Farmers come together and help ensure badger vaccination success for second year

Tom Shelley

Covid-19 restrictions have led to delays and postponements of many activities this year. However, thanks to the efforts of a small group of farmers in mid-Cornwall, badger vaccination in a bid to reduce cattle TB has continued as planned.

The joint effort between Cornwall Wildlife Trust and local farmers and landowners, with specialist help from ZSL (Zoological Society of London), has successfully delivered a second year of vaccination, demonstrating the technique as a potential alternative to badger culling.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s Head of Conservation Cheryl Marriott explained,

“It has been trickier to deliver the badger vaccinations this year, but farmers stepped up to help. As well as helping to fund the project, they have done much of the legwork, helping to set up the cage traps and pre-bait them with peanuts. One farmer allowed us to store the traps on his land too which was a great help; it really is a team effort.”

Cornwall Wildlife Trust recently held a virtual live ‘Wildlife Matters’ event to explain more about the initiative and this is available to view below. At the event, St Stephens-based farmer, Keith Truscott, talked about why the farmers are pleased to be involved with badger vaccination:

“Doing nothing was not an answer – we had to do something. We were uncertain about going down the route of culling because it’s like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I’m proud of the fact that so many from the initial badger vaccination farmers meeting have joined up, stuck together and are still hanging in there. I can sleep much easier at night knowing that there are people out vaccinating – it’s better than having people out there shooting.”

A team from ZSL does the actual vaccinating. They are carrying out research in mid-Cornwall as well as in another area of badger vaccination in west Penwith. Blood samples are taken from a proportion of the badgers vaccinated to monitor TB infection in the population over time as the vaccination work progresses. Researchers are also trying a new method to estimate badger numbers using camera-trapping. This should help them to estimate how quickly benefits to cattle are likely to emerge.

Professor Rosie Woodroffe the lead researcher is quick to point out that there is already enough evidence on badger vaccination to know the technique has potential:

“Everything we know about badger vaccination suggests that it should reduce TB in the badger population and so help to protect cattle. In fact, research suggests vaccination will be more successful in eradicating TB in badgers over time than badger culling, so it is in farmers’ best interests to expand the use of badger vaccination”.

Cornwall Wildlife Trust is keen to talk to more farmers about the use of badger vaccination, particularly those currently involved in badger culls. Cheryl continues,

“Government has said it is planning to phase out badger culling, but we don’t know when and this year culling has been extended into new areas of England. We would like to talk with more groups of farmers in Cornwall to make sure they have accurate information about badger vaccination. It is up to them to decide if they want to switch from culling to vaccination sooner rather than later and we are here to help.”

To read more about Cornwall Wildlife Trusts’ work on badger vaccination see www.cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk/badgers. The online Wildlife Matters event about badger vaccination can be viewed below.