- Posted by: Joyce Watson MS
- Category: Feature
Assembly Member Joyce Watson has called for a suspension of hunting with dogs in Wales pending an assessment of the risks concerning the spread of bovine TB.
The Labour Mid and West Wales AM made the recommendation during last week’s (20 June) Senedd debate on the Welsh Government’s decision to kill infected badgers in TB hotspots.
From 1 October Wales will be split into areas of low, intermediate and high risk bovine TB areas, based on disease incidence levels.
Mrs Watson, an outspoken critic of previous proposals for badger culls, said killing badgers is not backed by scientific evidence. She said she did not support the move and asked farming minister Leslie Griffiths to examine the links between bovine TB, slurry and hunting with dogs. Ms Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, agreed to investigate. Here is a transcript of the exchange:
“The intensive action area—the IAA—does lie within the region that I’ve represented for 10 years now, so I know only too well what a blight bovine TB is, and the disease has been a chronic and malign affliction for many farmers for many, many years. I am encouraged, however, that the incidence of bTB in the IAA has declined by 35 per cent. That’s 12 per cent more than the comparable in nearby areas. That seems to suggest to me that the measures currently being taken are, indeed, having a very positive effect, and I welcome that you’ve decided to take a different approach to the shambolic policy pursued in parts of England. I do have reservations, however, and I hope that you will be able to reassure me on a number of points.
“Members in this Chamber will be aware of my past position on this issue, and I’ve spoken from and voted in line with the scientific evidence. The only credible evidence that we have regarding badger culling and its impact on the spread of bovine TB is from the 10-year randomised badger culling trials conducted by Lord Krebs. It concluded that in order to have even a modest reduction in bTB, 70 per cent of the badger population in an area no smaller than 150 sq km must be eradicated, and that this must be done in a short period of time—that’s about six weeks every single year. But it also goes on to say that if too many badgers are killed, there is a high risk of local extinction and that, indeed, did happen in some areas of the Irish Republic. It also goes on to say that if you don’t kill enough badgers, you risk perturbation, and that spreads the disease even further and wider. So, my question has to be, Cabinet Secretary: how does the proposed action of trapping and terminating diseased badgers, and possibly microchipping them, stack up against those Krebs recommendations, and how is it actually going to make any difference whatsoever? You know my views on badger culling, and I will repeat them yet again; I will not support it.
“I also want to raise other questions about the spread of bTB in relation to slurry on farms. I do understand that grazing on land where manure and slurry is spread is not recommended for two months, and that is because the infection can stay within the manure and slurry for up to six months. Can you clarify then whether it is compulsory for all manure and slurry to be stored for six months prior to spreading? And would you consider enforcing the two-month grazing moratorium that is currently recommended?
“My final point that I want to ask is: what other assessments have you made about the potential spread to cattle of bTB from foxhounds? Twenty five foxhounds from the Kimblewick hunt tested positive for bTB earlier this year. I don’t know whether we’ve done anything in Wales in terms of testing foxhounds in Wales, but what I do know is that there are around 20 hunts in west Wales. Do you not think, therefore, Cabinet Secretary, that it might be actually prudent to suspend all hunting with hounds until at least the risks are properly assessed?”
“I thank Joyce Watson for her questions and I absolutely know her views on a badger cull just as much as she knows mine. You’ll be very aware this is just about those chronic herd breakdowns. These plans, these bespoke action plans, which will be drawn up—which, if it’s proven there is, or there’s evidence that there is, contact between badgers and cattle that could be contributing to the disease, we will then undertake this trapping. It could be that some farmers don’t want those badgers done, and the bespoke action plan will only be done in consultation with the farmer and with their private vet.
“You mentioned about microchipping. I am aware that in other countries this has been done, where, if a badger has been trapped and tested and it’s negative, it’s microchipped, so that, if the disease then does go to that farm, for instance, and you go back, you catch the badger that’s microchipped, they’re aware of the previous history, if you like, of the badger.
“You talked about perturbation. I have to say that much of the effect of perturbation on the disease is not known and I think there is some significant work that needs to be done around that. I think one area where we have benefitted is in the ‘badger found dead’ survey. It’s given us some really good evidence in relation to the areas across Wales, and I have said that that will continue, that survey, going forward.
“You ask about slurry and you quote the regulations around slurry and could it be made compulsory, because, again, that is something that—you know, the farmers have to take action around that. They know the risks and how long it should be stored for, et cetera, to get rid of the high moisture levels, but it’s something that we can certainly look at going forward.
“You ask about foxhounds. Now, I’m not aware of any testing of foxhounds that’s gone ahead but I’d be very happy to look at that and write to the Member and put a copy in the Library.”