Badgers of Belvoir

WildNet - Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

John Bristow of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust reflects on the highs and lows of five years of Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme

In 2013, we began a programme of vaccinating badgers against Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB). Since the 1980s, bTB has been progressing north-east across the UK, from initial infections of cattle in the south-west. Our scheme is part of a programme partially funded by DEFRA, targeting badger populations on the leading edge of the disease. We, alongside other Wildlife Trusts and partners, believe that vaccination is a more humane, cost-effective and practical solution to controlling bTB in badgers than culling, and our project sits alongside sister projects in the UK, known as the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme. This has helped fund projects in this ‘edge’ area, including in Leicestershire, Rutland and Nottinghamshire.

The first three years saw staff and volunteers work alongside a team of contractors and 2013 saw sixteen adults and two cubs vaccinated over two nights in 2014; fourteen adults trapped and no recaptures in 2015; and 2016 saw nine adults and single cub trapped. As local knowledge suggested the badger population to be stable, we found the results unusual and slightly disappointing, but perhaps it was just a good year for foraging elsewhere.

In late 2017, following a two-year hiatus due to a global vaccine shortage, we teamed up with Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, who were undertaking a similar scheme in the Vale of Belvoir, a ‘stone’s throw’ from our original project area. By pooling resources, we were able to undertake a further two years of vaccination, extending the project to 2019.

In 2018, over the course of the two nights 13 adults and 2 cubs were trapped and vaccinated. We were caught out however, by one particularly cheeky badger! We look for areas with high evidence of badger activity to deploy our traps, so that we can maximise the number of badgers we catch. There was evidence of very high activity in one area, and yet we only saw one badger caught and vaccinated. This badger was then recaptured on the second night - so all the ‘activity’ was a single greedy badger!

In our final year, we were keen to have maximum impact. Local knowledge implied that the local population had reduced, or was certainly less active. We widened the search for activity, followed by meticulous recording of activity in the days leading up to vaccination dates.

This resulted in a total of sixteen badgers trapped and vaccinated over the two nights; four adults and nine cubs on the first night followed by two adults and one cub on the second along with five recaptures. It was particularly rewarding to vaccinate such a high number of cubs, as they will carry this vaccination into adulthood. The recaptures showed a lot more traffic between the setts than was originally expected, showing the impact that vaccination might have in preventing the spread of the disease, especially in this small, but strategic, area of Leicestershire.

Thank you to those who assisted with this project. The Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust vaccination project in the Vale of Belvoir is set to continue until at least 2022, so for more details check out:   https://www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/badger-vaccinations-campaign