A study to test roadkill badgers to assess the level of bovine TB in Cheshire has been launched.
Farming groups, wildlife charities, scientists and vets will work together for the project.
A team of vets based at the University of Liverpool will test badgers killed in road collisions for TB.
See also Bovine TB and the badger cull
Cheshire is considered to be within the “edge area” of progression northwards of bovine TB. The county has seen a year-on-year increase of bTB cases in livestock herds.
The extent of badgers’ role in the disease remains unknown, although it has established a strong presence in southern parts of the county.
The study will be the first for more than 10 years to try to establish the presence of the disease in Cheshire.
The NFU, Cheshire Wildlife Trust, government scientists from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) and vets from Liverpool University will work together on the scheme.
Last year, there were 143 new cases of bovine TB in Cheshire, which led to the destruction of 829 cattle. In the UK as a whole, more than 27,000 cattle were slaughtered due to TB during January to October 2013.
Cheshire Bovine TB Eradication Group chairman and west Cheshire dairy farmer Richard Fair said: “This initiative offers an opportunity to look at the level of infection in local wildlife to really get a handle on where the disease is so we can work together to stop it in its tracks.”
Professor Malcolm Bennett, of Liverpool University, who is leading the study, said: “Bovine TB is a serious disease and how to go about its control is both a complex and controversial issue.
“Any solution should be based on evidence, including some understanding on whether or not, and if so where, TB is present in cattle and badgers.”
The study comes as the government assesses a badger culling trial in the South West, while in Cheshire, wildlife charities are expanding badger vaccination trials in parts of the region.
An independent report into the success or failings of the culling trials in the South West will be published in the next few weeks.