Badger vaccination scheme challenges government cull

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Media captionA badger is given a tuberculosis vaccination jab

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'.

"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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