Badger Vaccination update

Whilst the controversial badger cull pilots in England appear set to continue, we felt it was time to review what’s been happening in the management of bovine TB Wales. It’s a chance to review where badger vaccination has taken us in the last year- and, of course, what the future may hold for Welsh badgers.

Badger vaccination in progress by Tom Marshall

Badger vaccination in progress by Tom Marshall

After years of fighting proposals to cull badgers in Wales, WTSWW continues to be grateful that badger culling is not currently Welsh Government policy, and instead Wales has chosen to pursue the much more positive approach badger vaccination to tackle the disease in north Pembrokeshire. We continue to support vaccination as the only method that targets the disease itself, and does not carry the risk of worsening the TB burden in cattle.

Over the last two years, the Welsh Government has been deploying a landscape-scale badger vaccination programme in north Pembrokeshire, in the area termed the ‘Intensive Action Area’ (IAA)- the part of Wales originally proposed for a large scale badger cull. This badger vaccination programme has just reported on the second year of its work- you can read their full report here: http://bit.ly/1hEbBid .

Over the 288km2 included in the programme, during 2013, a total of 1352 badgers in 260 main setts were successfully vaccinated; each was assessed for welfare and none were found to be unfit or to have reacted negatively to the vaccine. Happily, landowners are reported to have been very co-operative, allowing access voluntarily to 258km2 of land. This includes a number of WTSWW nature reserves that fall within the IAA.

Badger vaccination Tom Marshall

Badger vaccination Tom Marshall

At a reported total cost in 2013 of £926,784 (less than in 2012 but nonetheless covering a larger area), the finances for the IAA programme break down to £685 per badger (and a lot less per head of cattle protected). This would appear to compare very favourably to the cost per badger of the pilot culls in England- although official figures do not appear to be available at present, commentators have suggested that the cost may be as much as £4,121 per badger (http://bbc.in/1gBQFpL) with the cost of policing alone for the highly unpopular cull estimated at £1,872 per badger (http://bit.ly/1qCMWNe).

The English pilot culls were also reported to have failed the key tests for being humane, and for being being effective, with less than the necessary 70% of the badger population being removed (http://bit.ly/1hHeR9U). This inevitably raises the question of whether the programme could actually worsen the TB situation in the pilot zones by causing perturbation and the displacement of potentially infected badgers.

Some experts, including Dr Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London, have now been quoted arguing that badger vaccination would be cheaper (http://bit.ly/1gy2dsi), and the experience in Wales would support this. Although badger vaccination has not yet been tested in a large-scale field trial to demonstrate a reduction in TB in cattle, it has been proven that it significantly reduces the disease burden in free-living badgers themselves (http://bit.ly/1m4BJWh), which combined with the lack of any perturbation effect makes a strong argument for vaccination as an alternative to culling, certainly carrying fewer risks. With continuing research into cheaper and more efficient methods of delivering the vaccine (such as through oral bait), vaccination should become more and more feasible in the coming years.

Badger being released by Tom Marshall

Badger being released by Tom Marshall

This year, Welsh Government has also launched a grant to landowners to support them with the costs of deploying badger vaccination, in order to help roll out the benefits of the work outside the IAA. WTSWW is currently waiting to hear about the outcome of its own application to this grant to support badger vaccination at its Castle Woods nature reserve in Carmarthenshire. If we are successful this grant will be matched to the funds already raised by our badger appeal, to deliver maximum benefit. However, we do still need extra funds to make this happen, and we hope to demonstrate with our partner EcoCon that badger vaccination can be done in a cost-effective manner at the scale of a single holding, and therefore be within the reach of many landowners.

If you would like to help us to do this, please consider donating to our badger appeal. Thank you!