Landowners across four Cheshire farming estates have launched a scheme to vaccinate badgers against TB.
The Eaton Estate, Bolesworth Estate, Peckforton Estate and part of the Cholmondeley Estate will work together over the next four years across 86sq km of the county’s countryside.
It is believed to be the first successful application to the government’s Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (Bevs) by a group of private landowners.
And it represents one of the largest areas covered by the scheme in the country.
Bevs was launched in 2014 and aims to curb the spread of bovine TB in so-called edge-area counties, bordering more high-risk areas.
In high-risk areas, known as “TB hotspots”, in south-west counties such as Somerset and Gloucestershire, the government is trialling a pilot badger cull with a view to rolling out the policy to other counties if it proves to be “safe, humane and effective”.
In Cheshire, a county considered to be in the TB edge area, the four estates will match-fund the £165,000 grant awarded by Defra to roll out the scheme.
Edwin Christmas, estate director at Eaton Estate, said: “We believe the vaccination scheme is the best option available to us at this time.
“It’s a big commitment from a group of private landowners, but we recognise that we need to take action to help safeguard the livelihoods of our tenant farmers against the risk of bovine TB, and in the current rural climate the consortium felt it had to take action.”
Under the scheme, the badgers are captured and trained staff inject the animals with the vaccine before safely releasing them back into the wild.
Bovine TB is one of the UK’s major animal health problems. It represents a substantial threat to cattle farmers’ livelihoods, the farming industry, as well as the health of wildlife and livestock.
The landowners say the scheme is an opportunity to gauge the efficacy of vaccination in Cheshire before the disease spreads further in the county.