Improvements are to be made to the way the pilot badger culls are being carried out in Gloucestershire and Somerset before the system can be rolled out to other areas affected by bovine TB next year. This follows criticism of some aspects of the culls by an Independent Expert Panel, whose report was officially published last week.
It says that marksmen’s levels of accuracy must improve, they need more training and that contractors must be more efficient- however, Defra points out that workers were operating in ‘the face of a sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation’. The report, which centred on the methodology of the cull, not its necessity, also recognises the near-impossibility of accurately estimating wild animal populations and suggests that pre-cull targets may not be necessary.
New measures by Defra include giving farmers in the cull areas bespoke advice on protecting their farms from the disease. Private individuals can apply for grants to vaccinate badgers on the borders of areas affected by bovine TB.
A new cattle vaccine may be field tested next year and an oral vaccine for badgers could be available by 2019. ‘Doing nothing is not an option,’ says Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson. ‘Bovine TB is a terrible disease that is devastating our cattle and causing misery in rural communities.’
The NFU and CLA have expressed disappointment that further culls can’t take place more quickly. Last year, 4,815 new herds were infected with TB and 32,620 cattle slaughtered.
* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter