Badgers and bTB

Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with me will know how passionate I am about wildlife conservation. I often get asked about the issues surrounding badgers and bTB, as many people are unaware of the ins and outs. So I decided to write a short blog detailing some of the facts and figures!

What is bTB? 

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a highly infectious disease, devastating thousands of farms annually by infecting livestock.  By law, infected cows must be killed and over 300,000 cattle have been culled since 2008. The occurrence of bTB has increased dramatically in recent years and has become a massive burden on both the taxpayer and the farming industry.

How are badgers involved? 

Badgers are blamed for a significant portion of the spread of Btb to cattle. 

It has been proven that badgers (along with many other mammals) can carry and transfer the disease. However the primary cause of the spread is cattle to cattle contact, often referred to as ‘kissing cows’. 

Although badgers can transfer the disease, when tested most of the badgers infected were found to have foreign strains of the virus. This means that infected cows have spread to the badgers rather than the other way around! 

How does the virus get transferred? 

Research has shown that badgers and cows avoid direct contact, so the virus is primarily transferred between the two indirectly; through contact with urine and faeces or via shared food and water sources. 

So what’s the solution? 

The government has decided the best way to tackle the problem is a nationwide cull with badgers being slaughtered in the tens of 1000’s. Along with a huge number of the public and the scientific community, I am strongly opposed to the culls, believing it’s not a solution at all. 

Throughout the cull farmers can earn £50 per badger killed. Combined with equipment, policing and admin costs this runs the cost to the taxpayer into the £1000’s per badger killed. A recent culling project in Wales actually cost £76,000 per badger culled! 

Along with the financial cost, It has also been shown that culling badgers can actually cause bTB to increase according to scientific studies, via the perturbation effect

Despite strong evidence showing the ineffectiveness of the cull, the government continues to increase the number of cull areas. 

Vaccination, an ethical alternative?

The badger vaccination project has the potential to drastically reduce bTB transmission between badgers and cattle, by preventing vaccinated badgers from being infected. Unfortunately vaccination does not cure infected badgers. However it does protect additional badgers from contracting the disease. Over time, the already infected animals will die off, and without new hosts to spread to the number of infected badgers would massively decrease. 

Sadly vaccination is not perfect and doesn’t offer a full solution to the problem on its own. But when combined with tougher biosecurity measures such as stricter controls on movement of livestock and disinfecting clothing and vehicles before and after contact with animals, it offers a real and viable solution.

Vaccination offers a much more ethical and cost effective solution to the problem. It’s nearly 20 times cheaper to vaccinate a badger over culling and when combined with the lack of policing needed and it makes complete financial sense. Data following the 2015 cull shows that the cost of vaccination was £82 per badger in contrast to the £2,441.89 the government spent per badger culled! 

Here in Derbyshire and the Peak District the vaccination project has been working hard with a team of volunteers to vaccinate as many of our badgers as possible, in a bid to convince the government that it is a much more ethical, effective and cheaper alternative. 

You can find more about the Derbyshire vaccination project here