The cull will take place in 21 locations in England this year and forms part of the government’s 25-year plan to eradicate the disease bovine TB (BtB), which ministers argue will protect livestock.
Licences have also been granted for supplementary badger control in areas of Gloucestershire, which have completed their original four-year licences.
Announcing the scheme, Farming Minister George Eustice said: “Bovine TB not only has a devastating impact on our beef and dairy farms, but causes harm and distress to infected cattle. We have a clear plan to eradicate the disease over the next 20 years and this year we are restarting the government-backed Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme to stop the disease spreading to new areas.
He added: “Vaccination is just one part of our comprehensive strategy, which also includes tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control in areas where bTB is rife to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife.”
However, opponents have argued that there is little scientific evidence that the increased culls will reduce the rate of the disease. They also point to a study of roadkill badgers in Cheshire by the University of Liverpool that found 4 out of 5 badgers were not infected with bTB.
Government figures also show that each badger culled between 2012-14 cost £6,800 per animal, compared to £82 per vaccination.
The Badger Trust warns that the increased cull could see 47,076 badgers killed by the end of 2017.
The Wildlife Trusts is campaigning for badgers to be vaccinated against bTB, arguing it is both more humane and cost-effective.
The Wildlife Trusts’ Director Steve Trotter said: “We work closely with many farmers, day in, day out, and we recognise the pain and hardship of those whose cattle herds have been devastated by bovine tuberculosis (bTB), but killing badgers will not solve the problem.
“Badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of bTB in cattle: the primary route of infection is cattle-to-cattle contact. The Government’s badger cull is flying in the face of science. It should be putting more resources into speeding up the development of an effective cattle vaccine, amongst other measures.”
A global shortage of BCG vaccine put a temporary halt to badger vaccination in 2016, but The Wildlife Trusts have now re-commenced its badger vaccination programme. The government has also relaunched the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, with projects set to start in spring 2018.
Speaking to BBC Countryfile Magazine, NFU Deputy President, Minette Batters, said: “We must have every option available to us to tackle bovine TB – including cattle testing, cattle movement restrictions, biosecurity advice, vaccination on the edge of disease spread to stop it spreading further and control of the disease in wildlife. No one has ever said culling alone will eradicate bovine TB. Culling is only one part of a much wider comprehensive Government disease control strategy designed to tackle the disease. We will only get rid of this disease by using every available option.
She added: “The Chief Vet has said that action to prevent infection of cattle from the reservoirs of bTB in local badger populations is an essential component of the Government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bTB in England and proactive badger culling is currently the best available option to achieve this. He has also said the licensing of further cull areas is necessary to achieve disease control benefits across the high-risk area, rather than just at local levels. Previous trials including the biggest scientific trial of its kind – the Randomised Badger Culling Trial – have shown that culling badgers can have a positive impact on controlling bovine TB in cattle in areas where the disease is endemic.”
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