Derbyshire charity fears badger cull despite vaccination success

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust leaders fear a widespread badger cull may come to the county, despite the success of their vaccination programme. (Photos: Jason Skeen)
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust leaders fear a widespread badger cull may come to the county, despite the success of their vaccination programme. (Photos: Jason Skeen)

High Peak MP Ruth George began the parliament’s summer recess by heading out in the middle of the night with a Derbyshire Wildlife Trust badger vaccination team.

The charity is carrying out a programme of vaccinations across the county to protect cattle herds from the risk of Bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust's Tim Birch, right, with Ruth George MP, second right, and members of the badger vaccination team.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust's Tim Birch, right, with Ruth George MP, second right, and members of the badger vaccination team.

While a debate rages around them, the trust hope they can convince the government that vaccination is more effective and ethical than a widespread badger cull.

Ruth said: “I’m very pleased to support the trust’s vaccination pilot. It is important to let it run its course and be fully assessed as a humane and cheaper option.

“Labour opposes the badger cull which is expensive, uses scarce police resources, and causes huge disruption to communities and farmers.”

She added: “I was disappointed the government allowed the cull to be extended to low risk areas for bTB and a cull could come to Derbyshire.

High Peak MP Ruth George joined staff from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as they carried out a badger vaccination expedition.

High Peak MP Ruth George joined staff from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as they carried out a badger vaccination expedition.

“It is important to protect cattle and farmers’ livelihoods, but it would be wrong to disrupt the successful vaccination project, especially as no badgers have yet tested positive for TB in High Peak.”

The programme is part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, designed to support privately-led vaccination on the edges of designated high risk areas.

Government policy on the issue is nearing a critical point as a civil service bTB strategy review will be presented to ministers in September.

A Defra spokesman said: “bTB is a slow moving, insidious disease which presents many challenges. It is difficult to detect, can be harboured in the wildlife population and no vaccine is fully effective.

“Vaccinating healthy badgers is part of our strategy but it cannot replace culling in areas where TB is widespread as it cannot cure infected badgers.”

The Derbyshire programme has become a centre of excellence for badger vaccination nationally with the government using it as a training centre for others around the country.

A team of 15 trained wildlife officers, backed by more than 100 volunteers, has been working since May and so far they have vaccinated more than 100 badgers.

Tim Birch, head of living landscapes for the trust, said: “The government has provided almost £190,000 over the next four years so we can expand our vaccination programme across Derbyshire.

“It makes no sense at all for them to then allow a cull to come to Derbyshire when we are showing that vaccination is the way forward.”

The project has involved partners such as the National Trust, but the wildlife trust is still keen to hear from landowners interested in taking part.

Tim said: “Unfortunately the approach is not strategic, and Defra is allowing landowners to choose between vaccination or a cull.

“On one hand they have asked us to be as ambitious as possible, on the other they let landowners choose.”

He added: “We know for a fact that some landowners want a cull simply because they think there are too many badgers, and that’s a totally separate issue which needs its own public discussion.”

In the year to the end of April 2018, there were 137 farmers’ herds under TB restrictions in Derbyshire, and 882 cattle slaughtered, up from 517 in the 12 months previously.

A spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union said: “The spread of TB through the country is slowly moving north and eastwards. Derbyshire’s farmers are at the edge of the disease and face the strain of uncertainty when their cattle are tested.

“This can take months and involves personal stress, costs on the business and adverse impacts on both people and animals. NFU believes that badger vaccination has a role to play where bovine TB is not evident. However it will have no effect whatsoever if there is infection present.”

They added: “Strengthened on-farm measures, movement restrictions and extended testing mean farmers are playing their part and NFU has worked with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and the National Trust on this vaccination project.

“Without this multi-faceted strategy we have no hope of beating this terrible disease. Everyone and every animal, whether cattle or badger, deserves to be free of bovine TB.”

For more information on the vaccination programme, visit https://goo.gl/zF9Ets.