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News Article | December 19, 2016
Site: www.theguardian.com

More than 10,000 badgers have been killed this autumn in a cull supposedly to combat the disease of bovine TB in cattle. This was the fourth year of culling badgers but, in truth, we have been slaughtering our largest wild carnivore for decades. We have to ask one question: why has this bloody killing gone on for so long? I use the b-word more as an adjective than an intensifier, since the blood of the innocents continues to be spilt. Scientists dislike value judgments such as “innocent” and “guilty”. But even if the badger was “guilty” of spreading bovine TB to cattle, it would be an innocent victim of man’s arrogance and blind stupidity. More than 30 years ago, while working for the World Wildlife Fund, I was asked to write a book about badgers and bovine TB. The Fate of the Badger was published in 1986. I never thought the controversy over controlling the bovine TB in cattle by killing a protected wild animal would become such a tortuous saga. Astonishingly, in the three decades since then, nothing much has changed. Thirty years ago we aimed to fight the official slaughter of a protected species through government-led badger culls by science not emotion. Then we met politics. For three years I was an adviser to the government – a depressing experience. I had a mole in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (now Defra). He told me that the decision to cull badgers was taken at No 10. My staunchest ally at that time was the great Phil Drabble, the countryman and presenter of One Man and His Dog. He would phone me with a stream of unprintable invective against the department. Apart from being a TV celebrity, he wrote for The Field magazine and had a direct line of communication with our opponents. Where is his equivalent today? Politicians rise because they are clever, but few are blessed with a scientific mind. The myth of badger culpability for bovine TB in cattle is rooted in poor science – and economics. First, the science. This year, I wrote an updated edition of The Fate of the Badger. I concluded by remarking on the size of the Mycobacterium bovis bacillum – the cause of bovine TB. At 3-4 microns, many thousands could fit on this full stop. Even at 300,000 bacilli per millilitre, it has been estimated that a cow would need to drink three millilitres of badger urine to obtain an infective dose. Thus the size of a badger is irrelevant and many other scapegoats wait in the wings – deer, dogs, cats, pigs, sheep and alpacas all also carry bovine TB. What is not irrelevant is the mode of transmission or locus of infection: is an animal suffering pulmonary (located in the lungs and caused by inhalation of the bacilli) or extra-pulmonary (elsewhere in the body) TB? Cows tend to get the former. It has been known since the 1980s that “kissing cows” – nuzzling each other over fences – are the principal route of transmission, so why this fixation on badgers? Extra-pulmonary TB occasionally affects badgers and is caused by bite wounds affecting the neck. It is much less infectious than pulmonary TB. Second, the economics. The economic rationale for culling badgers is bound up with the question: who controls the countryside? Just 36,000 individuals own half of rural land in England and Wales. These big landowners are members of the Country Land and Business Association and the National Farmers Union (NFU). And Defra and the NFU are bosom buddies: next door neighbours in Smith Square, London. Modern farming is a business and there is little space for sentiment in business. The NFU is inordinately powerful, yet most farmers are pretty ignorant about life beyond the farm gate. Most have no conception of epidemiology or biological processes yet, as a force, they are loud and intimidatory, even behind the collars and ties of the NFU. But if farmers were better businessmen, they’d rumble the NFU propaganda they’ve been fed for so long and direct their ire at the politicians, not a defenceless, harmless wild animal that just happens to be big and noticeable. The bloody killing continues because of politics. The badger cull is an intellectual heirloom. So much has been invested in a catastrophic fallacy borne of political expediency that there is no way for the government now to save face: no hiding place despite all its exit strategies. Continuing to cull badgers to demonstrate their commitment to tackling bovine TB, ministers cannot – dare not – admit that original fatal error. As Albert Einstein remarked: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” The trouble is, as Robin Day noted during the Falklands war, politicians are “here today, gone tomorrow”. Cows continue to die of bovine TB and innocent badgers continued to be killed because politicians are the ultimate short-term animal.


Dang Y.P.,University of Queensland | Seymour N.P.,Food and Fisheries | Walker S.R.,University of Queensland | Bell M.J.,University of Queensland | Freebairn D.M.,RPS Australia Asia Pacific
Soil and Tillage Research | Year: 2015

Development of no-tillage (NT) farming has revolutionized agricultural systems by allowing growers to manage greater areas of land with reduced energy, labour and machinery inputs to control erosion, improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emission. However, NT farming systems have resulted in a build-up of herbicide-resistant weeds, an increased incidence of soil- and stubble-borne diseases and enrichment of nutrients and carbon near the soil surface. Consequently, there is an increased interest in the use of an occasional tillage (termed strategic tillage, ST) to address such emerging constraints in otherwise-NT farming systems. Decisions around ST uses will depend upon the specific issues present on the individual field or farm, and profitability and effectiveness of available options for management. This paper explores some of the issues with the implementation of ST in NT farming systems. The impact of contrasting soil properties, the timing of the tillage and the prevailing climate exert a strong influence on the success of ST. Decisions around timing of tillage are very complex and depend on the interactions between soil water content and the purpose for which the ST is intended. The soil needs to be at the right water content before executing any tillage, while the objective of the ST will influence the frequency and type of tillage implement used. The use of ST in long-term NT systems will depend on factors associated with system costs and profitability, soil health and environmental impacts. For many farmers maintaining farm profitability is a priority, so economic considerations are likely to be a primary factor dictating adoption. However, impacts on soil health and environment, especially the risk of erosion and the loss of soil carbon, will also influence a grower's choice to adopt ST, as will the impact on soil moisture reserves in rainfed cropping systems. © 2015 Elsevier B.V.


Dang Y.P.,University of Queensland | Moody P.W.,Information Technology | Bell M.J.,University of Queensland | Seymour N.P.,Food and Fisheries | And 3 more authors.
Soil and Tillage Research | Year: 2015

In semi-arid sub-tropical areas, a number of studies concerning no-till (NT) farming systems have demonstrated advantages in economic, environmental and soil quality aspects over conventional tillage (CT). However, adoption of continuous NT has contributed to the build-up of herbicide resistant weed populations, increased incidence of soil- and stubble-borne diseases, and stratification of nutrients and organic carbon near the soil surface. Some farmers often resort to an occasional strategic tillage (ST) to manage these problems of NT systems. However, farmers who practice strict NT systems are concerned that even one-time tillage may undo positive soil condition benefits of NT farming systems. We reviewed the pros and cons of the use of occasional ST in NT farming systems. Impacts of occasional ST on agronomy, soil and environment are site-specific and depend on many interacting soil, climatic and management conditions. Most studies conducted in North America and Europe suggest that introducing occasional ST in continuous NT farming systems could improve productivity and profitability in the short term; however in the long-term, the impact is negligible or may be negative. The short term impacts immediately following occasional ST on soil and environment include reduced protective cover, soil loss by erosion, increased runoff, loss of C and water, and reduced microbial activity with little or no detrimental impact in the long-term. A potential negative effect immediately following ST would be reduced plant available water which may result in unreliability of crop sowing in variable seasons. The occurrence of rainfall between the ST and sowing or immediately after the sowing is necessary to replenish soil water lost from the seed zone. Timing of ST is likely to be critical and must be balanced with optimising soil water prior to seeding. The impact of occasional ST varies with the tillage implement used; for example, inversion tillage using mouldboard tillage results in greater impacts as compared to chisel or disc. Opportunities for future research on occasional ST with the most commonly used implements such as tine and/or disc in Australia's northern grains-growing region are presented in the context of agronomy, soil and the environment. © 2014.

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