We stand up for badgers and do not support the culling of healthy badgers as part of government plans to tackle bovine tuberculosis.
What is bovine tuberculosis?
Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a highly infectious disease of cattle which significantly impacts thousands of farms annually. Since the mid-1980s, the incidence of bTB in cattle has increased substantially, creating an economic burden on the taxpayer, as infected cattle must be culled and compensation paid to farmers.
We recognise that bTB is a complex and costly disease that causes substantial hardship to the farming community and that there is a need to find the right mechanisms to control it.
Current situation - November 2020
We are anticipating an announcement from the Minister of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, setting out a new bovine TB (bTB) eradication strategy for Northern Ireland. This is likely to include some form of ‘wildlife intervention’ in relation to our local badger population. Badgers are one of several mammals that can become infected by bTB, with the potential to infect other badgers and to transmit the disease back to cattle where they interact on farmland.
Our position: Culling of healthy badgers is not the answer
Ulster Wildlife’s position on this issue remains unchanged: Healthy badgers should not be culled as part of any wildlife intervention strategy and we have written to Government outlining this position.
Badgers are a valued native species, protected by law under the Wildlife NI Order 1985 and the Bern Convention. Twenty-five per cent of the European population is found in the UK, so we have an international responsibility to conserve and protect them.
Our preference is that badger vaccination is the main approach adopted to control bTB in the badger population. However, we could also support a combination of the ‘Test–Vaccinate–Remove’ (TVR) methodology combined with wider badger vaccination as an ethical approach in terms of controlling bTB, in both the badger and cattle populations, in bTB hotspots in Northern Ireland.
We are also calling on legislation to be introduced urgently to allow laypersons to be trained in badger vaccination, as is the case in England and Wales, and for continued focus on cattle testing and improvements to biosecurity.
We recognise that the Minister has a difficult decision to make in regards to bTB, with many factors to consider, and we are prepared to work positively with the Department to support a badger vaccination programme.
Our current understanding is that any wildlife intervention element of the bTB strategy will have to go out to public consultation, so we will keep you informed on how you can have your say in the coming weeks and months.
What is the Test-Vaccinate-Remove (TVR) strategy?
TVR involves trapping badgers in cages and testing them for bTB in the field through a blood test. Any badgers that test negative are vaccinated and released, and any that test positive with advanced tuberculosis are humanely euthanized and therefore ‘removed’.
Over recent years, DAERA has been carrying out a TVR pilot to ascertain its validity, with the results expected from this research in late 2020.
What we've been doing to date
Ulster Wildlife has been working on the issue of bTB and its links to badgers for several years. During this time our activities have included:
- standing up for badgers in the local media.
- working with government and farming interests via the NI Badger Stakeholder Group.
- collating, summarising and presenting science on the spread of bTB.
- providing expertise and scientific evidence to NI Assembly's Agricultural Committee.
- scrutinising and responding to 'DAERA's 'Bovine Tuberculosis Eradication Strategy for Northern Ireland' consultation and encouraging our members and supporters to respond. Read our full response
Badgers are a valued species in Northern Ireland, protected by law. 25% of the European population is found in the UK, so we have an international responsibility to conserve them.