Response to Government figures on badger culling in Cumbria

CEO responds to recent figures published by Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Image of badger release copyright Tom Marshall

Badger release © Tom Marshall

The best and most cost-effective way of dealing with bTB in the badger population is by targeted vaccination.
Stephen Trotter, Chief Executive
Cumbria Wildlife Trust

This week (21.03.2019) the Government released figures of bovine TB (bTB) surveillance in badgers in Cumbria in 20181. They show that 602 badgers were culled in Cumbria last year and 40 out of 363 tested badgers (11.0%) were positive for bTB. The report concluded that disease is most likely to have been introduced by cattle imported from Northern Ireland.

Stephen Trotter, CEO of Cumbria Wildlife Trust said: “This report confirms that badgers in the Shap area definitely caught bTB from cattle. As we’ve said before, vaccination should have been the right option to take as culling can actually make the situation worse. This may seem counter-intuitive but experience has shown that culling disrupts and unsettles the social structure of badger families. This disturbance causes them to move to new areas more frequently and over longer distances – which can result in increased bTB transmission by displaced individuals. Slurry spreading is also one of the key ways that bTB is spread into the badger population.”

“Our view is that Government needs to put its effort into fighting the disease in cattle through measures such as better detection of bTB in cattle, better cattle movement controls and on-farm biosecurity measures. The best and most cost-effective way of dealing with bTB in the badger population is by targeted vaccination. On top of this, the costs of killing badgers are much higher than vaccinating them.”

The Government also released figures this week on the numbers of badgers vaccinated last year2. Their figures show that 641 badgers were vaccinated in 2018 – with half of these through the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS), the government-sponsored badger vaccination programme.

Stephen Trotter said: “When you compare the number of badgers vaccinated across the UK last year – 641 – to the numbers of badgers culled nationwide in the same year3 – at least 32,602 – vaccinations represent a very small proportion. There is robust scientific evidence to prove that badger vaccination reduces the transmission of bTB in badgers. Several studies demonstrate that vaccinating badgers reduces the progression, severity and the likelihood that the infection would be passed on, once a badger is infected.”

 

1TB surveillance in badgers during year 1 badger control operations in eastern Cumbria, Low Risk Area (2018) Published 21 March 2019

2Statistics on Badgers vaccinated against bovine tuberculosis (TB) Dataset of counts of badgers vaccinated against TB in England Published 21 March 2019

3Bovine TB: summary of badger control monitoring during 2018 Information and data on operations to control bovine tuberculosis in parts of England in 2018  Published 18 December 2018