Northern Ireland

Badger cull proposed in bovine TB 'hotspots'

Cattle on Desmond Fulton's farm Image copyright Inpho
Image caption Farmers have said that to tackle TB in cattle the authorities must address it in wildlife

A badger cull is part of a package of measures proposed to eradicate a cattle disease that costs NI taxpayers up to £30m a year.

Cows testing positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB) are slaughtered and the farmers compensated for their market value.

Compensation and testing costs are paid out of the public purse.

A group established by the authorities to develop an eradication strategy has published its report.

The cull is one of a range of measures it has said should be adopted.

It said that badgers and deer are a reservoir of the disease in the countryside.

Ulster Wildlife said it wanted to take time to consider the report in detail.

On the issue of a cull, it questioned why healthy badgers would have to be put down as well as sick ones.

Spokesman Peter Archdale said it could not be "morally acceptable" to kill animals which weren't diseased.

Farmers have said there is no point in trying to eliminate TB in cattle, if wildlife is left out.

Image caption Desmond Fulton said that regular testing puts extra stress on his family and cattle

Ballymoney farmer Desmond Fulton has had the disease on his farm three times in six years.

His farm is being tested every three months and must have two consecutive clear results before his herd can be declared TB free.

Being "locked up" with TB means movement restrictions that can cause a build up of stock on farms.

Limited opportunities to sell live animals also lead to cash flow problems.

Mr Fulton said that regular testing is a lot of extra stress on his family and his 200 cattle.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption A badger cull is one of a range of measures proposed by a new report

He said he believed that badgers may be a source of infection.

"I'm not looking for extermination, I just want the numbers to be reduced.

"Any farmer who has had TB is desperately looking for some resolution on wildlife."

The TB Strategic Partnership Group has proposed up to 10 "intervention areas" where there is a high incidence of the disease.

Each would equate to a circle with a radius of up to 3.7 miles (6km).

Image caption Desmond Fulton said he wanted badger numbers to be 'reduced'

If the disease is found in badgers, and all other causes have been discounted, then all badgers within a 2.8 miles radius of the circle's centre would be captured, anaesthetised and shot.

Any badgers within a further 0.9 mile ring would be trapped, tested and the healthy ones vaccinated against the disease.

Each intervention zone would have an area of up to 62 sq miles.

It is estimated that badger density is around six animals per square kilometre.

Not all the zones would operate at the same time.

A badger cull in England has proven hugely controversial and opponents have claimed there is little evidence it helps tackle TB.

In the Irish Republic, a decade-long culling strategy has been cited by ministers as the principal reason behind a 40% reduction in TB since 2008.

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