Animals & Wildlife Magazine

The Ever Continuing Badgergate

By Jennambarry @JennaMBarry

The ever continuing badgergate

The Gloustershire Wildlife Trust (GWT), recently began a Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) vaccination program for badgers on the Greystones Farm nature reserve. The control of badger populations remains a controversial issue, and with our coalition government still strongly considering a cull next year this perpetual debate is reaching a tentative high.

In 2010 around 25,000 cattle infected with bTB were slaughtered. This is a significant loss to the farming community and it is understandable that a reliable prevention method needs to be found. With that in mind the question now is will vaccination prove to be the solution?

TB is an exceptionally complex bacterial infection. It’s ability to cross the species barrier known as zoonosis, assists its prevalence and is also a crucial aspect of the debate. Badgers, cattle, and a number of other species including humans can all contract and carry the bacterium. Due to the tight disease control measures in cattle farming industries, it is generally believed that badgers are the vector culprits leading to outbreaks and therefore minimising populations appears to be an obvious solution.

Indeed, when DEFRA killed around 11,000 badgers in a 10 year culling trial (costing approximately £50M to the taxpayer) the incidence of bTB was reduced. However, this reduction measured only 16% suggesting that perhaps although badgers may be responsible for introductory transmissions, the spread across vast numbers of cattle may be better attributed to the cattle themselves. With that speculation in mind it could be said that culling would never truly be affective, even complete eradication of the badger from our ecosystem would not rid bTB when other vectors are considered.

Rather significantly, Greystones is not just home to the test population of vaccinated badgers but to a highly prized herd of cattle. The GWT is open in saying that for them, culling is simply not the answer with their chief executive highlighting the need for alternatives saying “Scientists have spent the last twelve years investigating whether killing badgers will halt this serious disease in cattle and the answer they are getting is that it could well make the problem worse.”

Preliminary field testing showed that the vaccination method reduced the number of badgers carrying bTB by 74% (Veterinary Laboratories Agency). The trust states that “vaccination, biosecurity and accurate testing procedures offer the most complete and trustworthy package” and with their 5 year vaccination program now underway (costing only £30,000) to cull, or not to cull, may no longer be the question.

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