Wheal Betsy on bone china

I dropped into the DNPA’s High Moorland Visitor Centre yesterday and bought myself one of their ‘Dartmoor range’ bone china mugs

Wheal Betsy Mug
I hadn’t noticed before but one of the six designs available features Wheal Besty which is owned by the National Trust

Wheal Betsy
Here is a photo of Wheal Betsy I took a couple of weeks ago with the high moor and tors in the background

The Spending Review and Dartmoor

Earlier in the week the Chancellor George Osborne presented his spending review – a hugely important speech as it sets out how Government money will be spent over the next 5 years.

Our commitment to farming and the countryside is reflected in the protection of funding for our national parks and for our forests. We’re not making that mistake again….

A reference  to the backlash the last Government faced when it tried to sell of the Forest Estate. I think it also shows that the Government acknowledges the huge public support for the countryside and as a result has singled it out for special treatment.

On the face of it it looks like the environment has done a great deal better than we had all been fearing. At one point it looked like DEFRA was going to receive a 32% cut in its budget up to 2020. It turned out to be a ‘mere’ 15%. In addition the budget settlements for National Parks, AONBs and the Forestry Commission have been ring fenced for 5 years i.e. there will be no cuts to their funding. This is very welcome and is good news. In addition the Environment Agency’s flood defence budget is also protected – let’s hope that flood defence also includes ‘up stream’ solutions such as holding water higher up in catchments rather than only relying on dredging and new infrastructure.


However the future of Natural England is less certain – they are a hugely important organisation overseeing our protected places and species. They will be subject to cuts on top of the savage ones they have already seen. Natural England is a shadow of its former self and predecessor organisations (e.g. The Nature Conservancy Council). Without a strong NE conserving special places on Dartmoor will be much more difficult for everyone else such as the Dartmoor National Park Authority and the National Trust.

Much of this is positive but often with announcements such as this, the devil is in the detail and the detail tends to emerge in drips and splashes over an extended period of time. Yesterday I was at the Dartmoor Forum organised by the DNPA and during the questions session I asked Kevin Bishop their Chief Executive what he thought the Spending Review meant for Dartmoor. He was clearly very relieved with the news as he had been preparing for deep cuts of up to 40%. He also said that the settlement gave stability for 5 years which meant the Authority could forward plan. He did comment that the announcement didn’t say that the DNPA was protected only that National Park budgets were. A couple of National Parks have been extended in size so maybe they might get a bit more money at the expense of those that have remained as they are. Kevin also commented that DEFRA had suggested that all National Parks would know their budgets before Christmas. Lets see what happens next!

Is selenium implicated in the badger/cattle/TB problem?

Following on from yesterday’s blog on organic farmer Dick Roper’s experiences of TB, badgers, selenium  and maize I have been investigating  the situation further. I have a friend Elliot Haines who is 5th year medical student at the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter and we have been discussing  tuberculosis (TB). He has found some interesting papers regarding human health, TB and selenium.

For example a paper states that people with TB have lower selenium levels compared to those who don’t have TB – see here. This paper suggests that people with TB (and HIV) who have been given vitamins and selenium show improvements in their health. Another paper also reports an improvement in patient’s health who are suffering from TB when they are prescribed selenium – see here. Selenium levels is clearly playing a role in human health and TB.

Interestingly the Farmer’s Weekly and farming academics have published articles stating that many areas in the UK are selenium deficient and that this is an issue for agriculture and human health. – see here, here  and here.

Below are three maps – they are not at all conclusive but they are worth investigating further ….

TB outbreaks 2103
TB breakdowns in cattle herds in 2013 (note light blue dots are ‘closed breakdowns i.e. not TB in 2013)


Screen Shot 2015-11-26 at 22.56.22
This is the British Geological Survey map of selenium levels in the south west – red = lots of selenium, blue = little selenium

Maize 2010Here is the map of maize in the SW in 2010

I really don’t want to get into pseudoscientific analysis and conclusions but this is all very interesting – some high moorland areas of Dartmoor for example have high selenium levels, low maize levels and low TB levels but do have populations of badgers and cattle. The analysis of the maps the maps off Dartmoor is more complex and would be worthy of  detailed analysis.

Questions that I would like answered are:-

Is TB more prevalent in areas where selenium levels are lower?
Is TB more prevalent in areas where maize growing is more prevalent?
In areas where selenium levels are lower, does the growing of maize increase the threat of a TB outbreak?
Would some experimental work  on supplementary feeding of badgers with selenium  reduce the incidence of TB?
It would be interesting to know if all farmers who feed maize to cattle or are in areas of selenium deficient soils supplementary feed their cattle

The science seems to be saying

those (humans) with a selenium deficiency are more prone to TB
those (humans) with TB who are given  selenium make more progress in recovery  than those are aren’t

So maybe we ought to be researching this great deal more. As per my blog of yesterday, along Mr Roper’s experiences, should we be feeding selenium supplements to badgers to see what happens?

None of this is new but sadly we haven’t made enough progress – here are a couple of links to evidence Dr. Helen Fullerton made – the first in 1999 on this topic to a House Of Commons Select Committee – see here and here.

The National Trust has done some brilliant work on badger vaccination against TB on the Killerton Estate – see here. Adding in a ‘selenium element’ via supplementary of feeding of badgers with ‘selenium molasses’ would to me seem logical  – it may show that it is not a factor but imagine the impact  if it was conclusive! It would be cheap to do and be very useful in the overall debate.

So the hypothesis which needs to be tested is:- would supplementary feeding of badgers and cattle with selenium lead to a reduced incidence of TB outbreaks in cattle?



More on badgers, TB and maize

A few weeks ago I wrote about some research carried out by Exeter University which showed that areas which grew 10ha of maize on their land (as winter fodder for cattle) were 20% more likely to have TB outbreaks in their cattle herds – see here.

Well after publishing the blog I was contacted by Chris Baker who I had been out surveying mosses with in Fingle Woods earlier this year who also has an interest in this topic. Indeed he had written an article in the Guardian about it in 2007. Click here for the link to the article.


In essence the article tells the story of a farmer, Dick Roper,  in the Cotswolds who noticed that after he started growing maize on his farm he started to have TB breakdowns in his herd which he had never had before. He also knew that if you feed cattle with maize you also have to provide supplementary nutrients specifically selenium. He wondered whether the badgers who were also eating the maize had a selenium deficiency too and this in some way this was linked to the transmission of TB on his farm. As a result he started to put out selenium in the fields in small blocks of molasses which the badgers then ate and ….. yes the incidence of TB in his cattle dropped substantially. OK – its all very anecdotal but maybe there is a link between mineral deficiency in badgers and cattle which plays a part in the transmission of TB.

Several things spring to mind, firstly this piece was written 8 years ago, secondly as far as I know DEFRA haven’t followed it up and thirdly if I was a diary farmer and had TB problems I would want to give it a go to see if it made a difference.

Neonics and butterflies

Yesterday a scientific paper was published which asked whether the widespread use of neonicotinoid insecticides were linked to the decline of a number of widespread butterflies. The neonicotinoid insecticides are already highly controversial as they have also been linked to the decline of bees. You can download and read the paper here.

Small T

The paper concludes “The declines in butterflies have largely occurred in England, where neonicotinoid usage is at its highest. In Scotland, where neonicotinoid usage is comparatively low, butterfly numbers are stable. Further research is needed urgently to show whether there is a causal link between neonicotinoid usage and the decline of widespread butterflies or whether it simply represents a proxy for other environmental factors associated with intensive agriculture.”

The study was conducted by academics from the Universities of Sterling and Sussex, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Butterfly Conservation. All very worrying – more research is clearly needed to untangle the story further.



A trip to Poole and the RNLI

I went to the National Trust’s Leaders Day in the South West yesterday – we were hosted by the RNLI in Poole. We work closely across the country with the RNLI – we are a major coastal landowners and we encourage millions of people to come and enjoy the coast. Along with the RNLI we ensure they are safe whether they are paddling, kayaking, surfing or sailing.

Poole is the national HQ for the RNLI and their complex is large and impressive – it is the place where they train all their volunteer lifeboat crews.

Lots of lifeboats to assist with the training

Set in a beautiful harbour

Scilly 14
I know a couple of RNLI lifeboats well – this is the Severn Class ‘The Whitesands’ at St Marys on the Isles of Scilly – that is the Exmouth Gig boat Rodney Bey racing in this year’s World Pilot Gig Championships

And here we are again, now in Exmouth with the Shannon Class ‘R&J Welburn’ in the background.