MPs today overwhelmingly backed a motion calling on the Government to drop culling and instead vaccinate badgers.
As a result, The Wildlife Trusts believe now is the time for the Government to make the hard – but right – decision to drop badger culling from its plans, with priority given to a strategic vaccination programme.
The badger cull debate in the House of Commons today (13 Mar), was followed by a vote on whether the Government’s current policy should continue. The Wildlife Trusts warmly welcome the support of the motion, put forward by Anne Main MP, which saw 219 MPs vote in favour, with only one who voted against it.
The conservation organisation is greatly encouraged by the landslide of support to drop the cull and to find a better approach in tacking bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
Although not binding – Government does not have to take action on the vote result – The Wildlife Trusts now strongly urge Government to drop culling from its bTB strategy and commission an independent expert review to examine how badger vaccination, alongside a comprehensive package of cattle measures: better biosecurity, stricter movement controls, improved TB testing and development of a cattle vaccine can better tackle bovine TB.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “Today saw a critical debate on the badger cull rollout and we’re delighted with the outcome. This vote provided an opportunity for MPs to highlight an alternative strategy for bTB which they did, and with strength. It is with huge relief that, finally, the views of the public are being heard and that previous supporters of the culling approach are taking account of the facts and now backing alternatives. This strengthens our resolve to find the right solution to the issue. The Government must now listen and take the appropriate action in dealing with this disease.”
Organisations, including The Wildlife Trusts, are running badger vaccination programmes, with more than 180 trained and certified lay vaccinators in England and Wales. The Wildlife Trusts’ work on nature reserves and in partnership with farmers, vets and other landowners has demonstrated that vaccination is a practical, cost-effective option.
The pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire both failed to meet the key test of ‘effectiveness’. The removal of at least 70% of the estimated badger population in the six-week licence period was not achieved. Despite a three week extension in Somerset and five weeks in Gloucestershire, the percentages achieved were 65% and 39% respectively. It is possible for the bovine TB problem to have been made worse, due to the ‘perturbation effect’. This causes individuals to range beyond their usual territory and come into contact with neighbouring animals, increasing the risk of disease transmission.
Badger vaccination is a viable option and a strategic programme could make a real contribution to reducing levels of bTB infection: vaccinating a third of adult badgers reduces the risk to unvaccinated cubs by 79%; ‘herd immunity’ is achieved in five years, as infected animals die and the proportion of vaccinated individuals increases; it offers 54-76% reduction in risk of badgers testing positive for bTB. The injectable vaccine has been available since March 2010.
The greatest reduction in bTB in 2012-13 was seen in Wales, where an independent strategy of strict cattle measures coupled with badger vaccination has achieved a significant 23.6% decrease in the number of infected cattle herds – without culling badgers. In contrast, bTB incidence in England increased by 1.7% during the same period.
Paul Wilkinson added: “The Welsh example provides clear evidence that the Government’s bTB strategy in England must change if real gains are to be made in tackling this disease.”