Fewer TB-restricted herds after north Cornwall badger cull

The number of herds under TB movement restrictions in north Cornwall has fallen dramatically since the start of badger culling in the region, Farmers Weekly has learned.

A spokesman for a company carrying out the cull in north Cornwall said the number of TB-restricted herds has fallen from 80 to 25 in two years, out of 320 herds in total.

The area in question stretches from Boscastle and Bude on the north-west Cornish coast and inland to Launceston and to Holsworthy in Devon.

See also: Video – farmers living on the frontline of bovine TB

“The farmers are delighted. Real progress has been made,” the spokesman said.

“It’s the equivalent to a 69% fall in TB-restricted herds in the area after just three years of culling.”

Just under 2,000 badgers had been removed since culling began in the area in 2016, the spokesman said.

He said it was clear that culling badgers was having a dramatic effect on lowering cattle TB rates in the area.

The culling is not taking place on land belonging to the National Trust – and this could be holding up progress, the spokesman said. “They are farming tenants. The National Trust holds a vast amount of land in the area where the badgers are ‘thick’. But they are not willing to debate.”

‘Anergic cows’

In addition, the spokesman said the TB skin test was failing to detect “anergic cows” – heavily lesioned cows that are so badly infected that their immune system gives up and they fail to react to the skin test.

These animals pose a significant risk of spreading TB in the herd, especially among calves.

“Anergic cows are responsible for massive outbreaks. It’s often the case that the cow has TB in the udder and you think it’s mastitis,” the spokesman said.

“They milk the cows separately and feed the milk to the calves. This then becomes a milk-borne disease in young calves.”

The gamma interferon blood test can be useful in detecting anergic animals, as it is more sensitive than the skin test.

“We need more tools in the box to complete this job. There is an unwillingness to properly do the research and get these tests in play,” the cull company spokesman said.

Cull numbers due soon

Defra said it could not confirm when this year’s badger cull numbers would be released. However, in previous years the figures have been published in December.

An independent scientific review, led by Sir Charles Godfray, concluded that badgers were a known reservoir of TB infection. However, it concluded that badger culling had only a “modest effect” in reducing TB in cattle.

TB cattle slaughterings rise by 5% in England and 3% in Wales

The number of cattle slaughtered because of bovine TB remains stubbornly high, according to government figures.

On Wednesday (12 December) Defra released its quarterly publication on the incidence and prevalence of TB in cattle in Great Britain.

The total number of cattle slaughtered due to a TB incident in England in the 12 months to September increased by 5% on the previous 12 months to 33,265.

In Wales the number slaughtered was 9,965, an increase of 3%. In Scotland, which has had officially TB-free (OTF) status since 2009, and in the Low Risk Area of England, herd incidence and herd prevalence remain “very low and stable”.

The number of new TB herd incidents over this period decreased by 7% in England overall, driven by a reduction in the High Risk Area of 287 new herd incidents. Wales, as a whole, had 3% reduction in new herd incidents to 751.