Farmers in East Sussex may be pleased to know that they can now choose to have badgers on their land vaccinated against bovine TB following the recent establishment of the Sussex Badger Vaccination Project, after five local volunteer passed the Badger Vaccination Training Course run by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency in Gloucestershire.
Bovine TB (bTB) is a very serious challenge to dairy and beef farmers which can lead to infected cattle being slaughtered and farms being "on shut down" until tested clear of bTB. This causes considerable hardship for the farming community. Badgers are known to be infected with bTB and many people believe that the disease can't be controlled solely by improving cattle management.
In the west country, the government has been carrying out a trial cull of badgers since late August and, if deemed successful, they plan to roll out a badger cull across 40 further areas of England. Part of East Sussex is on the DEFRA "High Risk" list and, as a result, a badger cull could come here as early as June 2014. The Sussex Badger Vaccination Project believes that badger vaccination is a sustainable approach to reducing bTB in wildlife and cattle without the public opposition associated with badger culling.
Kate Edmonds of the Sussex Badger Vaccination Project said "Science has shown that perturbation after culling leads to an increase in bTB on farms. Badger vaccination is the only way to avoid this problem and has been proven to lower bTB infection by 74%."
"We set up this project to give farmers in East Sussex an extremely low-cost choice to vaccinate rather than to cull. East Sussex is unique in that geographically it's an "island" of bTB, indeed it has a unique strain of the disease, and therefore is ideal as a test case for a combined approach of badger vaccination and changes in cattle husbandry."
SBVP will be using volunteers throughout their project and they are fundraising to cover capital costs. Kate added: "This means that it will be far cheaper for a farmer to vaccinate badgers than to cull them - as well as being more effective. This isn't about being anti-cull - we just want to be part of the solution to eradicating bTB from cattle and wildlife in East Sussex."
One of SBVP's volunteers is Trevor Weeks MBE, founder of East Sussex WRAS. He completed his badger vaccination training last week: Trevor said "The 4-day course in Gloucestershire was extremely beneficial, we learnt a lot about bTB and its relationship between badgers and cattle, but also more importantly about the process of vaccinating badgers and the procedures we need to follow. We had practical hands-on experience of how and where to set traps, and a very early morning start when we went out and vaccinated 30 badgers and cubs between us. We are really pleased to be the first of a team of qualified lay vaccinators available in Sussex to help support the fight against bTB."
SBVP have begun contacting farmers and landowners and other interested parties in the DEFRA High Risk area to offer this service. Kate said: "Our first five volunteers completed their intensive vaccination training at the government's Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency last week; more will train next year. They'll be licensed to trap and vaccinate starting in Spring 2014. This is just the beginning. We plan to scale up our operation so that any farmer or landowner who wishes to vaccinate his badgers has this choice."
Key facts and notes
Key Fact No 1:
The 10-year Randomised Badger Cull Trial showed an increase in bTB of 25% around pro-active culling areas as a result of perturbation (Source: AHVLA).
Key Fact No 2:
A vaccine against bTB for use in cattle does exist but until very recently it was not possible to distinguish between a vaccinated animal and an infected one. A new test does make this distinction but it isn't yet fully tested and approved under EU legislation and won't be for several years. An oral vaccine for badgers is currently being worked on by the AHVLA.
Please see links and still images of training and badgers being vaccinated:
SBVP is a unique collaboration between South Downs Badger Protection Group, East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service (WRAS) and International Animal Rescue. For more information, please contact Kate Edmonds on 01323 870483, email SBVP or visit www.sussexbadgervaccinationproject.co.uk
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Trevor Weeks MBE - East Sussex WRAS: 07931 523958