Selective badger cull in Northern Ireland to start for third year

The third year of a selective badger cull project as part of plans to tackle bovine TB is due to begin in Northern Ireland.

The test and vaccinate or remove (TVR) wildlife intervention research project will start this month in a 100sq km area around Banbridge, County Down, Northerh Irish farm minister Michelle McIlveen announced.

The £5m project, which began in 2014, will analyse the effects of implementing a TVR approach on badgers in an area of high cattle TB prevalence.

See also: Q&A – Selective badger cull in Northern Ireland

The research team hopes it will add to the NI Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs’ (DAERA) knowledge base and provide currently unknown information on badgers and specifically TB in badgers.

The project involves trapping badgers, testing them for TB, vaccinating “clean” badgers and removing any that test positive for the disease.

Last year, researchers said they trapped badgers on 692 occasions. This included 341 unique badgers plus a further 351 recaptured badgers, with some badgers being captured on more than one occasion.

The third year of the project will start in early July and, similar to year two, will involve the capture of wild badgers, sampling, micro-chipping and vaccinating them against bovine TB.

This year, however, for the first time diseased badgers will be culled.

Ms McIlveen said: “I would like to thank the 95% of farmers and land owners who granted access to their land last year to enable my veterinary staff to carry out this important work.

“I would encourage any farmers or landowners who did not participate in years one or two of the programme to consider doing so as we move into years three to five of the project.”

Global vaccine shortage

The worldwide shortage of Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine meant the badger BCG vaccine used in years one and two was unavailable for purchase.

It was possible, however, to obtain a supply of out-of-date BCG vaccine from the Welsh government.

Ms McIlveen explained: “While the Welsh government could not legally use this supply in a badger vaccination programme, it will be permissible for DAERA to use it as part of TVR, given that it is a research project.

“DAERA officials are in the process of organising a stakeholder event for farmers in the TVR area to update them on this development.”

In Wales, the badger vaccination project in Pembrokeshire remains suspended due to the global shortage of BCG vaccine.

Badger cull in England

In England, meanwhile, Natural England is assessing 29 applications for a badger control licence in counties where bovine TB is rife.

Defra secretary Liz Truss has vowed to extend the cull to other counties as her department steps up its efforts to eradicate TB from herds.

The trial cull in Dorset, Somerset and Gloucestershire is due to restart later this summer. An announcement on whether culling will be extended to other counties this year is expected soon.

Anti-cull campaigners insist the government’s “blanket-culling” approach will do little to reduce TB in herds. Instead, they have called on the government to invest in cattle controls and vaccination – both in cattle and badgers.

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