Some of Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust’s 27 ponies at Beachy Head working hard in the spring sunshine, removing tussocky grass and so allowing the anthills and flowers to thrive.
Controversy has just hit the tv screens of Sussex after the the BBC SEToday article concerning the culling of deer on the Ashdown Forest…
After having hunted lynx and the wolf to extinction, the fact is, that Man is now the top predator. I have some knowledge of this subject… On a large area of land neighbouring Ashdown Forest, in which I was involved in the course of my work, culling commenced some five years ago. The removal of selected deer including old and injured animals by experienced stalkers, has led to the remaining deer population now being in a healthier condition with them having more to eat. A second bonus has been that the woodland and flora are now starting to recover from decades of over-grazing – I have witnessed that with my own eyes.
Thirdly, this has locally reduced the numbers of deer involved in road traffic accidents. This came close to me several years ago when my wife narrowly escaped serious injury from involvement with a deer – within an urban 30mph speed limit area. This collision wrote-off her car.
As badger culls begin, could one pioneering vet’s bovine TB test end the slaughter?
Patrick Barkham. The Observer. Sun 15 Oct 2017.
Research at a secret location in Devon may help eradicate bovine tuberculosis without a single badger being killed, says leading vet
A pretty stone farmhouse sits in a bucolic green valley, surrounded by airy cowsheds. It looks like a timeless West Country scene but is actually a pioneering farm, where cutting-edge science is helping to solve the hugely controversial, multimillion-pound problem of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
As an expanded badger cull gets under way this autumn, in which 33,500 animals will be killed to help stop the spread of the disease, a leading vet, Dick Sibley, believes this Devon farm demonstrates a way to eradicate the disease in cattle – without slaughtering any badgers.
Sibley’s trial, at a secret location, was halted earlier this year when two new tests to better identify bTB in cattle were deemed illegal. But government regulators have now given the vet permission to continue. His work is backed by rock star-turned-activist Brian May, whose Save Me Trust last week began a four-year programme of vaccinating badgers at the farm against bTB.
The family that owns the farm, which has 300 milking cows, turned to Sibley in despair after being virtually shut down with bTB for five years. Because of the disease, their cattle cannot be sold on the open market.
“We had nothing to lose,” said the fourth-generation farmer, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of interference from extremists on both sides of the argument. “We want to get rid of TB, it’s costing us a lot. Any technology would be better than the old bTB test.”
Despite four years of badger culling, bTB continues to rise in England, and 30,980 cows were slaughtered in the year up to June in attempts to control it, an increase of 4%. Farmers, as well as wildlife campaigners, are increasingly critical of the cattle test for bTB, which misses many cases, leaving undiagnosed cows to spread the disease within herds. In 2015, 16% of English bTB “breakdowns” were only detected in abattoirs, after supposedly healthy cows had been slaughtered.
Sibley is pioneering two new tests. The phage test, developed by microbiologist Cath Rees of Nottingham University, uses a bTB-invading virus to “hunt” for the live bacterium. It is detecting bTB in cows on the Devon farm months before they test positive with the traditional “skin test”: 85 cows have tested positive with the phage test despite all being found disease-free by the conventional test.
Farmers then need to know if infected cows are infectious. For this, Sibley uses a second test, qPCR, developed by Liz Wellington, life sciences professor at Warwick University. It detects bTB in dung, showing if a cow is “shedding” – spreading – the disease. If it is, the cow is slaughtered even though the conventional test suggests it is healthy.
Both professors have given Sibley free use of their new technologies, and the tests have shown that supposedly healthy cows are the “hidden reservoir” of bTB on the farm. But Sibley said what farms need as well as better testing is better risk management and more resilient cows. “I’ve never cured a cow with a test,” he said.
The farm is an intensive dairy operation that keeps its cattle indoors once they are fully grown and milks them robotically – some cows produce 15,000 litres of milk each year. “If you don’t give that cow everything she needs, and keep the disease away from her, she will crash and burn,” said Sibley. “It’s just like athletes: if there’s a bit of E coli in the Olympic village, they all go down.”
TB – in cows as well as humans – is traditionally a disease of bad living conditions, so the farm’s barns are airy. There are fewer cows in each barn compared with a typical dairy farm, walkways are cleaned three times a day, and regularly changed drinking water is held in “tipping troughs” that are kept scrubbed clean. Dung falling into troughs is likely to be a key transmitter of the disease.
After studying each cow’s history, Sibley believes mothers often spread the disease to their calves at birth. The farm is combatting this by building a new maternity unit with rubber floors that will be disinfected after every delivery. Colostrum – the crucial first milk that boosts a calf’s immune system – is harvested from each mother but pasteurised before it is fed to each calf, so it won’t spread disease.
Leading vet Dick Sibley is trialling new testing methods for bTB that will detect the disease much earlier in cattle. Photograph: Jim Wileman for the Observer
After being “shut down” for five years, the farm had its first clear test last year. It hopes to be clear of all restrictions within 12 months. But Sibley says that removing the disease from cows without tackling diseased badgers is like “crossing the road and only looking one way”.
Farm CCTV reveals that no badgers come close to the cattle sheds, but Wellington’s qPCR technology tested badger latrines and found local badgers were shedding the disease: 30% of 273 faecal samples contained the bacterium. Young grazing cows are potentially exposed to the disease.
“We have to accept that the badgers are a risk,” said Sibley. “We either kill them, fence them out or, more constructively, vaccinate them to reduce the risk of infection in the environment.”
May’s ‘Save Me Trust’ is funding badger vaccination around the farm. The Queen guitarist became a hate-figure for some farmers when he suggested that if bTB was such a problem they should stop rearing cattle. But he has been working behind the scenes for several years to support farmers.
“I’m very, very hopeful that Dick Sibley has the answer,” said May. “I hope it works out, not just for this farm but for the whole of Britain. That would take away this awful polarisation between farmers and the public and animal welfare groups.”
A global shortage of BCG vaccine stopped May vaccinating badgers last year and he points out that the farm has virtually banished the disease without touching a single badger. “If badgers are running around with bTB and the herd has been cleaned up with advanced testing, that really makes you wonder whether badgers are contributing to the disease,” said May.
While some epidemiologists have privately expressed frustration that the government has not yet adopted new cattle-testing technologies, Sibley said the regulators move slowly. “The authorities must have rock-solid evidence in case they end up in court. I predict that in five years time phage and qPCR will be in the toolbox for farmers.”
Other bTB-hit farms are interested in Sibley’s approach and May’s charity has pledged to help meet veterinary costs. In Wales, farms with chronic bTB are receiving special support from the Welsh government and could be among the first to adopt the new techniques. Christianne Glossop, Wales’ chief vet, said: “I have known Dick for many years and have great respect for his work. I am also well aware of his current trials and will be keeping a close eye on the results of his pilot in Devon exploring innovative new testing methods.”
The Devon farmer admits he has been surprised by his success. “This test is showing the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m excited that it could help us get clear of the disease and help other farmers in the future.”
THE CULLING DEBATE.
A zoonotic disease – one that can jump from animals to humans – bovine tuberculosis (bTB) caused thousands of human deaths until the pasteurisation of milk began in the 1920s. It was then almost eradicated from British cows with the widespread slaughter of herds in the 1950s.
However, in 1971 it was discovered that cows had passed the disease to badgers after a dead badger was found on a farm in Gloucestershire. The find led to five decades of debate and scientific uncertainty, and it is still not known what proportion – if any – of cattle TB cases are caused by badgers. The scientific consensus is that cows and badgers pass the disease between them but the precise method of transmission is also not known. Epidemiologists believe it is most likely via animal faeces.
Cattle TB has risen steadily since the 1980s and cost £500m in compensation to farmers in the decade up to 2013. That year, badger culling began in two “zones” in Gloucestershire and Somerset. It has since expanded to 21 zones in England. Ireland, the only other country with a bTB problem, also culls badgers.
Pro-cull farmers argue that reducing badger numbers will reduce bTB in the environment. No data has been published on the impact of four years of badger culling on cattle TB, but many scientists question the cull’s effectiveness.
A lot of people are aware of the impact a meat-based diet has on water, land and habitats, and the implications of its associated greenhouse gas emissions. But few know the largest impact comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat. Go to the above WWF link and take a look!
Tuesday, November 7. In the morning, one of the largest container ships in the world passed down Channel off the Sussex coast. She was enroute to Southampton on her outbound voyage from Europe after sailing from China via Sri Lanka while on her first round voyage. The Milan Maersk is one of the largest vessels of her type in the world with a capacity for 20,568 containers – that’s nearly 400 containers more than the previous largest. In 2016 the largest container vessel calling in Southampton had a capacity for 16,000 containers.
The megaship belongs to the second generation of Maersk Line’s Triple-E class (Economy of scale, Energy efficient and Environmentally improved) and is part of a series of eleven container ships, which will be delivered by the end of 2018. Milan Maersk’s propulsion and software system creates energy savings which aims to reduce carbon emissions per container vessel by 35 percent. This new generation of more efficient and environmentally friendly container ship joins LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) and solar powered RoRo vessels already visiting the port of Southampton. For more technical information see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maersk_Triple_E-class_container_ship ).
Thursday, November 9. With thick grey cloud overhead at daybreak, there was a clear, fabulously-coloured sky out at sea towards the south-east, creating brilliant blue skies with a golden sun surrounded by bright vermilion skies, casting bronze hues on the autumn-tinted trees near my house.
Saturday, Oct 7th. During a grey, damp morning, I saw two groups of brent geese numbering perhaps 150 birds passing Hastings, battling head-on into the the strong westerly wind and presumably on passage from perhaps Siberia to spend the winter at somewhere like Langstone Harbour further along the coast.
Sunday, Oct 15th. We went walking up on to Seaford Head and in the vicinity of ‘Puck’ Church’ were rewarded for in excess of 10 minutes by a peregrine jousting with a raven above the cliffs. A sheer speed that the peregrine came in at for some of its attacks!
Monday, Oct 16th. Very mild today! Late afternoon today, daylight became quite weak and semi-darkness descended to be followed at dusk by a strange light – a kind of dirty orange light in the SW sky. All due to the passing of tropical Storm Ophelia (producing near hurricane force winds) over Ireland, it also carrying north much dust from the Sahara and smoke particles from wild fires in northern Portugal.
Saturday, Oct 21st. A gale (Storm Briane) and a spring tide produced some huge waves along the beach at Seaford, with the strandline out in the road in places. Newhaven breakwater also took a pounding as can be seen in the following Facebook pic by Fergus Kennedy.
Tuesday, Oct 31. Two large (each some 1,200 gross tons) Dutch-based(?) but British flagged trawlers, have been working some 10 miles off the coast from Hastings all day. Not what the Hastings beach-based fleet wants to see?
Sunday, Sept 18. I walked with a friend to Bishopstone Tidemills where there is much evidence of the archaeological dig being carried out to unearth the remains of the now ‘lost’ village. I found the evidence of William Catt’s huge greenhouse intriguing with what I assume are heating pipes beneath the structure?
I was also made aware of local opposition to the proposed expansion of Newhaven Port on to land designated several decades ago as ‘the port development area’ which will see most of the East Pier demolished to make way for an increased deep-water channel and the construction of a new 300 metre long quay and an adjacent ‘lay-down’ or working area. The main thrust behind all this is to establish a base from which to service E-ON’s Rampion Offshore Wind Farm currently under construction off Brighton. I am all for green energy and this development would make the appearance of the port look like a working port again, rather than the semi-derelict one Newhaven appears to travellers entering the port at the moment. The new quay would also attract larger cargo ships and cargoes.
I have since spent some hours reading through a number of documents freely available at http://padocs.lewes.gov.uk/AniteIM.WebSearch/Results.aspx The downsides of this development are in my view from three directions. 1) There would be the commercial activity and associated sounds creeping even closer to the already compromised solace that people derive from visiting the tranquillity of the Tidemills site. 2) The loss of several hectares of the East Beach with much of it an expanse of vegetated shingle – a threatened habitat nowadays in our busy world and, the loss of an extensive areas of sand at low water. 3) The construction of a large and by what appears to be a fairly high road bridge traversing both the railway line to Seaford and the Mill Creek. I believe these three issues are cause of quite some concern but sadly, they are not sufficiently significant to stop or amend this development – especially with this Tory governments obsession with development over nearly everything else.
I do feel though that as a further mitigation the owners of the port, the French-owned Newhaven Port & Properties Ltd, could at no additional cost extend eastwards the proposed local nature reserve for Tidemills, to include the large triangle of vegetated shingle stretching towards Seaford (part of the former millpond) and the grassed floodbank (the Cinder Path), unless they have ‘plans’ for this too? I have forwarded this impassioned proposal to both Mr. Francois Jean of Newhaven Port & Properties Ltd. and to Nazeya Hussain of Lewes District Council.
Great news! I see the Rampion Field offshore from Brighton is progressing – from Brighton Clock Tower looking down West Street, a rig and towers visible on horizon and full extent surprised me recently as it came into view whilst driving along A259 from Eastbourne.
Offshore wind power cheaper than new nuclear. [ABRIDGED]
By Roger Harrabin,BBC environment analyst. September 11 2017.
Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm, Liverpool. copyright GETTY IMAGES
Energy from offshore wind in the UK will be cheaper than electricity from new nuclear power for the first time. The development, revealed in figures from the government, has been seen as a milestone in the advance of renewable energy.
The plummeting cost of offshore wind energy has caught even its most optimistic supporters by surprise. Nuclear firms said the UK still needed a mix of low-carbon energy, especially for when wind power was not possible. The figures, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for offshore wind were revealed as the result of an auction for subsidies, in which the lowest bidder wins.
Two firms said they were willing to build offshore wind farms for a subsidy of £57.50 per megawatt hour. That compares with new nuclear plants at a subsidy of £92.50 per megawatt hour for 2022-23.
Emma Pinchbeck from the wind energy trade body Renewable UK told the BBC: “These figures are truly astonishing. “We still think nuclear can be part of the mix – but our industry has shown how to drive costs down, and now they need to do the same.”
Onshore wind power and solar energy are already both cost-competitive with gas in some places in the UK. And the price of energy from offshore wind has now halved in less than five years.
Energy analysts said UK government policy helped to lower the costs by nurturing the fledgling industry, then incentivising it to expand – and then demanding firms should bid in auction for their subsidies.
Michael Grubb, professor of energy policy at University College London, called the cost reduction “a huge step forward in the energy revolution”. “It shows that Britain’s biggest renewable resource – and least politically problematic – is available at reasonable cost. It’ll be like the North Sea oil and gas industry: it started off expensive, then as the industry expanded, costs fell. We can expect offshore wind costs to fall more, too,” he said.
The subsidies, paid from a levy on consumer bills, will run for 15 years – unlike nuclear subsidies which run for 35 years. This adds to the cost advantage offshore wind has now established over new nuclear. Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “This massive price drop for offshore wind is a huge boost for the renewables industry and should be the nail in the coffin for new nuclear. “The government’s undying commitment to new nuclear risks locking us into sky high prices for years to come. Put simply, this news should be the death knell for Hinkley C nuclear station.”
Nuclear ‘still needed.’
However, the nuclear industry said that because wind power is intermittent, nuclear energy would still be needed. Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “It doesn’t matter how low the price of offshore wind is. On last year’s figures it only produced electricity for 36% of the time.”
EDF, which is building the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, said the UK still needed a “diverse, well-balanced” mix of low-carbon energy. “New nuclear remains competitive for consumers who face extra costs in providing back-up power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine,” the French firm said. “There are also costs of dealing with excess electricity when there is too much wind or sun.”
Construction of the Hinkley Point plant is under way after gaining government approval last year. EDF added that energy from new nuclear plants would become cheaper as the market matures, as has happened with offshore wind. Eyes will be raised at this suggestion, as nuclear power has already received subsidies since the 1950s but storage of surplus energy from offshore wind is still a challenge.
Prof Grubb estimated the new offshore wind farms would supply about 2% of UK electricity demand, with a net cost to consumers of under £5 per year.
Experts warn that in order to meet the UK’s long term climate goals, additional sources of low-carbon energy will still be needed.