Badgers and bovine TB: Why the Government’s policy needs to change

Thursday 20th February 2014

The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country say badger culling must be dropped from Government plans and priority given to a strategic vaccination programme.

Ahead of this Saturday’s march in Birmingham city centre where 2000 people are expected to protest against the government’s policy of badger culling, the local wildlife experts are urging the Government to drop culling from its bTB strategy. Instead they want the government to commission an independent expert review to examine how badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine can better tackle bovine TB.

Badger vaccination is a viable option and a strategic programme could make a real contribution to reducing levels of bTB infection: vaccinating a third of adult badgers reduces the risk to unvaccinated cubs by 79%; ‘herd immunity’ is achieved in five years, as infected animals die and the proportion of vaccinated individuals increases; it offers 54-76% reduction in risk of badgers testing positive for bTB. The injectable vaccine has been available since March 2010.

Nick Hammond, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country, said: “Organisations, including The Wildlife Trusts, are already running badger vaccination programmes, with more than 180 trained and certified lay vaccinators in England and Wales. Our work on nature reserves and in partnership with farmers, vets and other landowners has demonstrated that vaccination is a practical, cost-effective option.

“The problem which must be addressed is bovine TB not badgers. We strongly opposed the pilot badger culls and will continue to oppose any proposals for more. The scale of culling of a native mammal, which is a valuable part of the ecosystem, is simply not justified by the small potential reduction in bovine TB incidence in cattle.”

Most badgers are not infected. Just 5.7% of bTB outbreaks are caused by badgers. These initial infections are amplified by cattle to cattle transmission. 83% of badgers culled during the RBCT were bTB free. None of the badgers culled in 2013 were tested for bTB.

The pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire both failed to meet the key test of ‘effectiveness’. The removal of at least 70% of the estimated badger population in the six-week licence period was not achieved. Despite a three week extension in Somerset and five weeks in Gloucestershire, the percentages achieved were 65% and 39% respectively. It is possible for the bovine TB problem to have been made worse, due to the ‘perturbation effect’. This causes individuals to range beyond their usual territory and come into contact with neighbouring animals, increasing the risk of disease transmission.


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Tagged with: Badger cull, Bovine Tb, Vaccination, Wildlife trust

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