A new TB badger vaccination trial is due to begin in west Cornwall in the next few days, it has emerged.
Farmers and landowners on five farms in the Penwith area will take part in the monitored vaccination pilot this autumn, with the support of volunteers in the wider community.
If the trials are successful, a five- to six-year vaccination programme across the whole of the 200sq km of the Penwith peninsula will be rolled out. The trial will involve trained volunteers trapping and vaccinating badgers across the peninsula.
Badger vaccination has been ongoing in west Cornwall for the last three years on a small scale. But thanks to an injection of government funding, the project is being scaled up.
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL), led by professor Rosie Woodroffe, a senior research fellow, will manage the project, which was the brainchild of Lib Dem West Cornwall MP Andrew George.
A six-week pilot cull of badgers is nearing completion in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire. DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has said that culling badgers may need to continue for 25 years to eradicate the disease in this country.
But Mr George said he hoped the results of the scheme would offer politicians an alternative to widespread culling.
“While other areas are concerning themselves with the badger cull, I believe we have a better and more workable solution which I guess will, in time, prove to be not only more productive but less expensive than the government’s favoured option,” he added.
Mr George said a trial cull of badgers in west Cornwall a decade ago resulted in less than 50% of badgers being killed.
For this reason, he doubted whether the government would identify west Cornwall as a pilot area for the culls to proceed as at least 70% of the badger population is required to be culled within any given trial area.
“It is therefore highly unlikely that west Cornwall will ever be identified as an area where the government’s policy can proceed,” he said.
“Therefore, in the light of that, and for many other reasons, we cannot simply leave this disease to ravage our dairy and beef herds without taking action. Local farmers are at their wits end.”
A DEFRA spokesman said: “The government contribution is fairly modest and is part of the £250,000 badger vaccination deployment fund, which groups can apply for, especially to help get projects off the ground in the first year.
“They have been able to demonstrate that they can provide enough funding to maintain it over several years. The recommendation is that you should be able to vaccinate over four to five years to see any benefit.”
The spokesman added that badger vaccination, as part of a wider package of measures, could be useful in counties on the edge of TB hotspots.
“Vaccination does not work on badgers that already have TB. It does not provide immunity to all animals,” said the spokesman.
“However, for other areas, particularly counties in low-risk, edge areas, it is potentially a really useful tool. If groups such as Penwith can get enough landowners interested, it’s something that we are willing to support.”