Bovine TB strategy: Paterson urged to look in his own backyard

Thursday 4th July 2013

Cattle cpt Neil WyattCattle cpt Neil Wyatt

The Wildlife Trusts are very disappointed to see that a badger cull remains at the heart of the Government’s proposed strategy to control bTB in England, published today, despite leading scientists’ grave doubts over its effectiveness.

Far too little emphasis is given to badger vaccination as an important, and available, tool alongside the use of better bio-security, movement controls and cattle vaccine.

The strategy fails to recognise the progress being made in places such as the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson’s own backyard where the Shropshire Wildlife Trust has already built a pioneering partnership with a private vet and a major dairy farmer (over approx 500ha) to vaccinate badgers as part of an alternative solution to tackling bTB.

The Environment Secretary should be looking in his own backyard for a solution, rather than at overseas examples which may have little relevance to England

Head of Living Landscape at The Wildlife Trusts, Paul Wilkinson said:

Three years after a badger vaccine was first available, the Government continues to ignore vaccination’s potential to help tackle this terrible disease. Despite MPs recently urging the Government to develop a strategy for use of a badger vaccine, it is almost completely absent from the Government’s new plan whose success is heavily dependent on an unnecessary and highly risky cull of badgers.

Eleven Wildlife Trusts are already developing or implementing programmes to deploy the injectable badger vaccine on their own land and working with local farmers and landowners in the wider countryside. The Environment Secretary should be looking in his own backyard for a solution, rather than at overseas examples which may have little relevance to England. We have encountered a real willingness within the farming community to engage with and fund badger vaccination, rather than culling. Government should be doing so much more to actively encourage and support the kinds of positive partnerships that are developing under the Secretary of State’s nose.”

The Government’s strategy contains a raft of other vital actions, including better incentives for on-farm bio-security measures which, if Government provided the same level of support for these initiatives alongside widespread badger vaccination, could make a major contribution to the eradication of bTB. At the moment Defra has only put aside £250,000 in a badger vaccination fund – a figure already exceeded by The Wildlife Trusts’ fundraising across the country towards our own vaccination programmes.



Notes for editors:

11 Wildlife Trusts are vaccinating or running fundraising campaigns in order to vaccinate badgers. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust is the latest, launching its campaign at the start of June. Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust was the first. Badger vaccination programmes involve humane trapping overnight, vaccination and release. Recent studies have shown that vaccinating just one third of uninfected badgers in a sett can help make unvaccinated cubs less likely to test positive for the disease.

For more information about The Wildlife Trusts’ views and activities to control bovine TB (including our vaccination programmes), visit and keep up to date on this, and other issues, through @wildlifetrusts on twitter.

Ahead of the Labour Opposition Day debate on the Government’s plans for a badger cull (Wed 5 Jun) The Wildlife Trusts emailed every English MP (more than 500) to set out our profound concern. Individual Wildlife Trusts also met with their local MPs.

Chief Executive Stephanie Hilborne OBE wrote to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson MP, expressing the following points on this issue:
• The Wildlife Trusts strongly oppose the proposed “pilot” badger culls and any proposals for rolling out culls beyond this year. In our view this 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 transmission.
• To achieve our goals we need to work closely with landowners and farmers, and we manage around 94,000 hectares of land ourselves including 20 working farms. It risks dividing the conservation and farming communities who need to work together for the benefit of our natural environment.
• We recognise the distress caused by herd breakdowns. We do not take a simplistic or populist line over badger culling or any other issue.

The Wildlife Trusts have considered the evidence and issues related to the role of badgers in transmitting bTB over many years. Defra should be prioritising badger vaccination programmes and the development of a cattle vaccine. It should also divert the estimated £6m costs of licensing, monitoring and policing the pilot culls into a major programme of badger vaccination.

Scientific research funded by the Government has shown conclusively that badger culling, unless carried out in line with strict criteria including the requirement to be across very large areas, could be counterproductive. Large-scale badger culling trials show an initial worsening of the disease due to perturbation. Over the longer term, there may be a positive impact of a 12-16% reduction of bTB in cattle, but this still leaves at least 84% of the problem. Lord Krebs, who designed a previous trial, concluded that that “culling is not a viable policy option”.

The problem is bovine TB (not badgers): The challenge is to control the disease. There is no single quick, cheap and effective fix. We recognise the seriousness of the situation for farmers but the emphasis of all our efforts should be to find a long-term solution.

Tackling the disease: should include the following measures:
- Biosecurity: All possible measures should be pursued to prevent disease transmission on-farm.
- Badger vaccination: Support landowners to use the injectable BadgerBCG vaccine. We also urge Defra to continue development of an oral badger vaccine.
- Cattle vaccine: Complete development of a cattle vaccine and secure change to EU regulation to permit its commercial deployment.

Vaccination - cheaper than culling
Trapping and vaccinating badgers, then releasing them, is cheaper. The Welsh budget for the vaccination programme, being carried out by Welsh Government staff, is around £1million a year. This is currently coming in slightly under budget. The inefficacy and morals of killing badgers aside, a cull would be more expensive than vaccination, because Welsh Government staff would have to trap badgers, shoot them and dispose of the carcasses. This is in addition to policing the culls and managing any public demonstrations. Find out more about Wales’ plans here.

Tackling bTB in Wales – a different approach
The Welsh government is pursuing a badger vaccination rather than a badger culling strategy. In 2012, the Welsh Government initiated a vaccination programme in one 'Intensive Action Area’ in north Pembrokeshire. This is due to run over five years. The first year of the vaccination programme was successful and in June the Welsh Government announced that it had vaccinated over 1,400 badgers, with excellent co-operation from landowners.