Defra has launched a large-scale badger vaccination scheme to combat the spread of bovine TB across England.
The department said that the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (Bevs) would create buffer zones of healthy badgers at the edge of existing disease hotspots.
See also: Minister says badger cull vital
The programme will target counties in the middle of the country such as Cheshire, Oxfordshire and Hampshire.
These edge areas are most at risk of the disease spreading from the South West and West Midlands, a Defra statement released on 2 September explained.
The Bevs package of support includes a funding award of up to 50% of long-term costs for vaccinating, vaccination advice from field experts, free loans of equipment such as traps, and free vaccine supply.
Eligible vaccination projects need to be predominantly in the edge area and will be required to cover a minimum area of approximately 15sq km, Defra added.
It also set out a timetable for applications:
– Expressions of interest should be made by 27 January 2015.
– Full applications must be made by 27 February 2015
– Defra intends to make decisions on applications by 24 March 2015.
Defra secretary Liz Truss said she hoped wildlife and farming groups would take up the opportunity to tackle the disease.
“I want to use annual badger vaccination over wider areas than is currently carried out to show that vaccination has a role to play in combating this disease,” Ms Truss said.
Farm minister George Eustice added: “This could be an important part of our collective efforts, to prevent the spread of this terrible disease in cattle to new areas of the country.”
Chief vet Nigel Gibbens also urged groups to take advantage of the scheme offer.
“It is an important effort to halt the disease spreading throughout England. We know vaccination cannot cure badgers already carrying TB, but used in the right areas, it can play a vital role in creating a barrier to the disease’s spread.”