Critical Evaluation of the Animal and Plant Health Agency Report

Critical evaluation of the Animal and Plant Health Agency report: ‘Year End Descriptive Epidemiology Report: Bovine TB Epidemic in the England Edge Area – Derbyshire 2018’

Authors:
E. Wright BVSc Cert VA Dip (AS) CABC MRCVS &
S. Mayer BSc BVSc PhD MRCVS

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has been vaccinating badgers against TB since 2014. We wanted to protect wildlife whist supporting farmers who were facing the threat of TB in their cattle. The scale of our vaccination has increased. In 2019 we vaccinated 221 badgers on 120 km2 in Derbyshire working with 52 landowners and farmers and we continue to expand. Culling badgers in Derbyshire would threaten the very basis of this work.

DWT was very surprised to see that the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) had reported that 77% of new cases of TB in cattle in Derbyshire in 2018 were caused by badgers. The APHA figure implicating badgers in such a large number of bovine TB outbreaks was used to call for a cull of badgers in Derbyshire. However, the figure of 77% is much larger than any estimate in the peer reviewed scientific literature for the role of badgers in bovine TB which ranges from 5-36% of cases. To understand how the APHA had arrived at such a high figure and how reliable it was, we commissioned this evaluation. It wasn’t easy for the researchers. The APHA’s published report is not detailed and the methodology and data it used were not in the public domain and could only be obtained through Freedom of Information requests by our researchers and others. The APHA also declined to meet the researchers to discuss the report.

Our evaluation indicates that the APHA estimate cannot be relied upon and should not be used for establishing TB control measures. The methodology is inherently subjective, has been subject to bias towards badgers being the cause of outbreaks and neglected cattle-based risks such as persistent infections, shortcomings in testing and cattle movements. The APHA also claimed that TB is endemic in badgers in parts of Derbyshire without any data at all on whether, in fact, badgers are carrying the disease organism.

Farmers struggling with bovine TB will not be helped by reports which blame badgers whilst neglecting other more important factors. Culling badgers on the basis of the APHA report should not be allowed in Derbyshire. The current badger vaccination programme being undertaken by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, along with its key partner the National Trust, should be allowed to continue and expanded with appropriate Government support. The APHA have used a similar approach in other areas of the country to justify badger culling which may also be similarly misleading and this is extremely concerning.

Tim Birch

Director of Nature’s Recovery

Badger image (c) Elliott Neep

Critical Evaluation of the Animal and Plant Health Agency Report