A vet filling a syringe in preparation for a TB test on a cow© Tim Scrivener

Cattle farmers in TB high-risk areas will be required to test all herds more regularly from 2019, as part of government plans to stamp out the disease in England.

Routine six-monthly tests will be introduced for all herds in the High Risk Area – mainly the South West and parts of the Midlands – from January 2019.

This change will see the cost and time spent testing bovines increase for cattle farmers in these areas, who currently must test their herds on an annual basis.

See also: Analysis – is the badger cull working in England?

However, Defra says a stricter testing regime is necessary to identify and remove TB cattle more quickly.

Annual tests in these areas will be preserved for herds that have gone five or more years without disease and farms accredited under the Cattle Herd Certification Standards (CHeCS) scheme, which requires tougher biosecurity measures to be observed.

Badger cull numbers

Defra announced the changes on Thursday (21 December) alongside its evaluation of the 2017 badger culls.

In total, 19,274 badgers were culled in 19 licensed cull zones this autumn. This meant trained marksmen in all these areas “achieved the badger population reductions needed to realise disease control benefits”.

However, no figures have been released for the number of badgers culled in the original two pilot zones of west Somerset and Gloucestershire, which were both granted supplementary five-year culling licences this year.

The latest peer-reviewed data on these two pilots – a paper by Brunton et al (2017) – indicate badger control has contributed significantly to reducing TB in herds.

Defra said the paper showed analysis following the first two years of culling contributed to a 58% disease reduction in herds in Gloucestershire and a 21% drop in Somerset.

UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens stressed that disease control benefits from badger culling will be achieved only “if comprehensive cattle controls are applied rigorously within each cull area”.

NFU deputy president Minette Batters said: “No one has ever said culling alone will eradicate bovine TB.

“Only by using all the available options – cattle testing, cattle movement controls, on-farm biosecurity, and vaccination of badgers in areas on the edge of disease spread – will we stand a chance of controlling and eradicating this devastating disease, which led to more than 29,000 cattle being slaughtered in England last year.”

Antis criticise Gove

Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “Defra secretary Michael Gove is down in Devon today promoting his release of beavers into the countryside.

“But if he wants to be seen as a friend of animals, he has to take into account the department he is heading has currently removed more than 20,000 badgers – one of the biggest destructions of a protected species in the UK.

“We want to bring this pointless killing to an end. We don’t think the science behind the culls is conclusive.”