A four year badger vaccination programme that will pave the way to the widespread use of vaccination as a way of tackling bovine TB in cattle will start this spring on the Killerton estate in Devon.
The programme will demonstrate vaccination as a viable alternative to culling as a means of controlling the wildlife reservoir of the disease.
Bovine TB has blighted cattle farming in the UK for decades and costs the taxpayer in England tens of millions of pounds each year in destroying cattle and compensating affected farmers.
Mark Harold, Director for the National Trust’s South West region, said: “In many areas of the UK there are clearly practical problems in implementing an effective cull of badgers to reduce bovine TB in cattle.
“In these instances, vaccination of badgers would appear to be the most effective ways of controlling the wildlife reservoir of the disease.
“With the advent of oral vaccines, this approach could be significantly cheaper too.
“This programme will show how badgers vaccination can be deployed over a large area, and will pave the way for more widespread use of vaccination as an effective alternative to culling.
“We’re in a unique position as a major landowner to help find a solution to the blight of bovine TB that costs millions and affects farmers’ livelihoods.
“We recognise that both cattle to cattle transmission of bovine TB as well as badgers infecting cattle need to be tackled.
“Whilst a vaccine for cattle is someway off, and there are wider regulatory issues making this difficult, giving the badgers a vaccine to stop the spread of bovine TB is a practical way forward and the recent evidence is that it works and is effective.”
Over a decade ago the National Trust supported the Krebs Trials to investigate whether culling badgers would help tackle bovine TB. Evidence from this study showed that a cull could reduce TB in cattle in the same area.
However, the research also showed that there was an increased risk of bovine TB associated with land bordering on cull areas. This was attributed to ‘perturbation’, in which culling disrupts the social structure of badgers and the surviving individuals on the periphery of the cull area widely come into contact with cattle and badgers, spreading bovine TB.
There are relatively few places in the UK where the challenging criteria for an effective cull and especially avoiding ‘perturbation’ can be met. Developing the ability to vaccinate badgers and cattle is therefore vital for the eradication of bovine TB in the long term.
Eighteen tenant farmers will be involved in the vaccination programme and work will begin in May.
The programme will last until 2015 and covers an area of 20 square kilometres on the Trust’s Killerton estate, in the heart of cattle rearing country, in Devon. It is also one of the real hotspots for bovine TB in the county.
The administration of the vaccine to the badgers will be carried out by trained and licensed experts from the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA). This programme will cost £80,000 each year.
Badgers will be caught in live traps, without being harmed, injected with the vaccine and then marked so that they are not given the vaccine twice during a trapping operation.
Mark Harold added: “The evidence to date suggests that a vaccination for badgers should be one of the tools we use to tackle bovine TB. As it doesn’t result in the ‘perturbation’ effect it will not expose our tenants to the increased risk of bovine TB breakdown that comes with culling.”