Bovine TB (bTB) is an infectious bacterial disease that affects cattle, leading to serious economic problems in the farming industry. Defra (the Department of Food and Rural Affairs) estimated that in 2010 alone, bTB cost the taxpayer £90m, with 25,000 cows slaughtered as a result of farms being tested positive for the disease. At the start of September, a second round of badger culls in west Somerset and west Gloucester began. Between these two areas, a maximum number of 1,800 badgers are allowed to be culled. This is a controversial measure to try to halt the spread of bTB, as badgers can carry the infectious bacteria from herd to herd.
Many strongly oppose the culling of badgers, arguing that populations could only be responsible for a very small percentage of the spread and that there is no evidence to suggest killing badgers will reduce cases of bTB. On the other hand, farmers across the country argue that previous measures have failed and that culling badgers is now necessary to protect their way of life.
Recently, a new scheme has been proposed by the government which will involve the immunisation of populations of badgers, instead of culling them. The immunisation scheme is being rolled out in Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and East Susex. This is an unusual development as supporters of the culling typically argued that vaccination of badgers would simply not be feasible. Although immunisation cannot be used to treat badgers already carrying the disease it will prevent those who are currently healthy from being infected. The hope is that immunisation will keep bTB contained within hotspot areas by creating a buffer zone. Highly affected areas can then be targeted with other methods to remove or significantly reduce the population of infected badgers.
The new scheme has been described as ‘fantastic’ by Dominic Dyer, a member of the Badger Trust and a policy advisor for Care for the Wild. The scheme is generally thought to be a step in the right direction, although many people still remain against the current culls.