Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis

Badger. Credit: Natural England

Bovine TB (bTB) costs the UK millions of pounds every year and The Wildlife Trusts recognise the hardship that it causes in the farming community. However, we believe that a badger cull is not the answer.

**June 2013 Update**

Judge, Mr Justice Ouseley, ruled against the Badger Trust's legal challenge last year and the government, having postponed the cull once now seems determined that it will go ahead from June 1st. The Wildlife Trusts’ line remains as it always has been - see below. MPs voted along party lines on 5th June to defeat a bill by the opposition to stop the badger cull.

Badgers and bovine TB

The Wildlife Trusts are very conscious of the hardship that bovine TB (bTB) causes in the farming community and the need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease. Our work in providing advice to farmers across the UK means we recognise and value the crucial contribution that environmentally-friendly farming practices make to wildlife.

The Government will publish its policy on bovine TB control, following consultation in 2010 on a proposed badger cull in affected areas in England. A review of the scientific evidence regarding the eradication of bTB in Wales is expected to report to the Welsh Assembly Government in autumn 2011.

Badger culling could make the problem worse

We have concluded from the available scientific evidence that the Government's proposals for badger culling in England would be unsuccessful in helping to control bTB. The science suggests that, if implemented, these proposals could make the bTB problem worse. This is due to the 'perturbation effect' from culling, causing badgers to range more widely and increasing the risks of disease transmission.

The Wildlife Trusts believe a number of different measures are needed to eradicate bovine TB. They should include:

Badger vaccination

To prevent disease transmission from badger to badger and from badger to cattle. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust used an injectable badger vaccine on ten nature reserves in 2011. Other Wildlife Trusts, including our neighbours in Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwickshire are also now carrying out vaccination programmes. A recent article showed that vaccination is actually cheaper and more effective than culling. We also urge Defra to continue development of an oral badger vaccine.

Biosecurity

All possible measures should be pursued to prevent disease transmission between cattle on-farm. Not all the control measures recommended by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB have been implemented;

Cattle vaccination

Development of a cattle vaccine should be pursued as a matter of priority by Government as the most desirable and long-term solution to bovine TB.

How could a badger cull make the bovine TB problem worse?

Badgers typically live in social groups of four to seven animals with defined territorial boundaries. Culling disrupts the organisation of these social groups, causing surviving badgers to range more widely than normal and increasing the risks of disease transmission. This is known as the 'perturbation effect'. The Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB concluded in its final report (2007) that it was 'unable to conceive of a system of culling, other than the systematic elimination, or virtual elimination, of badgers over very extensive areas, that would avoid the serious adverse consequences of perturbation'.

Download our leaflet explaining the peturbation effect and the problems with using badger culling as a technique to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

What are the practical problems with the Government's proposed badger cull?

In its consultation document, the Government identifies 12 criteria required for an effective licensed cull. These include culling for a period of at least four years and over a minimum of 70% of a land area no less than 150km squared.

The Wildlife Trusts do not believe that all these criteria can be met effectively and together. There are a number of practical problems with implementing, enforcing and monitoring a licensed cull by landowners eg participants in the cull might drop-out, through change in land ownership and tenancy. The final report of the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) on Cattle TB (2007) states that 'culling badgers under license not only could fail to achieve a beneficial effect, but could increase the geographical spread of the disease, irrespective of whether licenses were issued to individual farmers or to groups.'

What alternative measures could be taken now?

Vaccination of badgers could form the central part of a short to medium term strategy to reduce bTB transmission from badgers to cattle. Studies have shown that vaccination is effective in significantly reducing the progression and severity of infection and that vaccinated badgers were significantly less likely to subsequently test positive for bTB. On-farm transmission from cattle to cattle and cattle to badger could also be reduced through effective testing, movement controls and other bio-security measures (e.g. badger-proof food stores and feeding areas). The Wildlife Trusts support the provision of advice, support and incentives for farmers and would like to see regulation implemented, where possible, to ensure that measures are followed.

How can we eradicate bovine TB?

The most desirable solution to the bTB problem is the development of a cattle vaccine. We welcome the statements in the consultation that a licensed cattle vaccine and a diagnostic test should be ready by the end of 2012, along with the proposed change to EU legislation to allow a cattle vaccine to be used by 2015. Achieving this long-term solution would be an effective, efficient and wildlife-friendly way of controlling the disease.

Downloads

FilenameFile size
Badger Vaccination Strategy233.3 KB
Impacts of a badger cull3.17 MB