The National Trust claims it has slashed the costs of vaccinating badgers during a four-year trial at its Killerton estate in Devon.
The trust originally estimated the project would costs £80,000/year to administrate, but says it has found the process of capturing and vaccinating the badgers has become more efficient, cutting costs to £45,000/year.
The aim of the project, funded by the conservation charity, is to demonstrate that the vaccination of badgers on an estate-wide scale can be made practical and cost-effective.
The trust claims vaccinating badgers in order to reduce their level of bovine TB infection will reduce the risk of cattle being exposed to the disease.
But the NFU has pointed out the programme was carried out in an area where TB is endemic and therefore is unlikely to have had any effect on controlling disease.
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said vaccination had to be part of the mix in the fight against TB.
“But we must remember that vaccination will not cure a sick badger and in areas where TB is endemic, up to one in three badgers could have the disease,” she said.
“This particular National Trust programme was carried out in an area where TB is endemic and therefore is unlikely to have had any effect on controlling disease – indeed some farms in the area came down with TB during this badger vaccination trial.”
The best way of eradicating bovine TB in areas where the disease was rife was to reduce the population of badgers at the same time as culling infected cattle, otherwise reinfection would continue to occur, she said.
In total, 18 National Trust tenant farmers were involved in the programme, which was carried out across an area of 20sq km on the south-west estate.
Patrick Begg, rural enterprises director for the National Trust, said whatever the conclusions about whether the pilot culls were effective, vaccination needed to be part of the mix of measures used to tackle bovine TB.
“As a major landowner with many farming tenants, we understand how devastating an outbreak of bovine TB can be. That is why it is important for us to play our part in tackling this disease by finding a practical solution to prevent its spread.”
Mr Begg said as well as calling for better biosecurity,the trust had started the project at Killerton to show how badger vaccination could be deployed over a large area.
“Now we want to share this knowledge and the lessons we have learned with the opening of Killerton as a national training school for the vaccination of badgers.”
Working alongside trainers from Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), the Killerton estate will host training courses aimed at farmers and landowners, which will teach them how to trap and vaccinate badgers.