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Culling of Badgers by means of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning

(“This article, Culling of Badgers by means of Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning, contains my own opinions and views. I have not received any monies or gratuities in the writing of this article nor is it on behalf of any organisation or individuals.” – Stephen)

I have for over 35 years worked in mechanical engineering following a 4 year apprenticeship and worked for some of the largest organisations in the United Kingdom (UK) including the Gas Emergency Service. I have studied carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning for the past five years and its effects on humans with particular regard to its prevention whereby I now investigate incidents, fatalities, attend many meetings, debates on this issue including the House’s of Lords and Brussels where I am advisor on this very subject. This paper is not written on behalf of any organisation or individual. I was shocked and horrified to learn the current Government are considering proposals on the method of administering carbon monoxide (CO) gas to cull badgers and define it as ‘Humane’ as opposed to the use of a vaccine combating Bovine TB!

Carbon monoxide is produced by incomplete combustion of any carbonaceous fuel, gas, LPG, oil, coal, wood, petrol, and diesel. I would suspect in the use of culling badgers this would be achieved by means of a petrol or diesel vehicle, generator dependent on access availability to the sett by attaching in some form a crude method of a hose pipe or tube to the exhaust. I fail to see any vehicle engine being purposely set to function in obtaining incomplete combustion due to damage to the engine and financial expense; therefore, the generator would appear the preferred choice in producing carbon monoxide with the benefits of simple access to most locations.

Carbon monoxide is a lethal gas measured in parts per million whereby less than 1% in air volume, can kill a human in minutes (Acute). CO is colourless, odourless and tasteless gas. The symptoms of CO poisoning are not exclusive to one or more of the following in humans - drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, watering eyes, palpitations, nausea, abdominal pains and diarrhoea, convulsions, coma and death depending on the concentration and period of exposure. For example, just 1.28% CO – 12800 ppm causes immediate medical symptoms – fatal consequences within 1 to 3 minutes in a human.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is categorised at two levels in humans, Acute or Chronic, both attack the central nervous system and Heart. One major concern of Acute CO poisoning is the severe delayed neurological manifestations that may occur in humans in up to 50% of poisoned people after 2 to 40 days before the real diagnoses can be given.

Chronic exposure in humans is low-level and may cause headaches, depression, confusion, memory loss, nausea and vomiting. It is unknown if it causes permanent neurological damage.

The above example (Acute) may appear at this stage as a quick solution to death however, it should be considered this would be based on the human environment, not the same as that of badgers who live in setts, a complex underground system. A family group of usually between six to fifteen badgers can live in each sett with a number of rooms or chambers, some for sleeping in, and others to have young in. More to the point is this fact, there are a number of tunnels leading to the outside world with the largest sett in Britain found to extend over 15 x 35m and had 12 entrances therefore these sett’s are adequately ventilated. Setts are dug below the level of which the ground freezes and all the members of the clan sleep in the same chamber, possibly to share body heat. Given the application to extend the trial of culling badgers into the colder months could be purposely devised. Sometimes setts or part of setts that are not being used by badgers are occupied by rabbits or foxes.

Therefore, every entrance to every sett must be sealed save for the one whereby the CO is to be administered into the sett. Given the dimensions above, a total of 515m2 with 12 entrances would require a powerful generator/engine of cubic capacity to achieve a quick death to a family of badgers despite all entrances being sealed.

I have purposely refrained from providing the calculations for the above sett and engine size or type.

The above concerns me given that every entrance must be located to ensure no escape of CO from the sett, this is time-consuming, possibly disturbing the inhabitants causing badgers to panic due to the oncoming asphyxiation. More worrying is the competence of the persons administering the CO? It would be reasonable to assume that not many experts could determine the exact amount of CO required within a specific time period to achieve rapid death without firstly knowing the volume of the area of the sett, in fact, I would say its near impossible!

CO poisoning statistics are based on healthy adults with a warning that the elderly, pregnant women and children are most vulnerable and it’s the latter I refer to, children. Many claim the reason children are highly at risk in the presence of CO is due to their small lung capacity compared with adults however, this is just one fact, heart rate is another. The affinity of CO for haemoglobin is 200-300 times that of oxygen therefore affecting not just the brain, but every bodily organ.

The concentration levels of CO at higher levels will kill in minutes if any human enters a confined space in the presence of 1% CO but this is not so for setts, the CO level must be injected into an environment that is completely free from air pollutants so any administered CO Gas will have to be introduced from 0% CO to at least 1% CO over a period of time into an unknown volume of area within that particular sett and then monitored using scientific measuring instrumentation to confirm the concentration levels of CO presence underground at various points at all times of the CO being injected into the sett guaranteeing equilibrium of a minimum 1% CO has been achieved at a constant sustained concentration.

In my opinion, an element of doubt remains as to any persons being permitted to carry out this method of CO culling due to the risks to their own personal health & safety for example, as an engineer, each task I undertake I must have a method statement and risk assessment under Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidance stating the procedures of the operation of works intended and document the risk to other persons and the public (if any). If I was planning to carry out a task that involves a toxic gas, by law I must provide a method statement precisely explaining how I propose to do so, i.e. Would I require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)? Breathing apparatus? A second person? ‘Man down alarms’? In the balance of all probabilities I would require all three. Therefore the financial costs of such a task increase immensely.

Another area of concern would be as to if any public liability insurance underwriters of land owners would be prepared to take these risks on a granular scale. Would the HSE? Although I have no doubt an exemption would be granted following Political pressure…

The effects on the badgers sufferance would be of an unimaginable scale should the concentration of CO be in-sufficient to kill within minutes , this would undoubtedly leave badgers with permanent damage to the brain, bodily organs, vision, hearing, comatose, paralysis if no examinations are carried out immediately thereafter following CO gassing to confirm death of all badgers within the sett. Should the cullers miss just one entry or exit point, it would be reasonable to assume the CO concentration could have just simply become diluted whereby injury would occur instead of death and possibly cause temporary unconsciousness giving the false impression that death had been achieved due to lack of life or noise amongst Badgers within the sett following the application of CO and worse, if the badger habitants were paralysed this would lead to a long-enduring death whilst the badgers remained conscious. CO poisoning can paralyse the body, previous human victims have remained aware of their fate, unable to move or use their vocal chords to signal for help. One such case was that of Mr Rowland Wesling who tragically lost his girlfriend when inside a tent on holiday in Norfolk, by taking inside a cooling barbecue because they were both cold and were poisoned from CO. Mr Wesling stated that although he could not physically move or speak, he was fully aware he and his girlfriend were dying. Some 4 years ago there was another CO incident in London whereby a couple who were living together were poisoned from CO, the female partner was tragically killed; the male partner still remains hospitalised in a vegetative state of coma until the present day.

Without the benefit of reading any method statements or risk assessments by the National Farmers Union or Defra on how CO culling is intended to be carried out.

I can only conclude that there will be large quantities of badgers poisoned and left to either exist with permanent brain damage, possibly severe hearing and vision impairment, suffering convulsions, some degree of paralysis if not total or endure a slow agonising death.

The persons administering the CO gas I believe have very little understanding of carbon monoxide poisoning, will adopt the crudest and financially cheapest methods beneficial in serving their own needs, there will be no enforcement upon them by monitoring the gassing of badgers in the presence of independent observers nor worry about the permanent maiming of innocent animals!

This is a barbaric method based purely on financial reasons to appease cattle farmers as opposed to the sensible humane Bovine TB vaccine which is readily available. I fully understand that cattle must also be protected and I would have thought lessons would have been learnt from the previous cull back in the 90’s that any future risks to cattle stock from badgers would have seen responsible organisations such as farmers, government and various departments better prepared with a stock of vaccines in anticipation of another crisis and on the balance of all probability certainly would have avoided this situation.

Culling badgers by means of administering carbon monoxide gas is, in my professional opinion, INHUMANE and demonstrates to me that large organisations are poor in prevention, lack vision and appear incompetent. Prevention is cheaper than cure.

So long as the veterinary acts strictly in accordance with scientific method it will continue to enjoy the respect of the scientific community and general public. When those principles are sacrificed for the short-term and often dubious benefits of political expediency, however, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility it will make an ass of itself. I suspect that the state veterinary service is so currently engaged. In what can only be described as a sordid attempt to gain transient respite from the pressures imposed by its political masters and the scorn of the farming community, the state veterinary service has succumbed to the easy option of a scapegoat to explain the embarrassing persistence of bovine tuberculosis of the West country. Badgers have been selected for Government gas. – David Coffey, eminent veterinary surgeon. - Richard Meyers, 1986

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