Thank you for contacting me about Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) and the licence application for badger control in parts of Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire.
bTB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today. More than 30,000 cattle have to be slaughtered each year due to infection from bTB.
The UK’s bTB eradication strategy is founded in science. It applies the lessons of previous attempts to control the disease, as well as evidence from other countries around the world.
The Government’s goal is to eradicate bTB. Earlier this year it published its response to the Godfray Review which sets out the next phase of the Government’s strategy to combat bTB. This includes field trials of a cattle vaccine, plans to vaccinate more badgers against the disease, and improved testing to intercept bTB earlier. As wider preventative measures are introduced, the response to the Godfray review sets out an intention to begin to phase out badger culling.
I do not want to see badger culls continue. I would like to see it ended as soon as there is a viable alternative that will protect cattle. That’s why I am pleased that the government is providing funding to accelerate the research and trial work necessary to authorise the BCG vaccine for use in cattle, alongside a test that can differentiate between vaccinated cattle and those with the disease. With the aim of having a deployable cattle vaccine within the next five years.
Alongside this, an exit strategy from the culling of badgers is underway. As soon as possible, a pilot Government-funded badger vaccination programme will be introduced in at least one area where the four-year cull cycle has concluded, with simultaneous surveillance of disease. Ultimately, culling of badgers, cows and calves should be a last resort. The government’s aim is to only allow future culls where the evidence points to a significant reservoir of bTB in badgers.
I am pleased that the low prevalence of bTB in Nottinghamshire and the excellent badger vaccination programme run by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, has meant that no cull licence will be granted for the Nottinghamshire area.
However, in neighbouring counties the situation is unfortunately very different. Prevalence of the disease is extremely high in Leicestershire and Derbyshire. In 2018 there was a 28% increase in the number of bTB breakdowns in Leicestershire, with over half these being attributed to wildlife.
With no viable alternative currently available to tackle the issue at scale, we have to accept that in other areas of the country, the badger cull has led to a significant reduction in the disease. The latest epidemiological analysis conducted by Downs and others https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-49957-6 has shown that the incidence of the disease in the first cull areas of Somerset and Gloucester has fallen substantially, by 37% and 66% respectively.
I’m afraid the hard-truth is, that if swift action is not taken in Leicestershire, thousands more cows and calves will contract bTB and have to be culled. This is why licences for badger control in parts of the county and in parts of Derbyshire have been granted.
These measures should only be used until the moment a viable, proven alternative can be rolled out across the country. I do not like to see the culling of any animal and I will continue to press the Secretary of State on this matter. But I am also aware of the impact which bTB has on cattle, British farming and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people across the country which would be at risk if we did nothing.
I have written to the Secretary of State for the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs to ask him to accelerate the plans for the vaccination of both badgers and cattle and to request that Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire be considered as pilot locations for these vaccination programmes.
I will of course continue to update everyone who has written to me on this issue periodically as new information becomes available.
I hope this is of some help.