THE culling of badgers in a bid to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) has divided opinion since it started in the south west of England about five years ago.

The Government has now committed to rolling out culling to more areas, with licences for new schemes across parts of Devon, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset and Cheshire being announced as part of an expanded cull programme which could see as many as 33,000 badgers killed.

Officials say the cull is necessary to curb TB in cattle as badgers can transmit the disease to livestock, but animal welfare groups say culling is inhumane and ineffective and vaccinating badgers should be pursued instead.

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As part of the plans announced last week, the Government is also restarting a badger vaccination programme to stop the spread of the disease to new areas, and a new advisory service for farmers is being launched this autumn. The proposals came just weeks after it was confirmed that bTB had been found in badgers in Cumbria for the first time in about 30 years, sparking suggestions that a cull could be necessary there.

Below, we look at the arguments for and against culling badgers:

FOR: MINETTE Batters, National Farmers’ Union deputy president

The Northern Echo: MINETTE Batters, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) deputy president, says that in 2016 more than 29,000 cattle were slaughtered in England because of TB and nearly 3,750 farm businesses that had been clear of the disease were affected by it.

“The NFU has always supported a comprehensive and proportionate eradication strategy, which balances disease control measures with business sustainability.

“We must have every option available to us to tackle bTB, including cattle testing, cattle movement restrictions, biosecurity advice, vaccination and control of the disease in wildlife.

“The Chief Vet has said that action to prevent infection of cattle from the reservoirs of bTB in local badger populations is an essential component of the government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bTB in England and proactive badger culling is currently the best available option to achieve this.

“He has also said the licensing of further cull areas is necessary to achieve disease control benefits across the high risk area, rather than just at local levels.

“Defra has also announced it is relaunching the badger edge vaccination scheme for applications with projects set to start next spring. The NFU has always said badger vaccination has a role to play in helping stop disease spread into areas which are currently at low risk of bovine TB.”

Farming Minister George Eustice says: “We have a clear plan to eradicate the disease over the next 20 years and this year we are restarting the Government-backed badger edge vaccination scheme. Vaccination is just one part of our comprehensive strategy, which also includes tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control in areas where bTB is rife, to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife.”

AGAINST STEVE TROTTER, DIRECTOR OF WILDLIFE TRUSTS

The Northern Echo:

THE Wildlife Trusts raise concerns that culling is putting local populations of badgers at risk in affected areas, and says vaccination is a more humane, effective and cheaper measure than culls.

Director Steve Trotter says: “Badgers are an important part of our countryside and culture.

“We work closely with many farmers, day in, day out, and we recognise the pain and hardship of those whose cattle herds have been devastated by bovine tuberculosis (bTB), but killing badgers will not solve the problem. Badgers are not the primary cause of the spread of bTB in cattle – the primary route of infection is cattle-to-cattle contact. The Government’s badger cull is flying in the face of science. It should be putting more resources into speeding up the development of an effective cattle vaccine, amongst other measures.”

The RSPCA says there is “still no scientific evidence” that the culls were effective in reducing TB in those areas.

“With vaccines now again readily available, it is right that the Government has re-started the vaccination programme, but this should not be misinterpreted as the Government converting its kill programme to using vaccines,” the charity says. “The RSPCA urges that alternatives should be prioritised, including an effective vaccination scheme, increased levels of cattle testing, improved biosecurity and stricter controls on the movement of cattle.”