UK bovine TB rules, penalties and incentives

Defra has introduced more rigorous, evidenced-based bovine TB testing regimes for cattle this autumn, backed by tougher penalties and incentives to encourage farmers to improve biosecurity.

While the number of cattle killed to control TB declined marginally in 2019, about 40,000 dairy and beef animals were still slaughtered across England and Wales.

With the level remaining unacceptably high, the government has begun to step up its bid to tackle the disease this autumn.

See also: Farmers Weekly Podcast Episode 22: Fears for EFA land and TB vaccine hope

With the level remaining unacceptably high, the government has begun to step up its bid to tackle the disease this autumn.

In early September, it announced badger culling would be extended to 11 new areas, taking the total to 54 zones in England.

The government is also pushing a three-pronged approach to tackle the disease on farms:

  • More frequent testing in some areas.
  • Rigidly enforced penalties for missed tests.
  • Incentives to improve biosecurity.

Here we set out the different regimes and controls in place across the UK regions and highlight the latest changes introduced this autumn.

Control policies


England continues to be split into three levels of TB risk and disease prevalence.

These are high, edge and low-risk areas, with different control measures employed in each.


While these remain, there are changes under way to the testing regime in some areas.

Low-risk area

Tests are four yearly across the low-risk area (LRA), which has a low incidence of TB and there is no known reservoir of the disease among local badger populations.

Breakdowns within LRAs have largely been triggered by infection from bought-in cattle.

Farmers buying in stock from areas outside the LRA must arrange and pay for post-movement tests. Tests must be completed between 60 and 120 days after an animal has joined the herd. 

Where herds are on a more frequent testing regime, a pre-movement test is required for animals 42 days old and over, destined for holdings anywhere in Britain.

Edge area (EA)

The edge area (EA) acts a buffer, sitting between the high-risk area (HRA) and LRAs. It spans 14 zones, which have a wide variation in disease levels, reflected in differing testing regimes.

Six of the areas closely bordering the HRA are reckoned to be at a greater risk of TB breakdowns and are on six-monthly tests, while the remaining eight have an annual regime.

For example, herds in Leicestershire are TB tested annually, while herds in Oxfordshire are subject to six-monthly TB testing by default.

High-risk area

The high-risk area (HRA) has the greatest incidence of bovine TB and more repeat cases among herds. There is also a higher level of infection in the local badger population.

The HRA covers 12 zones concentrated in the South West and West Midlands. Until the end of August, these were under an annual testing regime, however, this is one of the major changes introduced this autumn.

From 1 September 2020, Defra started to roll out six-monthly testing procedures in the HRA. The first two counties to see the increased frequency are Shropshire and Staffordshire.

The new regime will be introduced to further HRA zones in the coming months.

Other existing measures include:

  • Compulsory gamma testing to supplement skin test when: infected cattle are the likely TB source; and the infected herd is in an area where badger culling has been completed for two or more years or repeated skin testing has not resolved a TB incident.
  • Using “severe interpretation” for skin tests on traced cattle. This means skin tests in any animals moved and traced from lesion- and/or culture-positive TB breakdown herds will be read using the severe interpretation – meaning the cut-off point for a positive result is lowered to reduce the likelihood of missing infected animals.
  • Harmonising the scheduling of short-interval tests (SITs) in TB breakdown herds – a more rigorous approach will take place in all TB-affected herds; the SITs will take place at least 60 days after the removal of the last reactors.
  • Tighter cattle movement control between TB breakdown herds: Cattle movement can be licensed between TB herds. To reduce TB transmission risks between herds, this will only be permitted where the destination herd is due to have at least two SITs at severe interpretation.
  • 10-mile rule: Farmers can apply to register all land under the same county parish holding (CPH) number within a 10-mile radius.
  • Rules inside merged CPHs: Movements between pieces of land do not need to be recorded or reported.
  • Movements do not trigger a standstill period: ID tags for closed holdings are redundant (you are no longer be able to use the old ID tags for the holdings that were closed due to the merger).
  • Holding registers must be updated: All land treated the same for disease testing and restriction purposes.
  • Temporary land associations (TLA): Additional temporary land within 10 miles can be associated via a 12-month TLA.
  • Temporary CPHs (tCPHs): A tCPH can be used to cover one or more land parcels intended for use up to 12 months.
  • In-calf cows can remain on farm for up to 60 days after they calve: This requires a veterinary and a farmer declaration that certain criteria can be met, such as isolation facilities and the cow will calve within 60 days. The main thing farmers need to be aware of though is the next short interval test can only be done 60 days after the last reactor has left the farm, so it will delay the next test and prevent farms potential from being able to buy in ( as this can only be considered after the first SI test has been completed).

Cattle Health Certification Standards

Defra has offered incentives to farmers facing increased testing in England’s HRA who sign up to the Cattle Health Certification Standards (CHeCS) TB Herd Accreditation programme.

CHeCS scheme members are required to implement a range of biosecurity measures and practices to reduce the risk of a TB outbreak. 

Farmers are audited and receive a score based on the number of years free from the disease – for example, a score of six means the farm has been TB free for six years.

Farmers with a score of one or more can revert to annual testing and can also see zero penalty rates applied to compensation in certain situations. CHeCS measures include:

  • A 60-day quarantine period for bought-in stock followed by a post-movement test.
  • Managing risk from neighbouring farms with improved biosecurity, such as a 3m distance maintained between stock across boundaries.
  • Enhanced biosecurity measures at feed and water sites to reduce infection risks from wildlife.

Incentives for registered farmers actively participating in the scheme

  • Continue to receive 100% compensation for compulsorily slaughtered cattle under certain circumstances as long as the herd has a score of one or above at the time of the breakdown
  • Herds will remain on annual testing in HRAs.


The whole of Scotland has been designated officially TB free (OTF) since September 2009. Low-risk herds are exempt from the default routine testing regime of 48 months, but these are:

  • Herds with fewer than 50 cattle that have had fewer than two consignments of cattle moved on from high-incidence TB areas (including Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) in the previous four years.
  • Herds that slaughter more than 25% of their stock annually and have had fewer than two consignments of cattle moved on from high-incidence TB areas (including Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) in the previous four years.
  • Herds that slaughter more than 40% of their stock annually.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency annually assesses each Scottish herd’s eligibility for exemption from TB testing, and writes to cattle keepers to confirm their status.


Wales is split into low, intermediate and high TB areas according to disease incidence.

Low TB area

The low TB area (LTB) area is in the north-west region of Wales, including Anglesey. It has few breakdowns and these are caused mainly by bought-in animals with latent infections.

The risk to cattle is also reduced because a recent survey of badgers found dead showed no infection in this region.

Unlike the LRA in England, where testing is on a four-yearly basis, the LTB in Wales is on an annual test regime.

Any cattle brought from the intermediate or high TB areas of Wales, or the EA or HRA in England, are post-movement tested between 60 and 120 days.

Intermediate TB area

Two intermediate TB (ITB) areas have been established – one runs from the central south coast through mid Wales, and the other is separated by a narrow channel of the high TB area in the north-east.

These ITB zones have a moderate level of TB breakdowns each year, which are mainly traced back to bought-in stock. Herd testing is on an annual basis, but farmers must also comply with pre-movement testing requirements, where all cattle 42 days old and over must have had a negative test within 60 days of the movement.

High TB area

Wales’ two high TB (HTB) areas straddle the intermediate area, with one sited in the south-west and the other running up the border with England to the east. The disease is endemic in both and there are high levels of breakdowns each year.

Persistent outbreaks, where there is a breakdown of 18 months, are particularly bad in the west HTB area. The Badger Found Dead Survey also confirmed the presence of TB in wildlife with the HTB in the east, recording far higher levels at 19% compared to HTB west at 9%.

Testing for the disease is carried out annually and all stock 42 days old and over must have a negative result within 60 days before movement.

Inconclusive reactors (IRs) in chronic herd breakdowns 

  • As part of the ongoing action plan process, all IRs in chronic herd breakdowns will be slaughtered. Persistent breakdowns will be focused on initially.
  • Further consideration will be given to the wider policy of dealing with IRs.

Biosecurity requirements notices (BRNs)

  • Individual BRNs will be issued in chronic breakdown herds to ensure biosecurity is reviewed and tightened where necessary.
  • Compensation will be reduced in cases of non-compliance. Persistent breakdowns will be focused on initially.

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) has a series of measures to combat the spread of bovine TB.

  • “Severe interpretation” for skin tests on traced cattle: Wider use of the severe interpretation of skin tests in breakdown herds. This means the cut-off point for a positive result will be lowered to reduce the likelihood of missing infected animals in a breakdown.
  • Additional testing after clear test: A further herd test will be introduced after the clear test for farms considered to be a higher risk of reinfection. In effect, this means the annual herd test would be brought forward by six months for a certain number of herds.
  • Rules on “TB-free” status: Herds that have more than one skin test reactor will have their OTF status withdrawn.
  • Reactor data collection visits: Daera officials accompany livestock valuation officers on farm visits and collect data on reactors. The results are used to inform policy on TB skin test reaction changes.


Despite the desire to promote a positive approach to tackling bovine TB with the CheCs incentives, the government has pledged to penalise farmers who fail to meet testing requirements.

Hefty penalties are applied through both Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) reductions and deductions in compensation paid for animals slaughtered to control the disease.


Completing TB tests on time is a condition of the BPS support system.

Penalties for late tests are therefore, applied through the cross-compliance system.

These are levied strictly and are triggered immediately after a test date has been missed.

BPS penalties

Number of days beyond test date Payment reduction
1-10       1%
11-30     3%
30+   5% 

Compensation penalties

In addition to cross-compliance fines, farmers will incur severe penalties on the amount of compensation they receive for animals slaughtered.

Compensation penalities

Number of days beyond test date  Compensation deduction
60-90 25%
90-180 50%
180+  95%

Further information