Badger vaccination scheme challenges government cull

A badger is given a tuberculosis vaccination jab

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The first badgers have been vaccinated as part of a scheme to cut the spread of tuberculosis (TB) among cattle in north Shropshire and south Cheshire.

The five-year project, led by the Shropshire and Cheshire wildlife trusts, is in response to a badger cull trial in Gloucestershire and Somerset.

The government said bovine TB had cost UK farms about £100m in 2010 alone.

Shropshire Wildlife Trust said its vaccination scheme was intended to show there was an alternative to culling.

John Hughes, from Shropshire Wildlife Trust, said: "The government policy seems to be: 'We must do something and the only thing we see to be able to think of doing is shooting badgers'.

Analysis

Injecting a badger with a vaccine isn't it easy.

You must first get them used to the traps. Spending a week or more loading open cage-traps with peanuts to tempt them in. Then one night you set the traps and return very early to see what you have caught.

Badgers are gently encouraged down to one end of the cage using a plastic "wicket". A set of plastic tubes that can be pushed through the holes in the cage.

Safely trapped against one wall of the cage you can then inject them with the vaccine.

You want to mark the badgers as you will be trapping over several nights and don't want to double-dose any you catch.

But badgers will easily clean off marker spray on their coat. So you need to give their fur a bit of a trim once they've been jabbed to provide a spot where the marker spray will stay on.

"The problem isn't the badgers, it's the disease."

Badgers are believed to spread the disease to livestock herds through their urine and faeces.

The trusts are vaccinating badgers on two unnamed nature reserves, including one within the constituency of new Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said current methods of vaccination were relatively expensive, not 100% effective and difficult to apply.

Five badgers were vaccinated at two setts in north Shropshire on Friday morning.

Helen Trotman, from Shropshire Wildlife Trust, said less than a dozen badgers were believed to live within the reserve.

The group said badgers would also have to be annually injected to increase immunity levels throughout the population, with each jab costing about £20.

The organisation said an oral vaccine, currently being researched by Defra, would ultimately be cheaper and easier to administer, but claimed that even current methods were more effective than a cull.

Scientist Lord Krebs, a government adviser who led an eight-year study into the spread of bovine TB, has also branded the two government-led cull trials as "crazy".

More than 130,000 people have also signed a petition against the pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

EU legislation currently prevents cattle from being vaccinated against the disease because the effect of current inoculations can make it difficult to detect if the disease is present.

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