Badger vaccination scheme under way outside bovine TB high risk areas
A scheme to vaccinate badgers against bovine tuberculosis in a bid to tackle the disease in cattle has been launched by the government.
It is hoped the vaccinations will halt the spread of TB from hotspot areas in the South West and West Midlands.
Groups will be offered funding of up to 50% of the costs for vaccinating.
The move comes as the government prepares to cull more than 1,000 badgers in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset.
Areas identified for vaccination include Cheshire, Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Hampshire and East Sussex.
The aim is to create a "buffer" zone to prevent the spread of the disease in new areas of the country where incidence is currently low.
The programme is part of the government's strategy to achieve bovine TB free status in England by 2038.
The scheme has been welcomed as "fantastic" by Dominic Dyer of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor at Care for the Wild.
"Badgers are no more than a minor player when it comes to bovine TB... culling them is a completely pointless, unscientific and ultimately unsuccessful way of dealing with this small percentage of infectious badgers," he said.
Projects considered eligible for the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) need to be predominantly close to the borders of the hotspot areas and must cover a minimum area of about nine sq m (15 sq km).
Nigel Gibbens, the UK's Chief Veterinary Officer, urged groups to take advantage of the offer to help stop the spread of the disease.
"We know vaccination cannot cure badgers already carrying TB, but used in the right areas, it can play a vital role in creating a barrier to the disease's spread," he said.
Culling of badgers is due to begin again in Gloucestershire and Somerset, with the maximum number of badgers that can be culled set at 1,091 in Gloucestershire and 785 in Somerset.