Huge disappointment at limitations of Bovine TB Strategy Review led by Sir Charles Godfray

(c) Elliott Neep

The Wildlife Trusts' response to the Bovine TB Strategy Review.

Whilst welcoming the review's recommendations for a changed emphasis in the government’s strategy for eradicating bovine tuberculosis (bTB), The Wildlife Trusts are extremely concerned that it also recommends that badger culling should continue. This flies in the face of robust scientific evidence and we urge the government to halt their flawed policy which leads to tens of thousands of badgers being killed every year. 

Ellie Brodie, Senior Policy Manager of The Wildlife Trusts says:

“The Wildlife Trusts believe that cattle and not badgers should be the focus of efforts to eradicate bTB. We support the review’s recommendation that the focus of the strategy should be shifted to addressing the transmission of bTB between cattle. This is the main route of infection. Only 1 in 20 cases of bTB herd infections are transmitted directly from badgers [1], so culling badgers is not the answer. Several scientific studies have demonstrated that culling increases the prevalence of bTB in the badger population [2,3], and results in it spreading to other areas [4,5,6]. We believe that more must be done by both the government and farmers to improve farm biosecurity and cattle movement controls.”

The Wildlife Trusts have proved that badger vaccination can tackle bTB in badgers

Ellie Brodie continues:

“Badger vaccination should be used strategically, with more resources invested to roll out a widespread vaccination programme. Vaccination has the potential to reduce bTB infection prevalence in the badger population [7], and hence bTB risks to cattle, without the harmful effects associated with culling such as increased prevalence of TB in badgers plus spreading the disease [8,9]. The review highlights the potential for a large-scale badger vaccination programme as an alternative to culling which The Wildlife Trusts welcomes.  The government should do more to support rolling vaccination out to more areas of the country.

The Wildlife Trusts have proved that badger vaccination can tackle bTB in badgers, and Wildlife Trusts have demonstrated it’s do-able. Twelve Wildlife Trusts across England and Wales conducted badger vaccination programmes between 2011-2015*. In this time, we vaccinated more than 1500 badgers. The largest programme is run by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust who train lay vaccinators on behalf of the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA).

The Wildlife Trusts are ideally placed to work with the government and farmers to deliver badger vaccination at a wide-scale.

The Wildlife Trusts call on the government to:

  • Halt the badger cull now.
  • Invest in and promote a strategy for badger vaccination. This should be led and funded by the government, across England.
  • Invest more time and resource in supporting improved farm biosecurity and movement controls.
  • Accelerate development of more effective tests for bTB in cattle and put serious investment into a bTB cattle vaccine. This is a cattle problem, not a wildlife problem.

*Hampshire & Isle of Wight; South & West Wales; Shropshire; Gloucestershire; Leicestershire & Rutland; Staffordshire; Berks, Bucks & Oxon; Warwickshire; Cheshire; Derbyshire; Dorset, and Nottinghamshire.

More information about the badger cull is available on www.wildlifetrusts.org/badgers.

Editor's notes

Which Wildlife Trusts are currently leading on the vaccination of badgers? Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust; Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust

Badger Vaccination: Whilst vaccination doesn’t cure a badger of bTB it does slow the progression of the disease in an individual animal, and lowers the likelihood that the infection will be passed on. Badger vaccination can reduce the chance that a badger will test positive for bTB by as much as 76% (1). The Wildlife Trusts welcome the Government’s announcement that there will be enough supplies of vaccine to allow Defra’s Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme to resume in 2018.

Cull Zones: The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Defra, has granted licenses in England to cull badgers where there’s a high risk of cattle being infected with bTB. Badgers are being culled because they can carry bovine Tb and pass on the disease to other animals; however, badgers are not the main route of infection for farmers’ herds - that comes from cattle to cattle contact. There are now 32 cull zones in the following counties: Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Somerset. This also includes one cull zone in a Low Risk Area in Cumbria.

Unsatisfactory evidence to prove that the badger cull is working: This review, led by Sir Charles Godfray, referred to a study published in 2017 to show that wide-scale, non-selective badger culling is working [10]. This secondary analysis on a small dataset, suggests that culling might be reducing TB inside cull zones and increasing it on adjoining land, as in trial culls. However, the study’s authors cautioned that their findings should not be used to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of the badger cull. Furthermore, results quoted by a Defra Minister in September 2018 drew conclusions based on data that hadn’t been properly analysed by an independent scientific body. This means that it is not possible to say that any reduction in bTB incidence has been caused by the badger cull as they could be down to other factors; from improved testing regimes to more effective cattle movement controls.

References: 

[1] Badgers are responsible for around 6% of all new bTB breakdowns in cattle. See: Donnelly, CA & Nouvellet, P., 2013. The Contribution of Badgers to Confirmed Tuberculosis in Cattle in High-Incidence Areas in England. PLoS Currents: Outbreaks. http://currents.plos.org/outbreaks/article/the-contribution-of-badger-to-cattle-tb-incidence-in-high-cattle-incidence-areas/

[2] Woodroffe, R et al., 2006. Culling and cattle controls influence tuberculosis risk for badgers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103, 14713-14717.

[3] Woodroffe, R et al., 2009. Bovine tuberculosis in cattle and badgers in localized culling areas. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 45, 128-143.

[4] Donnelly, CA et al., 2006. Reduce uncertainty in UK badger culling. Nature, 439: 843-846.

[5] Donnelly, CA et al., 2003. Impact of localized badger culling on tuberculosis incidence in British cattle. Nature, 426: 834-837.

[6] Jenkins, HE et al., 2007. Effects of culling on spatial associations of mycobacterium bovis infections in badgers and cattle. Journal of Applied Ecology, 44, 897-908.

[7] Carter, SP et al., 2012. BCG Vaccination Reduces Risk of Tuberculosis Infection in Vaccinated Badgers and Unvaccinated Badger Cubs. PLOS One, 7: e49833.

[8] Woodroffe, R et al., 2016. Ranging behaviour of badgers Meles meles vaccinated with Bacillus Calmette Guerin. Journal of Applied Ecology, 54: 718-725.

[9] Lesellier, S et al., 2006. The safety and immunogenicity of Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine in European badgers (Meles meles). Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, 112: 24-37.

[10] Brunton et al., 2017. Assessing the effects of the first 2 years of industry-led badger culling in England on the incidence of bovine tuberculosis in cattle in 2013–2015. Ecology and Evolution. 7: 7213–7230. Available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ece3.3254/full