The badger vaccination coordinator for Somerset Badger Group, an organisation offering vaccination to farms in and around the pilot cull zone in west Somerset wrote this letter to the West Somerset Free Press.  Her letter captures the key issues at the heart of the controversial decision to cull badgers and addresses several of the fundamental flaws in the proposals to tackle TB in cattle via badgers.

The Editor,
West Somerset Free Press.

Dear Sir,

I am writing relating to your article “Top court rejects fight to stop badger cull” as I feel I must point out that these pilot culls whilst being backed by the current Government are not scientific studies.  Their objective is not to help control the spread of tuberculosis in cattle (bTB), but instead to find out if shooting free running badgers is humane, effective (kill 70% of badgers) and can be carried out without any public safety issues.

If these two pilot culls are deemed to be humane, effective and safe then there are plans to issue 10 more licences per year for the next four years which will result in an estimated 130,000 badgers being killed whilst potentially making the situation worse.  The Government’s own estimate is for only a 16% decrease in the incidence of bTB in cattle after nine years.

The only sustainable solution to prevent the totally unnecessary slaughter of both cattle and badgers is to vaccinate cattle and many of the farmers I talk to want to be able to do this.  Sadly the vaccination of cattle against bTB is currently prohibited by EU legislation, primarily because the BCG vaccine interferes with both the recognised tests for TB in cattle (it would result in a false positive TB test).  To overcome this problem a DIVA test (differentiate infected from vaccinated animals) has been developed and is currently going through the certification process.

There is an alternative now to culling badgers until the BCG cattle vaccine can be used and that is the vaccination of badgers.  The Welsh Assembly Government has adopted this and our Government should listen to the science and the facts and do the same.  Vaccinating badgers does not have the detrimental effects of disrupting the behaviour of the groups of badgers within the culling area the so called perturbation effect with its associated potential for spreading the disease.

The Somerset Badger Group supported by Secret World Wildlife Rescue, Network for Animals and the Badger Trust, has been working with a number of farmers locally and has successfully vaccinated badgers on their land using fully trained and certified volunteer lay vaccinators.  As Coordinator for the Somerset Badger Group’s vaccination programme I would urge other local farmers to think again about the cull and take the safer option of vaccination rather than culling.  Those farmers who find themselves in the high risk outer 2km ring need to demand safeguards for their cattle from the cull company otherwise they along with the badgers will be the losers.  I would also urge all farmers to demand that this Government take all necessary action to ensuring that cattle vaccination can be used as soon as possible.

If anyone would like to know more about badger vaccination then please contact me.

Vanessa Mason
Badger Vaccination Coordinator, Somerset Badger Group