A region of Wales with historically low levels of bovine TB has recorded its highest number of herd breakdowns in 10 years.
North-west Wales, classified as a Low TB Area under Wales’ TB Eradication Programme, has historically had persistently low levels of TB.
But in the first quarter of 2020 there was an increase in incidence, prevalence and reactors, according to data published by the Welsh government on 7 July.
See also: Counting the cost of bovine TB in Wales
At 27 open incidents and 60 TB reactors, the numbers are very low compared with other Welsh regions – but the trend is a worrying one.
The north-west is the only region of Wales where cattle do not need a pre-movement test if they are moving from or within the area.
But herds which have recently had a TB breakdown or are subject to contiguous testing do need this test until they return to normal surveillance testing. Contiguous tests are undertaken in herds that are deemed at risk to adjacent infected herds.
Overall, Wales has seen a small fall in the number of cattle herds with bovine TB, according to the latest Welsh government statistics.
A total of 94.7% of herds were officially TB free in the first quarter of 2020 compared with 94.2% in the same period in 2019.
But, as with the Low TB Area, there is an upward trend in infection rates in north-east Wales.
Of the 920 herds in the Intermediate North TB zone, 6.4% were restricted compared with 2-4% before 2016.
A cluster of breakdowns near the English border is being cited as a reason for a spike in open incidents to 59.
In November 2018, the Welsh government introduced contiguous testing of cattle herds in the Intermediate North zone following a big rise in bovine TB incidents.
Most TB breakdowns in Wales continue to be in the High TB areas in the east and west of the country.
There were 175 open incidents in High TB Area East, down four on the first quarter of 2019; it showed a slight increase in the number of TB-free herds – 93.7% compared with 93.2%.
West Wales figures
In High TB West, there were 313 open incidents, down 35 on the previous period, but this region had by far the highest number of TB reactors, at 1,336.
Herd prevalence in this area has fallen in the past two quarters – there were 9.8 TB-restricted herds per 100 herds.
Another issue the statistics flag up is the number of recurring breakdowns. Of the herd breakdowns closed in Wales during the 2018 first quarter, 29% have since had a recurrence.
Dairy herds have the highest number of infections – of the 2,275 herds in Wales, 15.7% were under restriction in the first quarter of 2020. In comparison, the figure is 2.5% for the 9,083 beef herds in Wales.