Badgers and bovine TB

Badger vaccination release (c) Tom MarshallBadger vaccination release (c) Tom Marshall

Bovine Tuberculosis is a serious infection of domesticated animals (cattle in particular) and wild animals (badgers in particular). Incidence of the disease in parts of Great Britain has increased substantially over the last 20 years.

The Badger Cull

The badger culls are part of government efforts to tackle the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) amongst cattle. Extensive, prolonged and peer-reviewed research (the Randomised Badger Culling Trial that killed 11,000 badgers) concluded in 2007 that cattle-based measures of disease control were essential to control the problem. It also concluded that although badgers were implicated, culling them would make no meaningful contribution to TB control in cattle.

However, successive governments in Britain have failed to implement the necessary cattle-based measures which are unpopular with farmers for many reasons. As a result, the incidence of bTB has increased. The story is different in Wales where, during the last four years, wider and more effective applications of annual cattle testing, improved cattle movement controls and improvements in farm biosecurity have recently seen real reductions in the disease in cattle.

Despite this, and the evidence that the trials have proved to be inhumane and ineffective, the Government has continued with the four-year badger culling trials in Somerset and Gloucestershire that started in 2013 and rolled out to Dorset in 2015. As well as the planned cull in Cheshire in 2017 other cull areas this year could include Cornwall, Devon, further areas of Somerset and Dorset, Wiltshire, North Cotswold and Herefordshire.


Key cull facts…

  • The current badger culling policy to control bovine TB was introduced by the Government in 2011. Three of the seven culls to date have not achieved their targets of numbers of badgers to be killed.
  • The Government have subsequently relaxed the parameters that culls need to meet before being licensed, moving further away from the recommendations of a meeting of independent scientific experts convened in April 2011.
  • The Government’s own Independent Expert Panel stated that at least 7% of badgers were killed inhumanely in 2014; the Government disbanded the Panel in 2015 but data indicated this figure has not changed.
  • New research shows that close contact between badgers and cattle is rare so the likelihood of direct transmission of the disease is low but indirect transmission remains possible through the soil and dung; this calls into question the very reason to cull.
  • Costs per badger from culling are over £5,000 compared to under £700 per badger vaccinated.
  • Defra’s Chief Veterinary Officer recommended that “ consideration should be given to monitoring the disease status of badgers as well as badger populations within cull areas”1 as yet no culled badger has been tested for TB.
  • The Republic of Ireland is reviewing its 30 year policy on culling in 2017 and is focusing on badger vaccination.

What do we think?

We are keen to see the eradication of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle, but a badger cull is not the answer. Scientific evidence indicates that a cull is unlikely to make a substantive improvement in cattle infection rates and may make matters worse because it is likely to increase movement of remaining badgers into and around the area, potentially bringing infected and uninfected badgers (and cattle) into contact. It is not known what proportion of bTB in cattle arises from badgers, estimates range from 20% to 50%. Our view is it is better to concentrate on cattle to cattle transmission and improving bio-security to avoid badgers and cattle coming into contact. Vaccination of cattle in the long-term and vaccination of badgers as a short-term measure are more effective means of control.

Tackling the disease should therefore include the following measures:

  • Better biosecurity: all possible measures should be pursued to prevent disease transmission on-farm
  • Stricter movement controls: to minimise the risk of spreading disease when cattle are transported
  • Improved TB testing: to increase detection of the disease - currently, many infected cattle are missed
  • Badger vaccination: support landowners to use the injectable BadgerBCG vaccine and continue development of an oral badger vaccine. Vaccination project are currently on hold due to a global shortage of BCG vaccine.
  • Cattle vaccination: complete development of a cattle vaccine and secure changes to EU regulation to permit its commercial deployment

In 2012 we embarked upon a pilot vaccination programme at our Bickley Hall Farm HQ because we wanted to show that vaccination was a valuable component of the TB eradication strategy. This pilot ended in autumn 2015. We have also worked with a number of local landowners in south Cheshire to start vaccination programmes on their own farms.

What does the vaccination process involve?

 

 

What can I do?

1.  Email your MP to ask them to call for any further culling to be stopped

Email your local MP to ask them to continue to put pressure on the Government to scrap their cull plans and prioritise badger vaccination. We have produced this template letter to give you some ideas, and there's some further suggestions here, but it is much better if you can personalise it with your own thoughts.

2.  Email your MEP about the EU cattle vaccine ban

Ask your MEP to press for the EU ban on a cattle vaccine to be lifted.
Find the details of your MEP. A cattle vaccine is the long term solution to the bTB problem, but EU rules currently prevent it from being tested and used in this country.

Further information

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

Here is a simple summary of the science.

Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts, has written a summary highlighting the "Cost of culling" in 2014.

Bovine TB: pilot culls ineffective. Read our latest briefing document

Locally Wirral and Cheshire Badger Group are active in ongoing badger vaccinations.