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Tackling bovine TB in Wales – a different approach

Posted: Tuesday 4th June 2013 by TheWildlifeTrustsBlogger

Badger (photo: Elliott Neep)Badger (photo: Elliott Neep)

With licences now issued for a badger cull in England, Sarah Kessell (Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trust for South & West Wales) reflects on how Bovine TB is being tackled in Wales. A very different contrast to events in England.

The situation today – with the Welsh government pursuing a badger vaccination rather than a badger culling strategy - dates back to the 2011 election. Then campaigning by Wildlife Trusts and other organisations in Wales sent a clear message of opposition to Plaid MP Elin Jones who championed the cull plans. In the run-up to the election Jones admitted her pro-cull stance could cost her votes. She ended up losing votes, with Labour taking a majority. Labour then implemented the UK labour party policy which was pro-vaccination and anti-cull.

As a result of all this last year the Welsh Government initiated a vaccination programme in one, fairly large, 'Intensive Action Area’ in north Pembrokeshire. This is due to run over five years. The first year of the vaccination programme was successful and earlier this month the Welsh Government announced that it had vaccinated over 1400 badgers, with excellent cooperation from landowners.

Vaccination - cheaper than culling

It seems pretty obvious, but just trapping and vaccinating badgers and then letting them go is a bit cheaper to do

The budget for the vaccination programme, which is being carried out by Welsh Government staff, is around £1million a year. But already this is coming in slightly under budget. There have been criticisms saying that it is ridiculously expensive, a waste of taxpayers money and is making the problem worse. In fact, the inefficacy and morals of killing badgers aside, a cull would have been more expensive than vaccination, because Welsh Government staff would have had to trap badgers, shoot them and then dispose of the carcasses. This is in addition to policing the culls and managing any public demonstrations (the costs of policing the pilot culls in England have been estimated at £4m). It seems pretty obvious, but just trapping and vaccinating badgers and then letting them go is a bit cheaper to do. There was also never a plan to allow free-range shooting of badgers by farmers in Wales, although the English Government seems fine with using this method.

Support for the Wesh Government programme

Wildlife Trusts in Wales are doing what we can to publicise our support for the Welsh Government programme and to urge the Government to roll out vaccination to a larger area, also to implement better biosecurity controls and other measures that are effective at reducing the disease incidence. Whilst we welcome vaccination of badgers, transmission by badgers is only a small part of the problem The rest of Wales is still suffering from growing levels of bovine TB breakdowns which continues to create difficulties for farming communities, some of whom we work with on farmland conservation projects. There are also farmers who help with conservation grazing on some of our nature reserves.

Our action plan for tackling TB

We met with the Welsh Government to discuss the vaccination programme results after the first year and to see how we could help (we have a good relationship with their Officers and with the Chief Veterinary Officer). They said the main problem was the cost of rolling out the vaccination programme and asked if we could help to find a way to bring the costs down. This formed the basis of our action plan. We want to be proactive and help to save badgers, as well as showing that we are responsible landowners, by helping in a practical way. To achieve this we will identify a prioritized list of sites that can act as ‘vaccination hubs’, that we work out from.

We have identified 3 pilot sites and are aiming to start a vaccination programme on these sites in May 2014. The aim of the pilot project is to demonstrate how vaccination can be rolled out across other parts of Wales more cheaply than the £3012 per sett estimated by Welsh Government, by working in partnership with other landowners and with volunteers.

Funding will be needed to train staff and volunteers to do all the lead-in work including sett surveys, landowner liaison, legal paperwork, setting and pre-baiting of traps. The pilot project has to run for 5 years, although we are hoping to be able to prove a reduced cost after the first year. Funding is also needed to cover staff time, travel costs, equipment costs (we can save money by borrowing traps but we will still need bait for example) and for publicity.

The longer-term plan is to roll this out to the next sites on our priority list. We will also need to apply for grants and other funding streams when a firmer idea of costs is known. We’ve launched an appeal to our members, but we will also need to look further afield for help. Defra are able to fund badger vaccination work but this doesn't apply to Wales and the Welsh Government have no similar grant at this time.

Preparations for starting the vaccinations next year are well underway. Although funding and delivering the programme will be a significant challenge for us, for now we have to be grateful that our Government appears to be listening to reason and implementing a more appropriate strategy than the Westminster Government is in England.

 

Sarah Kessell is Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trusts for South and West Wales. Follow Sarah on twitter @SarahKessell

You can donate to local badger vaccination programmes in England and Wales here.

Watch a video on the Welsh badger vaccination programme here
 

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