Defra has released new data showing that new outbreaks of bovine TB have fallen in the two areas that have now completed their licensed four-year badger culls.

In the Somerset cull area, TB incidence has fallen from 24% before culling started to 12% in year four of the cull, while in Gloucestershire it has fallen from 10.4% to 5.6%.

The Government says the findings are in line with expectation based on the scientific evidence from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial which underpins the approach to tackling bovine TB – and demonstrate progress is being made in delivering the 25-year TB eradication strategy in England to rid our farmers of the impacts of this terrible disease.

Defra has also announced additional measures being taken to help control the disease, including licences for badger control in 11 new areas and the opening of a new round of applications for the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme grants.

Farming Minister George Eustace said: "Bovine TB remains one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK. There is no single measure that will provide an easy answer which is why we are committed to pursuing a wide range of interventions to protect the future of our dairy and beef industries and eradicate the disease within 20 years.

"No one wants to be culling badgers forever so the progress reported today is encouraging."

BVA President John Fishwick said: "We continue to support a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to tackling bovine TB, including the use of badger culling in a targeted, effective and humane manner. TB is a devastating disease and we welcome the positive results emerging in Somerset and Gloucestershire, where licensed culling has now been in place for four years. The recent results in Dorset, indicating a slight upward trend in the incidence of bovine TB, present some cause for concern and we would like to see further investigation of the cattle and wildlife situation in that area.

"BVA supports the principle of badger controls within the Low Risk Areas (LRAs) of England where there is a demonstrated need and where it is done safely, humanely and effectively as part of a comprehensive strategy. We are largely reassured by the greater clarity provided on the decision-making process on how and where badger controls will be introduced in the LRAs. We recognise the expertise and professional judgement of veterinary and scientific colleagues in government who have made the decision to extend the cull in this area, but we would welcome further evidence regarding the level of TB infection in the wildlife reserve in Cumbria as this becomes available.

"Halting the spread of bovine TB is essential and it is vital that we use every available tool in the toolbox to support the Government’s aim to make England TB free. We therefore welcome both the introduction of tighter cattle controls where needed and 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. We would also like to see a commitment to funding of further research in this area."

Photo: Coatesy/Shutterstock

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