THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has ruled out controlling the spread of bovine TB through a targeted cull in areas where the disease is endemic.
A spokesperson confirmed the Welsh Government’s position ahead of the publication of a significant review of its TB eradication strategy.
The review, led by Professor Glyn Hewinson of Aberystwyth University, is likely to focus on cattle vaccination and the use of improved tests for TB bacteria in cattle.
False positives for BTB can only be detected after death by a post-mortem.
BOVINE TB DEVASTATES PEMBROKESHIRE FARMS
The persistence of the BTB bacteria in the soil and in the protected wild mammal population, particularly badgers, creates a perfect storm for farmers in our county.
The area around the shared borders of North Pembrokeshire, the Teifi Valley, and North West Carmarthen is a long-standing hotspot for the disease.
Farmers in that area have suffered disproportionate and repeated losses throughout the Welsh Government’s different approaches to eradicating BTB.
When the disease is detected in a herd, it is standard practice for all of it to be slaughtered. Although farmers are partly compensated for their loss, the loss of their stock leaves farmers with long-term problems for their business’s recovery.Herds’ loss and slaughter are linked closely to mental health problems among farmers and farming families. The cost of BTB is much greater than balancing profit and loss.
CURRENT PROGRAMME ISN’T WORKING
Local MS Sam Kurtz, who comes from a farming family, told The Herald: “Since the 1970s, bovine TB has been a dark cloud hanging over our agricultural industry
“While it may not have had the impact on the public’s psyche as the Foot and Mouth crisis had in the early 2000s, bovine TB has been a long and heavy burden on Welsh farmers, with over 20,000 cattle killed in the last 2 years.
“What the Welsh Government have in terms of a policy is the repetition of an outdated and inaccurate testing regime followed by stringent and debilitating restrictions on farmers.
“It is clear, from the latest data showing new bovine TB cases in Wales have risen by 3%, that the Welsh Government’s current eradication programme is simply not working.
“Throughout the pandemic, our farmers have worked 24/7 to keep food on our tables, despite being laboured with the stresses and concerns of routine TB testing.
“The industry is now desperate for some urgency and a change in strategy.
“A new testing regime, Enferplex, delivers superior accuracy than the current test.
“While it is being undertaken in small pockets of Wales, a dedicated pilot scheme of this new test to collect hard data must be a priority for this Welsh Government.”
The Enferplex Bovine TB antibody test identifies the presence of bovine tuberculosis. Used in conjunction with existing tests, it is far more accurate than current tests in validating positive diagnoses.
EFFECTIVE PROGRAMME MUST TACKLE ALL ASPECTS OF DISEASE
The FUW believes that any future changes to the bTB eradication programme should closely follow the science to develop an effective eradication programme covering all aspects of the disease in Wales.
An FUW spokesperson told us: “Bovine TB continues to suffocate businesses in the high and intermediate areas of infection in Wales and continues to have a significant detrimental effect on the mental health and well-being of our farmers and their families.
“September’s Quarterly Publication of National Statistics on the incidence and prevalence of tuberculosis in Cattle in Great Britain shows variable results, with no year-on-year change in the number of herds that are not TB free in the High West Area of Wales, and a 26% rise in the number of herds not TB free in the Intermediate North Area.
“Such results continue to devastate businesses that have made massive sacrifices
to comply with the Welsh Government’s costly and burdensome bovine TB eradication programme.
“The FUW welcomes further research on this devastating disease as part of a science led and pragmatic approach to TB control in Wales. We look forward to the publication of the next TB review and will be discussing the findings of the review at all relevant political and policy levels.”
NFU CYMRU: WELCOME REVIEW BUT URGE OPEN MIND ON CULL
NFU Cymru County Adviser for Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, Peter Howells, said: “It is concerning to see the latest bovine TB statistics published by Defra that show a rise in bovine TB incidents and the loss of 10,775 animals in Wales to this dreadful disease in the year ending June 21. This once again highlights that bovine TB continues to wreak havoc on the cattle industry in Wales.
“In October 2017, we saw the Welsh Government introduce a regionalised approach to tackling the disease in Wales.
NFU Cymru is supportive of an approach that allows for the appropriate measures to be introduced depending on the circumstances.
In Low TB areas of Wales, we must do all we can to keep the disease out. In areas of the country, such as South West Wales, where the evidence suggests that both cattle and badgers suffer from this disease, we believe that the disease will only be brought under control through a comprehensive package of measures that tackles the infection in both populations.
“We continue to urge Welsh Government to take note of the evidence published from England. A peer-reviewed scientific report examining the effectiveness of badger culling in reducing outbreaks of TB in cattle has shown positive results in England.
“The Defra-commissioned report revealed an average reduction in the incidence of bovine TB of at least 40% in areas of England that have completed at least four years of culling.
“Just across the border in Gloucestershire, the report has shown a 66% decline in new TB breakdowns.
“NFU Cymru continues to use every opportunity to raise with the Minister for Rural Affairs our concerns for the emotional and financial impact this disease causes to farming families. Earlier this summer, we wrote directly to the First Minister on this matter.
“We are aware that the Minister has said she will make a statement on the TB programme later this autumn and that Professor Hewinson is currently carrying out an internal review of the programme. We are pleased that the Minister has asked someone of Professor Hewinson’s experience and expertise to carry out the review and we await with interest the publication of the review.”
WG: EVIDENCE OF CULL’S EFFECTIVENESS INCONCLUSIVE
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “TB in cattle is a huge challenge for all concerned and distressing for farmers who have to deal with it in their herds. Part of the solution to the problem is people’s willingness to work together, both in Government and the industry.
“The Wales TB Eradication programme is built on co-operation, with three regional eradication boards working at a local level to ensure policies are developed collaboratively and communicated effectively.
“We have outlined in our Programme for Government we will not permit the culling of badgers as part of measures to deal with bovine TB.
“Recent scientific studies did not provide conclusive evidence that culling badgers alone would reduce incidence levels in cattle herds.
“It has been proven that more infection is transmitted within species than between species, which suggests that controlling transmission among cattle is a priority in the strategy for eliminating TB.
“When the Intensive Action Area (IAA) was established in 2010 with additional measures introduced into the High West TB area, 27.1% of herds were restricted due to TB control. At the end of June 2021, 14.5% of herds were restricted, constituting a decrease in herd prevalence between then and now of 46%.
“We are committed to undertaking a review of the current TB eradication programme, and we will announce a refreshed approach later this year.
“All aspects of the programme will be considered, and we will undertake a consultation in the Autumn to inform future policy.”
VACCINATION AND THE FUTURE
The irony is that a largely effective vaccine already exists.
The BCG vaccination given to humans is 70% effective when used to immunise cattle. The vaccine uses the TB bacteria to provoke an immune response. Once it’s used, however, tests cannot detect the difference between cattle successfully inoculated and infected cattle.
Therefore, vaccinating cows with BCG is banned in most countries, enabling vets to continue to use the PPD skin test to diagnose the disease in cattle.
Scientists at the University of Surrey believe they could have a solution to that problem.
By manipulating the disease’s genetic make-up, the scientists created a BCG-minus strain. They then developed a new synthetic skin test that, like existing tests, will be positive for animals that have been exposed to TB. Unlike those tests, however, the new test will show a negative result for animals that have been vaccinated with the BCG-minus strain.
Johnjoe McFadden, Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Surrey, said: “To control the spread of bovine TB, effective vaccination and accurate early diagnosis of the disease are critical. This new vaccine provides protection against bovine TB. It will help fight against this deadly disease that infects over 50 million cattle worldwide and is economically devastating to farmers.
“The next stage of our work will be to demonstrate that both synthetic skin test and BCG-minus vaccine works in cattle herds. If they do, then it will be possible to vaccinate cattle against TB yet retain the value of skin test for diagnosis.”
Carmarthenshire farmer admits causing slurry pollution
A CARMARTHENSHIRE farmer has admitted failing to comply with an order to improve his slurry storage and causing slurry pollution in two nearby rivers during a hearing at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court.
Noel Richards, a farmer responsible for the running of Coedmoelon and Rhydolau farms, pleaded guilty to all three offences at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court on Friday, April 22.
He was ordered to pay £2,153 in fines, a further £2,344 in court costs and a victim surcharge of £190.
Matthew Lowe, Environment Team Leader, of Natural Resource Wales, said: “Mr Richards self-reported one of the slurry incidents to NRW, which was the most appropriate and responsible thing to do to minimise the impact of the pollution on our land and waterways.
“However I must stress that both incidents could have been prevented had Mr Richards taken the required steps to adhere to regulations around the safe storage of slurry.
“We work closely and positively with farmers to help them comply with regulations and minimise the risks of causing agricultural pollution. Where farmers ignore our requests and put people, nature and our natural resources at risk, we will prosecute.”
In February 2018 Mr Richards was issued with a notice to carry out required compliance works to a slurry lagoon at Coed Moelon Farm to ensure it adheres to the required standards of the Water Resources (Control of Pollution) (Silage and Slurry) (Wales) Regulations 2010.
The notice has not been complied with to date.
On 22 September 2020, NRW received a report of slurry pollution in the stream running into the Afon Dulais.
An Environment Officer attended the site and witnessed the stream discoloured along with an agricultural odour. The officer traced the pollution back to a dirty water tank at Rhydolau Farm.
Mr Richards was cooperative and the pollution was contained as soon as the source was identified.
On 3 December 2020, NRW received a call from Mr Richards self-reporting a pollution incident where slurry had entered a tributary of the Afon Gwendraeth Fawr.
Mr Richards explained that they had spread slurry the week before, but the recent rainfall had washed the slurry into the watercourse. An Environment Officer attended the site and found the stream discoloured with large amounts of foam.
The officer traced the pollution back to a field belonging to Coed Moelon Farm that had been spread with slurry.
Matthew Lowe added: “I urge farmers and contractors to be vigilant to help prevent polluting our waterways. Carry out regular checks on slurry levels and storage infrastructure. Only spread slurry when conditions are right, for example, not spreading at times when rain is forecast over the next 24 hours, when the ground is saturated or when the ground is frozen hard.
“We recognise that sometimes things do go wrong, but we urge farmers or contractors who know they have caused pollution, to report it to NRW immediately by calling 0300 065 3000. The sooner we know about it, the sooner we can work with them to try and reduce the impact on the environment.”
To report a pollution incident call NRW’s 24-hour incident hotline on 0300 065 3000.
Farmers urged to rethink hedge trimming policies to benefit nature and livestock
WELSH farmers have been assured that measures that protect and increase biodiversity on their farms can be easily integrated and have benefits for their livestock.
Farms already have valuable assets in their hedges and trees. By trimming hedges less often and less severely, and planting trees in the right place, habitat for wildlife will not only be improved, but will also provide shelter and shade for cattle and sheep, says Geraint Jones, Technical Forestry Officer at Farming Connect.
“There are many changes that can be accommodated on your farms that will work for the benefit of your businesses,’’ he told farmers listening in to a recent Farming Connect biodiversity webinar.
“Farmers need to decide what the real advantages and disadvantages of different measures are, from an environmental and economic perspective, and implement a programme of work to achieve those objectives.’’
This won’t mean wholescale changes in how land is farmed in Wales, Mr Jones suggested. However, adopting techniques and options that enable agricultural practices to work hand in hand with nature will contribute to improving the environmental and economic performance of the farm business, he added.
“Allowing hedgerows and shelterbelts to increase in volume will improve structure, and could help towards a suggested target of a 10% biodiversity net gain,’’ said Mr Jones.
He urged farmers to “have that conversation’’ with their hedge-trimming contractors.
“There is often no conversation between farmers and their hedge-cutting contractors, and the farmers are happy to let the contractors take the lead on a cutting regime that is replicated year to year.
“However in future, with clear emphasis on improving biodiversity, they need to identify objectives, plan the change and relay that in a conversation with their contractors.’’
The webinar saw examples of what benefits could be gained, in a series of images from three Farming Connect demonstration sites. The majority of hedgerows surveyed were wide, tall and provided excellent wildlife habitat, as well as shelter for livestock during inclement weather, and shade in hot temperatures.
The farms are commercial dairy or beef and sheep farms, with mostly agriculturally improved grassland and arable land. However, each farm has several features that are havens for wildlife, including woodlands, watercourses and extensive networks of hedges.
Farming Connect had commissioned the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, Cymru (FWAG Cymru) to carry out environmental audits on all three farms – Graig Olway at Usk, Mountjoy near Haverfordwest, and Pentre near Ruthin.
FWAG Cymru’s director Glenda Thomas, a speaker at the webinar, said a feature on all three were wide hedges, which were “really impressive habitats’’, with songbirds, butterflies, bees and a host of other insects and flowering plants within and alongside them.
“Other excellent habitats on all three farms were a variety of broadleaved woodlands ranging in size from tiny copses to substantial areas, the largest over 3.5 hectares in size,’’ she said.
Water features, including major rivers, streams, ditches and ponds, were prominent on each farm. These had an abundance of aquatic life, with a variety of flowering plants and trees also growing along the banks.
At Pentre, implementing a system of rotational grazing through its work as a demonstration site had resulted in an unexpected benefit to hedges.
“Now that the fields are sub-divided into paddocks and the sheep are not in entire fields for longer periods, the hedges are having a chance to grow,’’ said Dr Thomas.
Sheep and cattle, she said, were both excellent management tools for some habitats, with a noticeable difference in the hedge densities nearer ground level when cattle only grazed the land.
“Cattle are much appreciated in terms of habitat management, with their grazing method valuable in the control of coarser vegetation, so allowing more delicate plants to thrive,’’ she said.
Hedges alongside the fields used to grow arable and fodder crops also flourished on the farms surveyed, and flora thrived within the hedge banks, due to the absence of grazing pressure during the growing season.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales, and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
New lambs at high risk of dog attacks over Easter holiday
FROM its claims figures, NFU Mutual estimates that across the UK farm animals worth £1.52m were killed or injured by out-of-control dogs in 2021.
The leading rural insurer is worried that grown-up ‘pandemic puppies’ could cause even greater carnage this Easter if let off-lead in the countryside. Research conducted by NFU Mutual shows 73% of dog owners (up from 64% last year) now allow their pets to roam off-lead in the countryside – despite 49% admitting their dog doesn’t always come back when called.
Rebecca Davidson, Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “With Easter falling late this year, most lambs have been born and are highly vulnerable to dog attacks – so we’re asking owners to keep their pets on the lead whenever livestock could be nearby.
“With many people planning an Easter trip to the countryside with dogs which aren’t used to being around sheep, we’re worried there could be a surge in attacks.
“As the weather improves for the Bank Holiday, we understand people want to make the most of the countryside, however it’s crucial that this is done responsibly. While harmless at home, gentle family pets can quickly turn to their natural instincts out in the fields, leaving a trail of horrific injuries to sheep and new-born lambs.
“Owners need to be aware that it’s not just large dogs that attack sheep – even small dogs can cause deaths by chasing sheep round fields until they die from stress, or separate new-born lambs from their mothers.”
NFU Mutual Easter countryside dog walking advice:
- Always keep dogs on the lead when walking in rural areas where livestock are kept – but let go of the lead if chased by cattle
- Recognise that even small dogs can cause the distress, injury and death of farm animals
- Report attacks by dogs to the police or local farmers
- Don’t let dogs loose unsupervised in gardens near livestock fields – many attacks are caused by dogs that escape and attack sheep grazing nearby
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