Forty badgers which tested positive for bovine TB in eastern Cumbria had the same strain of the disease which affects cattle, according to new surveillance data released by Defra.
The report on year one of badger control operations in the area has also confirmed the strain of bTB is most likely to have come from cattle imported from Northern Ireland.
Cattle and non-bovine animals and wildlife have been subject to enhanced TB surveillance from September 2016 when this area, previously classified as ‘low risk’ was declared a hotspot.
It is believed an infected bull was brought on to a farm in Shap from Northern Ireland and then transmitted the disease to local wildlife, which then spread it to more cattle.
From identification of the index case in November 2014 to February 13, 2019 Defra said there had been a total of 35 breakdowns across 31 holdings.
The data showed 40 out of 363 tested badgers (11 per cent) were positive for Mycobacterium bovis, all with the 17:z genotype previously identified in this area.
The Defra report said: “The genotype of M. bovis (17:z) associated with HS21 (the hotspot area) had not previously been identified in cattle herds in Great Britain. Current investigations have concluded that disease is most likely to have been introduced by cattle imported from Northern Ireland.”
Welcoming the findings, British Veterinary Association (BVA) president Simon Doherty said the BVA continued to support a ‘comprehensive and evidence-based approach’ to tackling bTB, including badger controls within the low risk areas.
“It demonstrates there was significant bovine TB infection in the wildlife reservoir in the Cumbria hotspot and that whole genome sequencing has shown this to be the same strain that is present in cattle in this region.
“Clearly it is not yet possible to assess how effective the culls have been in containing that threat.
“Only by better understanding bovine TB and applying that evidence to the eradication process can we hope to be successful in halting its spread.”
The Animal and Plant Health Agency will continue to test ‘found dead’ badger and deer carcases in the hotspot area. You can report carcases through the Defra Rural Service Helpline on 03000 200 301.