The BVA has welcomed Defra's announcement of new measures to eradicate bovine TB in England, but called for greater clarity over new cull licences.

Defra's new measures include:

  • Eleven additional licences for badger control covering parts of Devon, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset and Cheshire. Licences have been granted for supplementary badger control in areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset which have completed their original four-year licences.

  • The relaunch of the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme following suspension due to a global shortage of TB vaccine, with groups invited to submit expressions of interest and feedback on the criteria for the scheme.

  • A new bTB Advisory Service for farmers to provide advice on-farm and by phone or email to farmers in High Risk and Edge Areas on bTB biosecurity and risk-based trading, set to launch this autumn.

  • Tighter control of Inconclusive Reactors (IRs) in the High Risk and Edge Area, to come into force from 1 November.

British Veterinary Association (BVA) President Gudrun Ravetz said: "Today’s announcement sees 11 new licences issued and, while BVA supports badger culling as part of a comprehensive strategy for tackling bovine TB, we will continue to call on the Government to use the targeted and humane method of cage trapping and shooting only - rather than the current method of controlled shooting.

"As one of the many tools in the toolbox, we welcome the re-commencement of the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, particularly if used as a ‘firebreak’ to mitigate the spread of the disease into the low risk areas. The introduction of a TB Advisory Service will provide valuable additional support for farmers, who we’d encourage to continue working with local vets on biosecurity and herd health planning.

"Yet we are concerned that Government policy seems to have moved away from the original, evidence-based proposal of a six-week time limit for badger control within the open season, which enables an intensive, coordinated and effective operation in order to secure optimum disease control benefits.

"In terms of numbers, it is clear that badger population estimates have previously demonstrated considerable uncertainty and imprecision. It is critical that as accurate as possible population estimates, using an evidence-based methodology, are obtained and made openly available.

"We would urge clarity over cull timeframes, numbers and mid-cull review methodology to ensure that the progress made, enabling the application for Officially TB Free status, is not undermined."

Today’s Defra update follows a consultation on licensed badger control conducted at the start of 2017, to which the British Veterinary Association (BVA), British Veterinary Zoological Society (BVZS) and the Association of Government Veterinarians (AGV) submitted a formal, joint response.

Photo: Young Eurasian Badger (Meles Meles), by BadgerHeroCC BY-SA 3.0