In 2008 Richard Ford’s company was approached by APHA to provide construction and engineering advice on a study on how to exclude badgers from farm yards and buildings. Before his involvement with that study, Richard had never specifically been asked to prevent badgers entering farm buildings, despite some clients discussing seeing badgers around their farm buildings and knowing of a link to TB in cattle.
“There was very little guidance. I knew of one agricultural consultant offering some advice, but there were no industry-wide specifications on modifying existing farm buildings. Involvement with the Animal & Plant Health Agency (APHA) biosecurity study was a learning curve. I was given objectives presenting me with challenges to overcome. The main challenge to prevent badgers getting in was reducing gaps under gates to no more than 7.5 cm. There was also hesitancy from some farmers believing the modifications would have a negative operational impact. After explaining what the modifications would involve, farmers generally accepted changes. Gates could be lowered, uneven ground levelled and gaps blocked up. There were always going to be some tricky situations – some farmers simply prefer barred gates to solid sheeted gates for practical reasons, and some did not want disruption to the daily running of their farm.”
APHA also asked Richard to consider novel solutions for excluding badgers from farm buildings and yards. “Some problems were interesting challenges. We thought “How are we going to get around this?” But when you stop and think, solutions can be found to most problems. The trick was keeping them practical to use, but also keeping costs low. One thing we found easier than expected was modifying existing gates to reduce gaps for badgers to enter sheds and yards. By welding box sections to the bottom of doors and fitting galvanised sheet panels to barred gates we had to fit fewer new, costly gates than expected. We devised some electric fencing solutions, using existing fences and structures to protect large parts of the yard and open buildings.”
Following the study, Richard knows some measures he installed are still used, while some he believes are not. “We knew some methods were a bit unusual and probably would not stand up to daily use on farms over a long period. We made some great improvements to some farms and where gates were already in use, there is no added burden. But any measure that adds too much time, or costs too much, becomes an imposition and is not going to be used properly.”
“While I get some requests to reduce feed loss through wildlife in buildings, I get few requests to exclude badgers for biosecurity purposes. There are no agricultural construction biosecurity specialists working in my area. I know farmers are very resourceful and will carry out a lot of maintenance themselves, but people like me can provide help here. I have an agricultural background, which is essential to understand farmers’ requirements, and for badger exclusion measures to be effective. Since my involvement with the study I regularly advise clients to keep feed stores secure and lower gates to prevent badgers entering farm buildings.”
“There is a need to keep providing good, consistent advice to help people in the industry – especially vets, who are regular visitors to farms and whose advice famers listen to. The biosecurity information sheets are ideal in providing farmers, vets and people like me with standard advice and methods for excluding badgers from farm yards and buildings. However, there are still some challenges. For one, although we shouldn’t ignore the risk from badgers around farm buildings, farmers see badgers on pasture as a bigger risk. Secondly, preventing badger access to silage clamps is particularly difficult considering size, layout and farm traffic. Finally, the mixed reactions you get can be off-putting – some people just don’t like doing things differently from their peers. Having said that, farming has always adapted to remain productive and farmers, particularly the younger generation, will tackle challenges that the industry throws at them.“