Badgers and bovine TB

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is an infectious disease of cattle and one of the biggest challenges facing the farming industry today. It is caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium bovis, which can also cause TB in badgers, deer, goats, pigs, llamas and a range of other mammals.

The first badger to be found infected with bTB was a road casualty animal in Gloucestershire in 1971. The scientific evidence suggests that cattle can get bTB from direct or indirect contact with badgers, or other wild animals. It is not know what proportion of bTB in cattle arises from badgers and estimate range widely (1).

There has been an increase in the number of cattle that have tested positive for bTB year on year for the past 3 decades. The majority of positive tests come from South West England, but bTB is also present in Wales, the Midlands and in an isolated area of East Sussex.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust is very conscious of the hardship that bTB causes in the farming community. As livestock owners ourselves, we understand the impact of this disease and want to eliminate it. However we are convinced by the scientific evidence presented that killing badgers is not the answer (2,3,4).

Sussex Wildlife Trust’s Position

The problem is bovine TB, not badgers, and the challenge is to control the disease. The Sussex Wildlife Trust is fully aware that TB in cattle is a significant problem for farming in the UK and that urgent and effective action is required to combat the disease. However, we believe that action to address bTB should be based on clear scientific evidence that can be effectively applied in practice. Therefore our position is that:
  • The Sussex Wildlife Trust does not support a cull of badgers. We do not believe this will deliver a significant and sustained reduction in TB in cattle.
  • There is a very real risk that culling badgers would exacerbate the spread and incidence of the disease in the badger population due to the 'perturbation effect'.
  • We believe there are alternatives to culling badgers, that will deliver more effective and sustainable reductions in bovine TB

Badger Cull Update & bTB Strategy Review - March 2018

While The Wildlife Trusts continue to work with Defra in planning and delivering the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme 2, the Government is now consulting on whether to license badger culls in eight additional Edge Area counties. This fundamentally undermines the logic of the vaccination scheme and we are deeply concerned that these proposals indicate an intention to increase badger culling further, by expanding culling into low risk and edge areas, and increasing the number of new cull zones that could be licensed each year.

Government consultations on these proposals come within days of the announcement that Government intends to review their strategy for achieving ‘Bovine Tuberculosis Free Status for England’. The current strategy has resulted in over 34,000 badgers being culled without conclusive evidence that culling badgers is having an impact on decreasing bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle. In fact, long-term Government trials have showed that culling could actually make the situation worse by encouraging badgers to move around – the ‘perturbation effect’.

The upcoming bTB Review offers the Government the opportunity to revisit a scientifically flawed policy, which flies in the face of public opinion, is deeply inhumane, thoroughly unscientific and gives farmers a poor deal.

Badger Vaccination in Sussex Update

Sussex Wildlife Trust is continuing its partnership with the Sussex Badger Vaccination Project to vaccinate the badgers resident in its nature reserves on the Lewes Downs (Malling Down and Southerham Farm). This area is in a Bovine tuberculosis hotspot.

This vaccination programme, having been started in 2015 had to be postponed in 2016 whilst the vaccine was temporarily unavailable on a global basis. The programme is planned to run from 2017 until 2022 as it needs to cover five consecutive years for maximum efficacy.

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References

1. Patterns of direct and indirect contact between cattle and badgers naturally infected with tuberculosis. Drewe et el (2013)
2. Genetic evidence that culling increases badger movement: implications for the spread of bovine tuberculosis. Pope et el (2007)
3. Culling-induced social perturbation in Eurasian badgers Meles meles and the management of TB in cattle: an analysis of a critical problem in applied ecology. Carter et el (2007)
4. Culling and cattle controls influence tuberculosis risk for badgers. Woodroffe et el (2006)