By Steve Tillman
The UK farming community have been severely affected by Bovine TB with badgers believed to play a part in its spread. A large area of the South Downs between Brighton and Eastbourne is a bovine TB High Risk Area. It is possible that the government could sanction culling of badgers here in an effort to control the disease. However the Sussex Wildlife Trust is opposed to the programme of culling promoted by the current government.
With Sussex Wildlife Trust’s own grazing project under threat from this terrible disease we felt it was time to take steps in managing it using a number of measures, including a badger vaccination programme. Our grazing project is a fundamental tool in the management of our nature reserves and has been affected by this disease for a number of years.
Thanks to donations provided by the Sussex Badger Appeal we have - in partnership with the volunteer led Sussex Badger Vaccination Group - begun a five year programme of badger vaccinations at both our Malling Down and Southerham nature reserves. These nature reserves on the Lewes Downs are at the centre of our grazing project, where many of our cattle are held and looked after.
During last summer, surveys were carried out in order to establish where our badgers live. It was clear that on both nature reserves these animals covered a lot of ground foraging far and wide. This gave us hope that what we are doing will also benefit our neighbours and help reduce the risk of bovine TB across the wider landscape. Once the vaccinating process began traps were put out on establish badger routes near to their setts. Tasty snacks were used to entice the badgers into the traps, which proved very popular. Once the badgers were happy going in and out of the traps a trained team from the Sussex Badger Vaccination Group began the vaccination process. Very carefully the trapped animals were marked and then injected with the live vaccine. It was clear that the badgers quickly forgot this experience as the same ones kept returning to eat more of the tasty treats, trapping themselves again! Good job the vaccinated badgers were clearly marked.
This programme will now continue for a further four years. Once complete we hope to see a marked reduction in bovine TB on our two nature reserves and our neighbours land on the Lewes Downs.
How else are we managing for bovine TB? As mentioned this is a disease we have to manage and deal with as we graze sites all over Sussex from Midhurst to Rye Harbour, transporting cattle and sheep to where they are needed. To avoid unnecessary journeys for our cattle we operate local grazing zones within Sussex where animals will remain all year. We have also implemented a more rigorous TB testing regime than is currently requested by DEFRA.
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