When they talk about Thornbury ..


This is what you should know.

In the fierce propaganda war against badgers being currently fought by the Farming Unions, there has been a recent unearthing of an old argument used to justify the killing of badgers, based on an infamous scheme at Thornbury, in which badgers were almost wiped out by repeated gassing. But the facts have been manipulated to imply evidence that never existed.

It’s a horrible and shameful story. Reading it makes me feel bottomlessly sad.

Here are the true facts.

This piece of circumstantial ‘evidence’ that badger killing might be a solution to the farmers TB problem in cattle was one of the reasons that the Krebs committee recommended the RBCT experiment, in which an attempt would be made to use a proper scientific method with control groups.

The Thornbury cull had no such control, and cannot realistically be cited as a scientific ‘experiment’. It was conducted in a very un-typical area, surrounded by natural barriers to badgers, so the effect of perturbation, if such effects there be, would not be seen.

Of course, in the cull being proposed by Caroline Spelman no such barriers exist, and all farms adjacent to proposed culling areas must be considered to be at an increased risk.

Shortly after the Thornbury massacre of badgers, which took repeated cyanide gassings over 5-6 years, government officials witnessed the appalling suffering endured by the animals in a laboratory where poison gas was administered, and instantly, in 1981, banned this cruelty, as contrary to the Bern convention. The ban on gassing has been supported by all successive governments, even the current one.

It’s worth noting that even if the Thornbury scheme could be implemented on a nationwide basis, it would take years and huge amounts of money, and would involve poison being released all over our countryside. And of course the natural barriers would not be there, so perturbation would become a serious issue. And in the end, it’s more than possible that the reduction in incidence of bTB in Thornbury was not due to the killing of the badgers at all.

Michael Sharratt, a top expert on badgers, who has been working in the field since before many of us were born, tells the story as an eye-witness:

“They always come up with this one, but this is what actually happened. The area near Thornbury was very bad for Bovine TB in cattle and eventually they went in and did many TB tests and removed many cattle and down came the incidence of bTB. After they had done that they then blamed the badgers and gassed them. The Farming Unions tend to conveniently forget that what worked in that area was the removal of infected cattle – not the killing of the badgers. The large removal of infected cattle in the Thornbury area was similar to the National TB programme from the 1930s – 1970s when bTB in cattle came down dramatically – 40% – to less than 1%, with no badger cull. The only difference was that they tried to blame the badgers – which they did not in the 1930s – 1970s programme.

It is also interesting to quote the ISG (Bovine TB: The scientific evidence 1.4/1.5/1.6 p28/29). Chairman Prof Bourne said:

1.4: A particular and frequently quoted episode of this era was a clearance programme wherein setts were intensively and repeatedly gassed over an area of some 100 km near Thornbury.

1.6: The report (Dunnet et al, 1986) concluded that ‘there was not sufficient evidence to say that gassing had had any discernible effect in reducing TB breakdowns’. It observed that a significant drop in incidence that was apparent in the South West just after the gassing programme had commenced (and was attributed by many to be an effect of that programme) had also occurred nationally, and had coincided with restrictions on cattle imports from Ireland, along with a change in the tuberculin test which would result in fewer false positives. (A similar fall in incidence was also recorded in Northern Ireland, where no badger culling took place).

The Farming Unions always fail to let the public know of these facts.”

That’s the end of what Michael Sharratt had to say. It’s quite incredible how the pro-cull movement can maniplulate facts like this, perhaps in the hope that no-one will notice.

As a PS, I half-jokingly asked Michael for his qualifications. He says …

“I think I may be an authority. I have an MSc degree in Environment Conservation and Management. I have studied Bovine TB in depth for about 30 years. In the Krebs Trial after 1998 I was used as an expert witness by the Defence in a court case which challenged the government (MAFF) on its right to cull badgers without a licence. I caught TB myself (possibly bovine TB) when I was 3 years of age, from drinking unpasteurised dairy milk – not from badgers. I have looked after badgers in a sanctuary for about 20 years, and never yet seen one with bovine TB.”