BOVINE TUBERCULOSIS has spread further into wildlife populations than was previously thought, according to the findings of a newly published report.
The report – The Risk To Cattle From Wildlife Species Other Than Badgers In Areas Of High Herd Breakdown Risk – was published last week (Jul 9) amid allegations that its findings were so controversial DEFRA had chosen to release it quietly.
Carried out by the Central Science Laboratory, the study revealed that “deer could pose a significant risk” of spreading bovine TB to cattle and that other wildlife species were infected.
The CSL‘s four-year study in seven English counties is the largest systematic survey for M. bovis ever carried out in the UK.
It involved investigating nearly 5000 carcasses and, while prevalence of the disease was greater in badgers, risks posed by deer should no longer be overlooked, it stated.
The report estimated the UK deer population – including farmed deer – to be between 1.25m and 2.6m, compared with about 300,000 badgers.
Between 1% and 15% (12,500-390,000) of the deer could be infected with bovine TB.
While 4.4% of the 504 fallow deer tested displayed symptoms, 16% of whole carcasses available tested positive.
The report also noted that deer were particularly vulnerable to bovine TB and often shared pasture, feed and water troughs with cattle.
The report was critical of the government, its predecessor, and DEFRA and its predecessor MAFF.
The ministry knew of the high susceptibility of deer to TB 10 years ago but only recently had DEFRA taken action.
MAFF left two herds of deer on the same premises under movement restrictions for 11 years after bovine TB was found in a red deer hind.
MAFF declined to examine the carcasses of the deer when they were culled after foot-and-mouth in 2001, but owners‘ private tests revealed likely bovine TB in more than 30% of stock, it said.
The National Federation of Badger Groups‘ chief executive Elaine King said it was strange the report had been posted on the DEFRA website late with no press release or briefing.
“It‘s now quite clear that bovine TB is endemic in wildlife across the UK,” said Dr King.
The study confirmed the presence of TB in certain species and showed it had spread to the yellow-necked mouse, wood mouse, shrew, polecat, muntjac and stoat.