In September the mass culling of badgers is due to start in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire using an untested method of 'free shooting'. Presented by the Government as a cheaper option, free shooting has a high probability of failure, resulting in farmers ultimately having to resort to the much more expensive method of cage trapping and shooting. It will not result in 'healthy badgers' as free shooting is indiscriminate and almost all (80%) of the badgers shot or wounded will be healthy.
There are other options.
Until the vaccination of cattle is approved, a combination of improved biosecurity and vaccination of badgers is more likely to have long-term benefits in bovine TB (bTB) control, in addition to being by far the most animal-friendly solution to the problem. Trials have shown vaccination to reduce the incidence of positive serological TB test results in badgers by almost 74%, suggesting it will be several times more effective than a cull in reducing the disease. Although vaccination is at present fairly costly, if rolled out across affected areas, the mass production of materials and vaccine will inevitably bring down costs.
Despite the potentially positive results available under a mass vaccination project, the Coalition Government cancelled four out of the five vaccination trials set up by Labour and have shown little willingness to explore this area as an alternative to the cull. Until there is greater investment into the development of an oral vaccine for badgers and approval for cattle vaccination, badger groups and farmers unwilling to cull are generally left to foot the vaccination bill themselves.
Network for Animals has given grants to two vaccination projects in the South West, one in Cornwall and one in Somerset, to support local badger groups vaccinating in partnership with local farms. We support vaccination, in conjunction with effective biosecurity and improved cattle welfare, as the humane alternative to the culling of badgers. It’s time to listen to science, not shoot in the dark.
***Photos courtesy of Bob Speechley, Cornwall Badger Rescue