Blog about animals
Selected the best cow in Germany
Fishing ban proposed near Rockall after rare scientific finds
Life and death on the riverbank
Baboon shot dead after escaping from Knowsley Safari Park
Birdwatch: Peregrine falcon
Iceland's fin whales are endangered. Stop this bloody cull
The pitfalls of elderly dog insurance
Valley where Edward Carpenter, gay rights campaigner and socialist, walked
Green groups warn government of national parks hunting backlash
Demand for ivory destabilising central Africa
Dog walker found neighbour trampled by cows, inquest hears
Cat stands for election in Mexican city
I hear some hip cat's running for mayor in Mexico. That gives me an idea
Wader chick fever grips birds and spotters alike
Philippines destroys five tonnes of elephant tusks
The Dwyfor is surely one of the loveliest of Welsh rivers
New to nature No 107: Typhochlaena costae
How to beat the midges this summer
Controversial herring gull cull gets green light
Whaling's day in court is a sea change for conservation
Australia censures Japan for 'scientific' whaling
The young red deer stags were on their hind legs boxing, just like hares
Our garden's blackbirds started their nest-building early this year
UK wildlife and nature hit hard by erratic weather
  Gassing of badgers considered in plan to eradicate TB in cattle
The gassing of badgers is being considered as part of a government plan to eradicate tuberculosis in cattle in England in the next 25 years. The strategy, published on Thursday, also includes ongoing research on giving badgers contraceptives in order to reduce their numbers.

Further measures in the plan to control bovine TB, a disease that caused the slaughter of 28,000 cattle in 2012 at a cost to taxpayers of £100m, are the controversial culling of badgers, which could begin any time before the end of November in Somerset and Gloucestershire, as well as controls on the movement of infected cattle and the development of vaccines for cattle and badgers.

The incidence of TB in cattle has soared in the past decade and ministers are convinced that the badger population must be reduced, because they can transmit TB to cattle. The TB eradication strategy, which is now under public consultation until September, states: "Further research into alternative population control methods is also under consideration. This includes a potential investigation into the use of anoxic gas or gas-filled foam as a sett-based means of humane culling."

In 1982, gassing badger setts at that time with cyanide was outlawed as inhumane, but some farming groups have suggested suffocating badgers with "anoxic" gases such as carbon monoxide would be more humane.

Nigel Gibbens, the UK's chief veterinary officer, said: "We are looking at research of different methods of deploying gas in a humane way that would be effective, because that would bring real benefits, but we're not there at the moment."

"It's really concerning to see the government exploring yet more ways to kill even larger numbers of badgers, when there simply isn't the scientific evidence to justify such a slaughter to control the spread of bovine TB in cattle," said veterinarian Mark Jones, executive director of the animal protection organisation, Humane Society International/UK. "Defra's suggestion that this should even be considered is clear and shocking evidence that the so-called pilot culls are in fact little more than a prelude to what could be a badger massacre on a massive nationwide scale."

Farming minister David Heath said: "We have an overpopulation of badgers at the moment. If we can find ways of reducing the population of badgers in the key areas, then we probably will be able to bear down on the overall endemic infection rates in badgers."

The last national survey of badgers was in 1997, and a new £870,00 study is not due to report until 2014. Heath said: "If you live in the West Country you can see the overpopulation of badgers every day of the week. In my constituency [in Somerset] there is not a single lane where you will not see a dead badger."

The eradication strategy also states: "Proof-of-principle research into the application of fertility control using an injectable contraceptive is ongoing." Defra is funding three current studies on contraceptive treatment for badgers. The first is examining an injectable contraceptive in captive badgers, the second is continuing previous work on an injectable contraceptive in wild badgers, and the third is examining the potential to develop a suitable oral contraceptive.

Heath said: "The strategy uses absolutely everything that is at our disposal and it is using things that work." He said the government was working with farmers on a voluntary scheme to provide information to cattle buyers about the TB history of animals. "There is a dearth of information to some extent at the moment. It will be voluntary: I don't see any need for a statutory scheme but I think [providing the information] will quickly become essential [as buyers will demand it]."

"A range of crucial TB risk information such as movement and testing history will be shared at the point of sale so farmers will know the animal's TB testing history before purchase," said a Defra statement.

The strategy also sets out a "tentative" timetable for the use of vaccines. It states that field trials of cattle vaccine could begin in 2014 and that vaccinated cattle could be traded from 2016: currently they are not because the TB test cannot distinguish between vaccinated and infected animals. It states that an oral vaccine for badgers could be deployed in 2019. But Heath warned that culling badgers would still be necessary because vaccines do not cure infected animals.

NFU President Peter Kendall said: "The publication of this document is very significant for all cattle farmers. On balance, we think it is an ambitious and comprehensive package to deal with this terrible disease which is devastating the lives of tens of thousands of farmers and their families, and destroying farming businesses, every year."

He added: "The strategy reflects the fact that a full range of cattle and wildlife measures will be needed. But I call on the government to look at adopting a new governance model where farmers have a much bigger say in disease control policy."

Scientists behind a landmark 10-year trial of culling have described that part of the TB policy as "mindless" and warned it could make TB worse as badgers flee cull zones. A researcher who ran the trial said vaccination is in fact cheaper than culling, if policing costs are taken into account, and that strictly controlling cattle movements is the only long-term solution.

John Bourne, the vet who led the 10-year trial, said: "The [controls] in operation at the moment are totally ineffective. Why won't politicians implement proper cattle movement controls? Because they don't want to upset farmers."
'Wild' animals in travelling circuses benefit no one
The intoxicated world of the spotted flycatcher
Fishing quotas can be redistributed to favour smaller vessels high court
Madagascar battling worst locust plague since 1950s
A broody sparrow meets his match
Climate change is happening too quickly for species to adapt
The weird and wonderful world of the naked mole rat
Australian woman seriously injured during Spanish bull run
Spain's endangered Iberian lynx brought back from brink of extinction
One man and his sniffer dog help tackle Germany's hidden drug problem
The hotel that only takes dogs
T rex tooth found embedded in prey, restoring dinosaur's reputation
Bog cotton covers the summer Peak District moors in snow
Lifelike after death: the intricacies of a taxidermist's craft
The six-spot burnet moths complete their transformation
Research on animals in UK rises by 8% to exceed 4m procedures
Animal testing it's time to talk about it again
A pair of lithe animals are tumbling across the grass within feet of me
New to nature no 109: Anochetus hohenbergiae
England's ceremonial mayors eschew fur to support animal rights
Birdwatch: Corn bunting
Madrid declares war on plague of raccoon and parrot invaders
Snow leopards and wild yaks becoming 'fashion victims'
Horn seizure prompts rhinos warning
Threatened seabirds 'neglected' in plans for Scottish marine protected areas
Los Angeles campgrounds closed after plague-infected squirrel found
Only when I look down at the last second do I see it. I recoil instinctively
China's wine boom of little profit to giant pandas and small farmers
Let's not martyr the white-throated needletail to the anti-wind cause
Grasshopper breeder up for design award and educating western palates
Spanish national park could lose Unesco status over illegal boreholes
Dog mauls boy at primary school in Northern Ireland
Our dog walks are punctuated by the corn bunting's jingling ringtone
End in sight for painful branding of semi-wild moorland ponies
New to nature No 108: Carlia decora
Penguins support gorillas as biscuit makers respond to palm oil threat
Measuring carbon age in ivory could help combat poaching, study shows
How to survive a seagull attack
A walk by the river triggers memories of a bygone age
Whales flee from military sonar leading to mass strandings, research shows
Down among the grass stems, a ball of recently hatched orb-web spiderlings
Owen Paterson vows to rid England of bovine TB with badger culls
Gassing of badgers considered in plan to eradicate TB in cattle
Visitors to the Pamplona bull run have blood on their hands
Bats: they've never had it so good
These dew ponds have been on the Downs possibly since medieval times
Australian bushman claims to have footage of legendary night parrot
Secret badger shoots pose 'a risk to public safety'
Cheshire police seize dog believed to have killed Pomeranian
Whale watching season is back - but how close is too close?
Plan to ban wild animals in travelling circuses 'goes too far'
Morrissey donates Channel 4 payout to Peta campaign against foie gras
Visit Statistics