VACCINATION schemes are a practical and cost-effective option in dealing with bovine tuberculosis in badgers, an animal trust claims.
The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is calling on the Government to support vaccination schemes ahead of planned badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire for a second year.
The group is calling for a nationally coordinated and funded strategy to be delivered with measures to tackle the disease in cattle.
And the Hampshire branch says it will focus on badger vaccinations on sites that pose the highest potential risk.
A report published by the organisation reveals the progress of ten badger vaccination schemes over the past three years.
Its findings include that vaccination across large areas of land will reduce delivery costs, which are £380 per dose, if equipment and resources are to be shared, and it is expected to provide greater disease control and benefits within badger populations.
It also states that vaccinations should be delivered alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures.
The trust says that vaccination reduces the severity of the disease, the shedding of bacteria from infected individual badgers and the disease’s prevalence in badger populations.
Paul Wilkinson, head of living landscapes for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We have been working on the issue of bovine TB (bTB) and its links to badgers for many years.
“We work very closely with the farming community, as well as being significant farmers and landowners in our own right, and are very conscious of the hardship that bTB causes.
“Culling badgers is not the answer; it won’t significantly reduce disease prevalence in cattle and could even make the situation worse, due to the perturbation effect where the disease is spread by badgers moving between setts post-cull.
“It is vital that we find the right mechanisms to control this disease and the emphasis of all our efforts should be to find an effective, long-term solution.
“We firmly believe that vaccination offers the most effective, long-term and sustainable approach to bTB in badgers, and there is a strong scientific evidence base supporting this view.
“However, addressing the disease in badgers can at best make a limited contribution to the eradication of bTB in cattle.
“Cattle to cattle transmission represents the most important route of disease spread, so it is vital that the main focus of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bTB remains on cattle measures, as this is where the most significant disease-control gains will be made.”
Debbie Tann, chief executive of Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, said: “We are classified as being in an ‘edge’ area in Hampshire and so our strategy locally has been to focus our badger vaccinations on sites that pose the highest potential risk.
“Thanks to the generosity of our members we raised £45,000 through an appeal and began vaccinating on four sites this year”