The way outbreaks are occurring around this previously largely clear area gives less confidence when the time to be tested comes around. Worse still, one is given to believe that a number of these new outbreaks are as likely to have been introduced around the locality by vehicles as by wildlife to cattle or cattle to cattle transmission.

Within the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s (APHA) convoluted TB rules, fatteners are free to go to markets in areas – such as the high risk west – to buy store cattle, bringing them back to be finished in historically cleaner areas of the country, housing groups of these at risk animals, quite legally, in often close proximity to clean animals. When breakdowns arise the source/type is traceable by APHA blood tests. TB strains are identifiable to an area, so if, as the word on the street says, there are no local breakdowns from cattle or wildlife, it’s being brought in from outside. Then they have to quickly find the link, which, I am told, is not made easier with the present restrictions on information sharing between APHA staff and local vets.

Both these groups of vets are fully aware of the problem yet, under present investigative powers, neither group are able to share information with the other to quickly identify those responsible and put a quick stop to any spread. One understands the latest newly identified case (reported before Christmas, among a group of bought in store animals) has caused yet another local three kilometre ring of innocent cattle farmers to be placed under surveillance testing, with all the extra time, cost and inconvenience caused. Their cattle are probably clear but they have the time and cost of proving it. And all because a small group of our fellow stockmen seem to have few qualms about inflicting this trouble on their neighbours.

A strong theory going the rounds in the Sussex/Surrey/Hampshire area, due to the location and clusters of recent local outbreaks, is the fear a very small number of lorries are moving these at risk animals, and may be spreading TB infection. These vehicles, travelling between livestock farms and markets around regions, are then thought to be setting up further potential areas of disease. Unsurprisingly, farmers are increasingly asking “Are those lorries always cleaned as thoroughly as required by law?” A good question?

I asked one influential vet why progress with TB eradication was so slow and he said the view in his trade was that the only way things would progress would be if peer pressure was brought to bear. This effectively means friends and neighbouring farmers acting as informers, which would not help rural relationships. If DEFRA is aware of these rumours they should damn well act themselves.

Why, given the seriousness of the situation, are both private and APHA vets not able to work together legally and end this absurd loophole? With government support it’s surely vital they ban movement of potentially infected cattle from high risk areas into sites among our clean dairy and beef herds. Then, if they identify the sources fast, they will make progress. If my well briefed contacts’ views are right – in that there is, at present, little/no proof of wildlife or cattle to cattle transmission in the area – then this would be a good way to prove it. Yet, all the while, suspect cattle are being trucked in for finishing among our clean animals. So what chance have any of us really got for staying free of this disease or of cleaning up the area?

One hears questions over the role of the NFU in all this. One hears they oppose any restrictions on the members concerned, as they don’t want to hinder their free trade. Yet by not taking a stand they are very seriously affecting the livelihoods of many, many others among their cattle farmer members. A number of them are understandably becoming somewhat frustrated at the union’s attitude. Surely it is time for concerted action – such as updating the law and simply stop bringing potentially suspect cattle near our clean animals?

From the long term history of TB and badgers coupled with my family’s experience over almost 120 years of dairy farming locally, my inclination was always to blame badgers. Yet if these recent claims were proven, one would be more inclined to accept this as an alternative, contributory link. I do seem to remember the TB eradication scheme of the post war years was far quicker controlling it, although we didn’t have to contend with loads of potentially at risk cattle flooding into clean areas, as we do today.

However I still believe there are far too many badgers in the countryside and they need further controls – contraceptive pills,perhaps? They are clearly getting excessive legal protection, while causing tremendous financial damage to farmland, gardens, indeed all taxpayers.

There is also loyalty between farmers, which makes it quite difficult to raise these issues, yet it is now so serious, affecting so many lives it needs to be brought fully into the open and acted on. But is the will there? I say this because I also have a personal theory. Perhaps the present UK TB eradication scheme is something that’s providing long term work for many DEFRA staff who may see it as their job for life – all financed by the government involving the slaughter of up to 40,000 cattle annually and rising. Perhaps the longer the disease continues to defeat their somewhat half hearted efforts to get on top of it, the better? Readers may consider this a tad cynical: OK, but one fears it could also be pretty near the truth.