure of the policy over the last four years.” So far 3,916 badgers have been killed – and most remarkably, none of the badger carcasses have been tested for TB, throwing away a valuable opportunity to assess any role badgers may have as a TB reservoir.

“After 4 years of badger culling no one can now doubt that the policy has been a disastrous failure on scientific, cost and humaneness grounds”, said Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust. “For the new DEFRA Secretary Andrea Leadsom to ignore the facts and extend this policy into five new areas of the country defies belief. 

“The badger cull is built on three pillars of sand, incompetence, negligence and deceit, and will ultimately collapse because it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB, which is cattle to cattle infection. We could kill every badger in England but bovine TB would continue to spread in cattle herds, due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor biosecurity controls.”

He also condemned the use of the experimental ‘free shooting’ method of killing badgers, which can result in unrecorded hits that can condemn badgers to a slow, painful, lingering death. This practice has been condemned as inhumane by both the government’s Independent Expert Panel and the British Veterinary Association.

Any pretence of ‘science’ long since abandoned

The Chair of the Badger Trust, Peter Martin, added: “The badger is being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern intensive livestock industry that have led to a significant increase in bovine TB in cattle herds.

“Recent changes to the cull licencing regime have made it clear this policy is now just a ‘numbers game’ based on indiscriminate and untargeted killing of this protected wildlife species. They have abandoned any pretence of science or control.

“We now have conclusive scientific evidence proving beyond doubt that badgers actively avoid cattle in pasture and farm yards, and that cattle avoid feeding on grass where badgers urinate or defecate. This effectively means that the likelihood of badgers passing TB to cattle within the farming environment is so low that it is impossible to distinguish it from any other potential environmental vector, including cattle themselves.”

The government in Westminster is using badgers as a “political fig-leaf to mask its total failure to get to grips with bovine TB”, Martin continued, adding that the government should be following the far more successful example of Wales, which has achieved significant disease reductions in cattle without killing badgers:

“They should be looking to Wales to see how they have waged a far more successful campaign against the disease, based on more rigorous TB testing, tighter cattle control and biosecurity measures. New TB herd incidents in Wales are down by 14% in the last 12 months and all this has been achieved without culling badgers.”

 


 

Oliver Tickell is Contributing Editor at The Ecologist.

Also on The Ecologist

 

Why are our badgers ‘Badgered to Death’?

“Political factors will ultimately overrule scientific ones when a government takes a decision in a contentious field.” Nature, 2007

Dyer is the Chief Executive of the Badger Trust charity. Everyone who has joined in anti-badger-cull marches and rallies across the country will be familiar with the man leading from the front – whose passionate speeches in defence of one of our most iconic wild animals have constantly condemned the lack of science behind the killing.

Dyer’s first encounter with a badger was on the Isle of Wight. Years later, to his amazement, he saw one happily living in London suburbs. This badger helped his decision to leave a well-paid career and take up full-time work for wildlife conservation.

But why did he become such a champion for the badger?

“Over a period of time I became increasingly angry about the demonisation of the badger. I remember attending many farm industry events during my time in the food and plant science industries where farmers would regularly talk of the need to kill the animal, even discussing how to gas them. And I disliked the way the science and animal welfare concerns were dismissed in a mad rush to kill these animals.”

Being the CEO of the Badger Trust has given him many opportunities to study badgers, and as he says, “The more you get to see them in the wild the more enchanting they become. It does not take long to become hooked as a badger watcher.”

One also, of course, becomes more aware of the lack of science behind badger culling, and it is this devastating lack that Badgered to Death addresses.

Considering how long and complicated the history of badgers and bovine TB is, this could have been a dense and difficult undertaking. But this is not a book filled with references to learned papers and obtuse scientific arguments. Dyer simply and clearly describes the political process by which the badger became the scapegoat for the bovine tuberculosis in England’s cattle.

From the moment the first bovine TB-infected badger was discovered in 1971, no other cause for this disease in cattle has been properly or adequately addressed.

Scientists were saying it was very difficult for badgers to spread TB to cattle

He describes in some detail the experiment carried out by the Central Veterinary Laboratories in 1975, attempting to prove how badgers can give cattle TB. Under very controlled and artificial circumstances it took months for infectious badgers to pass the TB onto calves, even though both badgers and calves were sharing a small and highly restricted living space.

There have been no other such attempts, and later research has since demonstrated that badgers avoid cattle, and that cattle avoid areas where badger might urinate or defecate. There is no science, no evidence, to prove how badgers are supposed to pass TB to cattle.

The Randomised Badger Culling Trials are explored in depth, yet even here Dyer shows how the science gives way to politics. Despite the conclusion that culling badgers could make “no meaningful difference” to controlling TB in cattle, the results were, said the head of the RBCT Lord Krebs, “cherry picked” and skewed in order to justify a cull.

The President of the Royal Society Lord May went further and said the government were “transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.”

Only politically did the badger cull make any sense

Dyer’s documentation of the political process underlying Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision – and yes, it was his decision – to implement the culls is thorough, detailed and depressing in the government’s refusal to accept the lack of science. As Dyer explains, Cameron’s acceptance was all on the side of receiving rural votes in exchange for a cull.

Of all the strands that created the cull – the politicians, Defra, the NFU and Countryside Alliance, the farmers, scientists, vets, landowners and the hunting community about whom he writes, the clarity diplomatically masking the anger – which of those does Dyer think bears the most responsibility for the culls taking place?

“I think the Veterinary industry is most to blame. For a profession that puts scientific knowledge and animal welfare at the heart of what it stands for, the continued support for the hugely cruel ineffective badger cull is unforgivable in my mind.”

But apart from Cameron, who else could have stopped this useless brutal policy? It was, he felt …

” … the BVA which should have called for a stop to the cull when its Ethics Committee decided free shooting was cruel and ineffective. If they had made it clear that they would no longer support any culling using free shooting the policy would have collapsed on cost grounds.”

He is also scathing of some of the big ‘green’ NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and WWF that did not get engaged or mobilise their thousands of members to add to the political pressure on Cameron’s government.

Yet, at the same time, there are many vets and farmers who are against culling. Asked whether he thought farmers had been let down by Defra and the NFU, Dyer replied:

“Yes, many farmers contact me regularly to say they feel let down by the NFU; they know the TB testing systems are not fit for purpose, they are angry about not getting free access to gamma interferon testing and the delays in introducing a TB cattle vaccine.

“And they know the badger cull is being used as a political football whilst many of them struggle to stay in business.”

Short term economics and politics trumped the protection of nature

Asked to expand on that, he explained: “Science will always be manipulated by politicians to support their priorities. Money on the other hand is always a deciding factor in the success or failure of a policy.

“The government always stated the badger cull would be a farmer-led policy largely paid for by farmers. They lied; it’s a largely publicly funded policy that is spiralling out of control on cost grounds despite being a scientific failure.”

The book’s conclusion is that the culls will be stopped, not by science or validity, but by cost. Yet Dyer remains optimistic: “Despite all the incompetence, negligence and deceit, it’s the caring compassionate British public who have made a stand for wildlife that gives me the most hope for the future.”

His book pays tribute to the ‘Badger Army’, those many individuals from all walks of life who turned out to protest and importantly, once culling started, to protect the badgers out in the field.

Those people will be patrolling the countryside, day and night, in every area where badger killing is taking place this autumn. While determined to protect their badgers, many also want to see the government help and support farmers to beat the TB in their cattle – but with proper cattle-based measures, not by senselessly killing wildlife.

Badgered to Death is for them because it tells them just why they must keep fighting the culls. It will convince any reader how very wrong and ineffective the culls will prove to be.

And it should be read by all those battling against government policies that put money ahead of science and the environment. Our natural world is too important to be over-ridden in this way.

 


 

Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer who writes for The Ecologist and other media on the badger cull and other environmental topics, and on political issues for UK and international websites. 

The book: Badgered to Death is by Dominic Dyer and published by Canbury Press.

 

England’s £100m badger cull extensions condemned

The BBC and other media are reporting that the shooting of badgers will begin in early September in five new areas: South Devon, North Devon, North Cornwall, West Dorset, and South Herefordshire.

However there has been no such announcement from Defra, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for the badger culls, or its controversial Secretary of State, former Tory leadership contender and Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom.

A spokesman for Defra would only say the department was “currently considering applications for further badger control licences as part of the usual licensing process.”

The badger culling policy in England is led by the National Farmers Union (NFU), but largely funded by taxpayers. It is already being carried out in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset at a cost to the taxpayer in excess of £25 million since it began in 2013. The NFU has also released no announcement.

By extending the badger culls to the five new areas of the country taxpayer will be liable for an additional £100 million by 2020, according to the Badger Trust. That’s even though there is no scientific evidence to show how, or indeed whether, badgers actually infect cattle with bovine TB – the official justification for the policy.

Indeed DEFRA statistics show that despite killing thousands of badgers the number of cattle slaughtered for TB continues to rise both in and around the culling zones. Bovine TB is being successfully controlled in Scotland and Wales without culling, relying instead on cattle movement controls and other biosecurity measures.

Ireland is also about to abandon its badger cull policy in favour of vaccination.

Ignoring the real cause: cattle to cattle infection

The Badger Trust has condemned the apparent decision to press ahead with the cull, citing “the complete failure of the policy over the last four years.” So far 3,916 badgers have been killed – and most remarkably, none of the badger carcasses have been tested for TB, throwing away a valuable opportunity to assess any role badgers may have as a TB reservoir.

“After 4 years of badger culling no one can now doubt that the policy has been a disastrous failure on scientific, cost and humaneness grounds”, said Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust. “For the new DEFRA Secretary Andrea Leadsom to ignore the facts and extend this policy into five new areas of the country defies belief. 

“The badger cull is built on three pillars of sand, incompetence, negligence and deceit, and will ultimately collapse because it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB, which is cattle to cattle infection. We could kill every badger in England but bovine TB would continue to spread in cattle herds, due to inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor biosecurity controls.”

He also condemned the use of the experimental ‘free shooting’ method of killing badgers, which can result in unrecorded hits that can condemn badgers to a slow, painful, lingering death. This practice has been condemned as inhumane by both the government’s Independent Expert Panel and the British Veterinary Association.

Any pretence of ‘science’ long since abandoned

The Chair of the Badger Trust, Peter Martin, added: “The badger is being used as a scapegoat for failures in the modern intensive livestock industry that have led to a significant increase in bovine TB in cattle herds.

“Recent changes to the cull licencing regime have made it clear this policy is now just a ‘numbers game’ based on indiscriminate and untargeted killing of this protected wildlife species. They have abandoned any pretence of science or control.

“We now have conclusive scientific evidence proving beyond doubt that badgers actively avoid cattle in pasture and farm yards, and that cattle avoid feeding on grass where badgers urinate or defecate. This effectively means that the likelihood of badgers passing TB to cattle within the farming environment is so low that it is impossible to distinguish it from any other potential environmental vector, including cattle themselves.”

The government in Westminster is using badgers as a “political fig-leaf to mask its total failure to get to grips with bovine TB”, Martin continued, adding that the government should be following the far more successful example of Wales, which has achieved significant disease reductions in cattle without killing badgers:

“They should be looking to Wales to see how they have waged a far more successful campaign against the disease, based on more rigorous TB testing, tighter cattle control and biosecurity measures. New TB herd incidents in Wales are down by 14% in the last 12 months and all this has been achieved without culling badgers.”

 


 

Oliver Tickell is Contributing Editor at The Ecologist.

Also on The Ecologist

 

Why are our badgers ‘Badgered to Death’?

“Political factors will ultimately overrule scientific ones when a government takes a decision in a contentious field.” Nature, 2007

Dyer is the Chief Executive of the Badger Trust charity. Everyone who has joined in anti-badger-cull marches and rallies across the country will be familiar with the man leading from the front – whose passionate speeches in defence of one of our most iconic wild animals have constantly condemned the lack of science behind the killing.

Dyer’s first encounter with a badger was on the Isle of Wight. Years later, to his amazement, he saw one happily living in London suburbs. This badger helped his decision to leave a well-paid career and take up full-time work for wildlife conservation.

But why did he become such a champion for the badger?

“Over a period of time I became increasingly angry about the demonisation of the badger. I remember attending many farm industry events during my time in the food and plant science industries where farmers would regularly talk of the need to kill the animal, even discussing how to gas them. And I disliked the way the science and animal welfare concerns were dismissed in a mad rush to kill these animals.”

Being the CEO of the Badger Trust has given him many opportunities to study badgers, and as he says, “The more you get to see them in the wild the more enchanting they become. It does not take long to become hooked as a badger watcher.”

One also, of course, becomes more aware of the lack of science behind badger culling, and it is this devastating lack that Badgered to Death addresses.

Considering how long and complicated the history of badgers and bovine TB is, this could have been a dense and difficult undertaking. But this is not a book filled with references to learned papers and obtuse scientific arguments. Dyer simply and clearly describes the political process by which the badger became the scapegoat for the bovine tuberculosis in England’s cattle.

From the moment the first bovine TB-infected badger was discovered in 1971, no other cause for this disease in cattle has been properly or adequately addressed.

Scientists were saying it was very difficult for badgers to spread TB to cattle

He describes in some detail the experiment carried out by the Central Veterinary Laboratories in 1975, attempting to prove how badgers can give cattle TB. Under very controlled and artificial circumstances it took months for infectious badgers to pass the TB onto calves, even though both badgers and calves were sharing a small and highly restricted living space.

There have been no other such attempts, and later research has since demonstrated that badgers avoid cattle, and that cattle avoid areas where badger might urinate or defecate. There is no science, no evidence, to prove how badgers are supposed to pass TB to cattle.

The Randomised Badger Culling Trials are explored in depth, yet even here Dyer shows how the science gives way to politics. Despite the conclusion that culling badgers could make “no meaningful difference” to controlling TB in cattle, the results were, said the head of the RBCT Lord Krebs, “cherry picked” and skewed in order to justify a cull.

The President of the Royal Society Lord May went further and said the government were “transmuting evidence-based policy into policy-based evidence.”

Only politically did the badger cull make any sense

Dyer’s documentation of the political process underlying Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision – and yes, it was his decision – to implement the culls is thorough, detailed and depressing in the government’s refusal to accept the lack of science. As Dyer explains, Cameron’s acceptance was all on the side of receiving rural votes in exchange for a cull.

Of all the strands that created the cull – the politicians, Defra, the NFU and Countryside Alliance, the farmers, scientists, vets, landowners and the hunting community about whom he writes, the clarity diplomatically masking the anger – which of those does Dyer think bears the most responsibility for the culls taking place?

“I think the Veterinary industry is most to blame. For a profession that puts scientific knowledge and animal welfare at the heart of what it stands for, the continued support for the hugely cruel ineffective badger cull is unforgivable in my mind.”

But apart from Cameron, who else could have stopped this useless brutal policy? It was, he felt …

” … the BVA which should have called for a stop to the cull when its Ethics Committee decided free shooting was cruel and ineffective. If they had made it clear that they would no longer support any culling using free shooting the policy would have collapsed on cost grounds.”

He is also scathing of some of the big ‘green’ NGOs such as Friends of the Earth and WWF that did not get engaged or mobilise their thousands of members to add to the political pressure on Cameron’s government.

Yet, at the same time, there are many vets and farmers who are against culling. Asked whether he thought farmers had been let down by Defra and the NFU, Dyer replied:

“Yes, many farmers contact me regularly to say they feel let down by the NFU; they know the TB testing systems are not fit for purpose, they are angry about not getting free access to gamma interferon testing and the delays in introducing a TB cattle vaccine.

“And they know the badger cull is being used as a political football whilst many of them struggle to stay in business.”

Short term economics and politics trumped the protection of nature

Asked to expand on that, he explained: “Science will always be manipulated by politicians to support their priorities. Money on the other hand is always a deciding factor in the success or failure of a policy.

“The government always stated the badger cull would be a farmer-led policy largely paid for by farmers. They lied; it’s a largely publicly funded policy that is spiralling out of control on cost grounds despite being a scientific failure.”

The book’s conclusion is that the culls will be stopped, not by science or validity, but by cost. Yet Dyer remains optimistic: “Despite all the incompetence, negligence and deceit, it’s the caring compassionate British public who have made a stand for wildlife that gives me the most hope for the future.”

His book pays tribute to the ‘Badger Army’, those many individuals from all walks of life who turned out to protest and importantly, once culling started, to protect the badgers out in the field.

Those people will be patrolling the countryside, day and night, in every area where badger killing is taking place this autumn. While determined to protect their badgers, many also want to see the government help and support farmers to beat the TB in their cattle – but with proper cattle-based measures, not by senselessly killing wildlife.

Badgered to Death is for them because it tells them just why they must keep fighting the culls. It will convince any reader how very wrong and ineffective the culls will prove to be.

And it should be read by all those battling against government policies that put money ahead of science and the environment. Our natural world is too important to be over-ridden in this way.

 


 

Lesley Docksey is a freelance writer who writes for The Ecologist and other media on the badger cull and other environmental topics, and on political issues for UK and international websites. 

The book: Badgered to Death is by Dominic Dyer and published by Canbury Press.