National Trust commence Badger TB vaccination programme

The announcement of a badger TB vaccination trial on the National Trust’s Killerton Estate has been welcomed by both farmers and local environmental groups. The four year programme which will commence this May aims to show that vaccination is a viable alternative to culling programmes, particularly in places where Defra’s culling criteria cannot currently be met.

Bovine tuberculosis is a major burden for both farmers and taxpayers in the UK. Last year the cost of the disease to the taxpayer was almost £63 million, mainly paid out in compensation to farmers who had cattle destroyed as a result of the disease. However farmers say that this sum does not cover the cost of replacing lost animals, and more needs to be done to prevent the spread of the disease.

Badger culling, the current recommended strategy for control of bovine TB, has been shown to be effective within culling sites but can have detrimental knock on effects for surrounding areas, which often see an increased incidence of the disease. As a consequence of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) which showed these effects Defra introduced stringent criteria to set the conditions under which badger culling can take place, which require farmers to demonstrate that they can minimize any potential edge effects, and cull within a minimum area size of 150km2. There are very few instances when these criteria can be met. When these criteria cannot be fulfilled it seems that vaccination may be the only viable option but so far there is little evidence to show how effective it might be.

The new programme funded by the National Trust aims to demonstrate to the government and farmers that vaccination is a viable alternative to culling. It also aims to stimulate research into an oral vaccine, such as the type which has been used with great success to treat rabies, which would be a cheap and easy to administer option for carrying vaccination out on a larger scale. Mark Harold from the national trust said that he hopes that this project can “pave the way for more widespread use of vaccination as an effective alternative to culling”, and also noted that “the National Trust is in a unique position as a major landowner in rural areas” allowing them to pioneer the scheme.

The vaccination programme will involve 18 tenant farmers on 20 km2 farmland in the Killerton estate, a prime example of a site that cannot meet current DEFRA criteria for badger culls. It is expected to cost around £80,000 per year and run until 2015. Badgers will be trapped, vaccinated and marked by licensed experts.