Just when we thought more badgers would be vaccinated against bovine TB…… along come no-cull zones.

The Chair of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and vet, Dr Sue Mayer gives an update on the Government’s plans to develop no cull zones, explains why a cull in Derbyshire still remains a risk and what you can do to join us in voicing your concerns.

I had a moment of optimism in March when the Government said it was going to phase out badger culling and encourage vaccination instead, when it published its response to the Godfray Review

This didn’t last long. When I read the consultation on the plans for no-cull zones it became clear that extending culling in the Edge Area was the real intention.

I’ve been involved in the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s badger vaccination scheme since it started in 2014. I’m a vet, have carried out countless rounds of cattle TB testing in the past and know the stress that having TB in a cattle herd can cause.  Badgers are only a tiny part of the disease and killing them is outdated, inhumane and unnecessary particularly as we have vaccines in the 21st century. Lots of fantastic work with the BCG vaccine in badgers – including the UK’s largest vaccination trial here in Derbyshire - has shown real promise.  It has been a wonderful, positive experience to help show how badger vaccination is a practical and humane alternative to culling. 

Day 12 Debbie vaccinates the badger

(C) Paul Hobson

Edge Area counties include Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Hampshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, East Sussex, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire. 

Vaccinating badgers in the Edge Area is meant to create a buffer between areas where there are very high levels of TB in cattle also known as High Risk Areas and where there is very little or Low Risk Areas. 

With 50% Government funding, Wildlife Trusts, Badger Groups and their volunteers have vaccinated hundreds and hundreds of badgers in vaccination programmes across England and we are concerned that our work will be undone.

What’s wrong with no-cull proposals?

On the face of it, no-culls zones which establish areas between culling and vaccination where no killing of badgers can take place sounds sensible. The plans say they want “to manage the delivery of both vaccination and culling of badgers in the Edge Area of England especially where they adjoin…. [and] to reduce the risk of culling vaccinated badgers balanced with ensuring that culling can proceed where applications meet the licensing requirements”. 

So why am I so gloomy?

  • There is no justification to cull badgers in the Edge Area. Another vet and I have recently reviewed the evidence for implicating badgers in many outbreaks of TB in cattle in Derbyshire and shown that it is very flawed. It’s biased against badgers, neglects important cattle-based factors and has no data at all on TB in badgers.
  • The sizes of the no-cull zones won’t protect vaccinated badgers because they are too small. The Government is proposing distances of 200m to 2Km depending on how large the vaccination zone is. On average, badgers travel 500m away from their sett each night and only stay within 200 metres of the sett on less than 6% of nights.  But some go much further and 5% may go 7Km at times. So if culling is to take place anywhere near vaccination, there needs to be at least a 7Km buffer.
  • Smaller vaccination areas will be discriminated against with unrealistic demands for minimum numbers of badgers vaccinated and smaller no-cull zones.
  • Expanding vaccination is going to become increasingly difficult. We work by establishing good contacts with landowners, vaccinating badgers and then extending the area in the following seasons through new local contacts. If vaccinated badgers are killed if they stray into a cull zone, what incentive is there for the landowners, vaccinators and volunteers?
  • The Government want to reveal the names and location of landowners who are vaccinating badgers which will make them very vulnerable to intimidation from those involved in culls. The names and locations of landowners involved in badger culls are never revealed making this particularly unfair and further deter landowners from vaccinating.

What’s at threat?

If we see culls expanding into the Edge Area through the use of no-cull zones, we could see vaccinated badgers killed. Everything seems to be about making it possible to cull, not protect vaccinated badgers

Hundreds of volunteers and landowners will have all their efforts to establish a progressive, positive disease control option put at risk – vaccination schemes are making excellent progress and must be allowed to continue. Badger vaccination has taken place with the help of public money so that and the work to date may also be wasted.

What needs to change?

We need a plan for how Government will expand badger vaccination. There’s nothing new on the table, which is incredibly depressing. We can’t allow an expansion of culling in Edge Areas - not only will hundreds more badgers be needlessly killed for many years, but the proposed move to vaccination will become ever more distant and hard to believe. 

We must let the Government know that their plans aren’t acceptable and call for real change and an actual increase in vaccination, not more culling.

If you want to make your views on no-cull zones known, you can do it online. before 26th June.