Wildlife Trust calls for clarity as badger cull licence application threatens to undermine local vaccination scheme

Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, which has been working in partnership with the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust to deliver a part Government funded badger vaccination project on the South Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border, has called for clarity regarding an application for a local badger cull for the purpose of controlling Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB).

Earlier this year, a cull licence application was submitted for an, as yet unidentified, area within Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, but Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust believes that any local cull would undermine the progress made with the vaccination programme and constitute a considerable waste of public and private money at a time when public resources are under unique pressure. Efforts to stop the spread of bTB should instead be focused on stopping cattle to cattle transmission through movement of infected cattle, developing a cattle vaccine, improved biosecurity and vaccination of badgers.

Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust believes that the pace of policy development and a recent High Court ruling call into question the current application process and would like to see it halted.

In March the Government issued its response to the Godfray review, a review of its 25 Year Bovine TB Strategy, making clear that it wishes to see badger vaccination programmes substantially expanded. Earlier this month the High Court rejected the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) Appeal against a ruling to not allow culling in Derbyshire, where Derbyshire Wildlife Trust have successfully been delivering badger vaccinations across a wide area, and on Friday 14th May Defra announced a new 6-week consultation on proposals to manage the delivery of both badger vaccination and culling in Edge counties such as Leicestershire.

Speaking on behalf of Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, Head of Conservation, John Clarkson, said:

The new consultation on badger vaccination and culling in Edge areas as a result of the Godfray Review is a significant development and it is frustrating that the continuing threat of a potential cull is undermining the success of our vaccination programme.”

Badger Vaccination

Tom Marshall

The Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust has also been informed by our partners at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust who lead the local vaccination project that given the prospect of a cull, farmers and landowners responsible for 75% of the landholdings where vaccinations took place last year are reluctant to commit to this year’s vaccination programme.

Mr Clarkson added: “We are disappointed to hear from our colleagues at Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust that a number of landowners have yet to grant access to vaccinate badgers this year because of the cull licence application. However, we remain fully committed to working with farmers to protect livestock, livelihoods and wildlife through vaccination. Prior to the recent policy developments, we were confident that no cull licence affecting our vaccination area could be justified and we believe that the recent policy developments make the case for a licence even weaker.”

Given the Government’s long-term commitment to badger vaccinations, outlined in the Godfray review, the recent high court decision and the new consultation, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust feels that the licence application should be halted.

The Wildlife Trust does not feel that a cull within or adjacent to the vaccination area can be justified as there is no rigorous scientific evidence that it would bring any benefits. It could instead result in badgers that have already been vaccinated at the public’s expense, and with the support of our members and other charities, being killed – reducing the level of immunity within the local badger population. 

The current Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) operating across a 50km2 area of the south Nottinghamshire/north Leicestershire border is led by the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and offers landowners a pragmatic and cost effective route to controlling one of the possible causes of the spread of bTB and the charity is concerned that some landowners may have been given false hope as to the likelihood of a cull licence being granted. As a result, its team is working hard to encourage landowners to remain part of the scheme to ensure they don’t put their put their livestock at unnecessary risk whilst holding out for a cull that has no guarantee of taking place.

Until a cattle vaccine has been developed, badger vaccination combined with better testing of cattle and reduced movements of cattle between farms, are, the Wildlife Trust believes, the only effective ways of controlling this disease and protecting the livelihood of those farmers who have raised cattle in this area for generations.

Mr Clarkson concluded: "Bovine TB is a horrible disease with devastating effects on affected cattle, farmers and their livelihoods. However, we do not believe that culling badgers is the answer to the spread of the disease with evidence showing no scientific case for culling locally and our supporters have made it clear that they do not support culling either. Given recent developments we’re hopeful that no licence to cull locally will be approved, but feel that Natural England and Defra need to urgently provide clarity in order to protect the long-term investment we and the public have made and to ensure the future of our vaccination programme.”

Read more here about our badger vaccination work.