Wildlife Trust’s efforts to limit the spread of bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) in Vale of Belvoir seriously undermined by muddled policy

Elliot Neep NeepImages.com

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, has today outlined its frustration that muddled government policy is seriously undermining its efforts to work with farmers to limit the impact of bTB.

In partnership with the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, the charity has been vaccinating badgers on the South Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border since 2015 but this work is now under threat due to a local badger cull licence application and a poorly framed plan for no cull zones in areas where vaccinations are being delivered.  

A cull licence application has been made on behalf of local landowners for an unidentified area within Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust believes that any local cull would undermine progress with the vaccination programme and result in a waste of public funds and donations due to the likelihood of vaccinated badgers being killed.  The decision on the application will not be made until later in the summer but the charity has already seen a dramatic reduction in the willingness of landowners to take part in the vaccination project. 

Badger in humane cage about to be vaccinated against bTB

Jusep Monero

The Trust believes that efforts to stop the spread of bTB should be focussed on stopping cattle to cattle transmission through movement of infected cattle, developing a cattle vaccine, improved biosecurity and vaccination of badgers. It has called for the cull application to be suspended until the results of a new No Cull Zone Consultation, being carried out by DEFRA, are announced but it’s calls have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Speaking about the charity’s frustration Head of Conservation Janice Bradley said: “Given that the government launched a consultation last month on the principle of how culling and vaccinations can be managed in areas like ours, it is hugely frustrating that an existing application is disrupting our long established, and successful,  programme before the consultation is completed.”

The Trust believes the pace of policy development and a recent High Court ruling also call into question the current application process. In March the Government issued its response to the Godfray review, a review of its 25 Year Bovine TB Strategy, making clear that it wishes to see badger vaccination programmes substantially expanded. The High Court also recently rejected the NFU’s Appeal against a ruling to not allow culling in Derbyshire, where Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have successfully been delivering the UK’s largest badger vaccinations project.

Our dedicated staff and volunteers are out there vaccinating badgers, helping farmers to protect their cattle, but the current situation is very demoralising.”

 

Mrs Bradley added: “The policy framework is shifting rapidly and to have our work undermined by a cull licence application submitted before the Government responded to the Godfray Review and the current consultation was launched is a real blow. Our dedicated staff and volunteers are out there vaccinating badgers, helping farmers to protect their cattle, but the current situation is very demoralising.”

Since the cull licence application was submitted farmers and landowners responsible for a significant area where vaccinations took place last year have refused to commit to this year’s programme and the charity, which works with dozens of farmers across the county, fears the divisive nature of the debate around culling threatens the positive relationships it has built up with farmers through the vaccination programme.

Mrs Bradley added: “A number of landowners are yet to grant us access to vaccinate badgers this year because of the cull licence application, but we remain fully committed to working with farmers to protect their livestock, livelihoods and wildlife through vaccination. We are now finalising our response to the consultation but our position remains clear; there is no scientific evidence to justify culling in Edge areas (areas between high and low risk areas for bTB) and new cull zone proposals will severely compromise existing badger vaccination projects and hinder efforts to expand badger vaccination. They would also waste public funds as vaccinated badgers are inevitably culled.”

BEVS Badger Team DSC_0855

Heather Keetley

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s vaccination programme offers landowners a pragmatic and cost effective route to controlling one of the possible causes of the spread of bTB and its team has already successfully vaccinated ten badgers this season, in just the first round of vaccination. However, it fears the ongoing confusion will mean some landowners miss out on the benefit of having badgers on their land being vaccinated – with no guarantee a future cull will take place. As a result, its team is working hard to encourage landowners to remain part of the scheme to ensure they don’t put their put their livestock at unnecessary risk whilst holding out for a cull that has no guarantee of taking place.

Until a cattle vaccine has been developed, badger vaccination combined with better testing of cattle and reduced movements of cattle between farms, are, the Wildlife Trust believes, the only effective ways of controlling this disease and protecting the livelihood of those farmers who have raised cattle in this area for generations.

Mrs Bradley concluded: “We recognise the terrible impact of bovine TB on farmers and their livelihoods, but there is no scientific case for culling locally and our supporters have made it clear that they do not support culling either. Given recent developments we’re hopeful that no licence to cull locally will be approved, but the current policy is looking increasingly muddled and both Natural England and Defra must provide clarity urgently to protect the long-term investment they have made with us, and the public in the vaccination programme.”

The consultation in no cull zones in edge areas closes on June 26th and further details can be found at consult.defra.gov.uk/animal-health-and-welfare/badger-no-cull-zones-edge-area/