Industry leaders have hit out at a report by conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) and Imperial College London which claims badger culling makes bovine TB worse in cattle due to the perturbation effect.
Researchers tracked the movements of surviving badgers after a cull in Cornwall and found 61 per cent roam further afield, visiting 45 per cent more fields each month.
Professor Rosie Woodroffe of ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, who is pro-badger vaccination and against the cull, said: “As badger-to-cattle transmission is likely to occur through contamination of their shared environment, and TB bacteria can remain viable for long periods of time in the environment, the effects of increases in ranging behaviour could create a source of infection for several months – long after the individual badger has been culled.
"In contrast, studies have shown that vaccination prompts no changes in badgers’ ranging behaviour.”
NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts questioned the effectiveness of the trial when it was based on such a small sample size in one county.
He added: “We are still awaiting the peer reviewed report examining the effectiveness of the cull at reducing TB but previously published peer-reviewed research, and anecdotal evidence from farmers in these areas, indicates strongly that TB is being reduced as a result of controlling the wildlife which carry and spread the disease. We do not see similar convincing outcomes from vaccination.”
Gloucestershire vet Roger Blowey, who has been TB testing cattle for 50 years, welcomed the fact ZSL agreed ‘badgers are a source of TB for cattle’, but rubbished claims the odds of a badger visiting neighbouring territories increased 20-fold.
Mr Blowey said: “If there are far fewer badgers, then the risk of TB spread overall is going to be much less.”
Mr Roberts said it was crucial the Government’s 25-year eradication strategy, which uses a range of measures to control bTB, including culling, continued.
“It is frustrating that too often culling and vaccination are given a false equivalence,” added Mr Roberts.
“Vaccination may have a role to play in areas where TB has not taken hold but it cannot cure a sick badger so, in areas where bTB is endemic, culling is vital.
“Where wildlife control has been completed over four years, we are confident we are seeing up to a two-thirds reduction in bTB in cattle.”
Last year nearly 33,000 cattle were slaughtered in England and more than 3,600 farms that had previously been clear were affected by it.