Defra plans to vaccinate badgers in counties next to high-risk bovine TB hotspot areas have been launched.

The new Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) will begin later this year in edge-area counties, spanning from Hampshire to Oxfordshire and Nottinghamshire to Cheshire.

The scheme is part of the government’s overall strategy to eradicate TB from this country.

The projects will vaccinate sick badgers to create buffer zones and prevent the spread of the disease to neighbouring counties.

See also: More news on bovine TB

Defra is working with wildlife and farming groups to design the detail of the scheme so that it gives “the best opportunity for jointly funded, privately led projects to make an effective contribution to combating TB in cattle”.

In addition, the existing £250,000 Badger Vaccination Fund, which aims to offer financial support for privately led vaccination projects, is being reopened for a further and final year.

To apply for the fund for 2014, schemes must involve two or more adjacent cattle farms in a county situated in an edge area.

The scheme, which is only open to new applicants, will offer training, cages, vaccines and matched funding. For more details, interested parties are asked to email Defra at tbadmin@defra.gsi.gov.uk

A Defra spokesman said: “The government will do all it reasonably can to support groups in making bids for funds to start badger vaccination in new areas in 2014.”

The NFU has welcomed the launch of the scheme, but it maintained that diseased badgers still needed to be culled in TB hotspot counties to get on top of the disease.

John Royle, NFU chief farm policy adviser, said: “We’ve always said that we would support the idea of vaccinating badgers in the edge area as one of the measures to help slow disease spread.

“However, in high-risk areas such as Somerset and Gloucestershire we still believe controlling the disease in wildlife remains a crucial element of tackling TB and remain confident that the pilot badger culls will help deliver a reduction of TB in cattle in those areas.”

See also: TB test all cattle from England, Welsh farmers told

New Defra secretary Liz Truss said the pilot culls would continue for a second year in Somerset and Gloucestershire, insisting that “we need to use every tool in the box” to beat TB.

Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said: “It’s great to see the government pushing ahead with this scheme. Care for the Wild and the Badger Trust were helping to evolve a similar plan a year or so ago, so it’s fantastic that this has taken shape and is being given the full backing of Defra.

“Badgers are no more than a minor player when it comes to bovine TB, as the latest evidence suggests they are responsible for less than 6% of new outbreaks of bovine TB, at most.

“But culling them is a completely pointless, unscientific and an ultimately unsuccessful way of dealing with them, so focusing on vaccination in these key areas is a good way to go.

“It would be a real seal of approval to this policy if the new environment minister Liz Truss chaired the next BEVS stakeholder meeting, to show that this is the way the government is heading.”