Vets urge Defra to reverse Derbyshire badger cull decision

A group of vets from Derbyshire has written a letter to the farming press to show support for their clients dealing with the devastating disease of bovine TB.

The letter, signed by 10 vets from seven different practices and seen by Farmers Weekly, urges Defra to follow the science on its bovine TB policy.

It says the evidence that reducing the badger population also reduces bovine TB is clear.

See also: NFU considers legal action over cancelled badger cull

“An independent, peer-reviewed paper published last month in Nature showed that removing a proportion of the badger population has reduced new breakdowns by 66% [in Gloucestershire],” says the letter.

Derbyshire-based vet Sarah Tomlinson, of Westpoint Farm Vets, who signed the letter, told Farmers Weekly: “We are urging the government to review its decision not to roll out the culls to Derbyshire.

“We condone the badger vaccination project, which has been happening in the north of the county.

“But where the epidemiological evidence suggests that TB is being spread by badgers, we support the need for reduction in badger numbers.”

During a parliamentary debate on TB in cattle and badgers last month, farm minister George Eustice acknowledged that the decision to pause a proposed cull in the south of Derbyshire had caused “great frustration for farmers”.

“We did that to ensure that we can assess how we can have co-existence of badger vaccination and culling in parts of the edge area.

“That is why we chose to pause it for this year,” said Mr Eustice.

The NFU is considering applying to the High Court for a judicial review in a bid to overturn the refusal.

Vaccination project

The letter praises the time, effort and charitable funds devoted by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust in recent years to vaccinate badgers in the north of the county “where cattle TB was spreading but the badger population was not infected”.

But it states: “In other areas of Derbyshire, government vets have strong epidemiological evidence that we have an infected badger population, and that this this is infecting cattle herds.

“The recently published Animal and Plant Health Agency [Apha – the government’s own vets and scientist] epidemiology report for Derbyshire shows that 77% of TB breakdowns were caused by badgers.”

Gamma testing

Opponents of culling have pointed to a spike in TB rates in Gloucestershire from 2017 up to the end of 2018.

But Ms Tomlinson said use of the gamma (blood) test in the county since mid-2017 for confirmed breakdowns has been identifying more infected cattle.

Ahead of the general election on 12 December, Ms Tomlinson urged cattle farmers to invite MPs on to their farms to explain the devastation that bovine TB causes to their businesses and their own mental health.

Derbyshire has been fully in the edge area since 2013 after Defra announced its 25-year TB-eradication strategy for England.

However, central, southern and west areas of the county that were previously in the High Risk Area are now subject to six-monthly TB testing.

Last year, just under 45,000 cattle in the UK were slaughtered because of bovine TB, costing taxpayers an estimated £100m.