UTTOXETER’S NFU boss has said wildlife chiefs’ planned badger vaccination programme ‘is not the answer’ to farmers’ bovine TB crisis.
Staffordshire Wildlife Trust currently fund-raising for the programme, which will be rolled out across the county.
After culls were launched in Somerset and Gloucestershire, the trust has stated its belief that a cattle vaccination programme would be the most effective solution.
However, trust bosses said that, until European regulations prohibiting such a programme are changed, vaccinating badgers is the ‘next best step’.
David Brookes, chairman of Uttoxeter and Staffordshire’s NFU bodies, told the Advertiser the programme ‘will not even put a plaster on the problem’.
He said: “My understanding is that vaccination does not cure a disease. While there’s a disease reservoir in wildlife, it won’t control it.
“None of us have all the answer and it may help stopping the potential spread, although the jury’s out on that.
“If the trust wants to conduct the vaccination programme, that’s absolutely fine, but we’ve a very serious problem with bovine TB that will cost the tax-payer close to £1 billion if we aren’t able to reduce the level of infection within wildlife.
“Vaccination is one of the tools in the box we have available to get on top of the problem.”
Mr Brookes, a dairy farmer at Lower Loxley Farm, has pointed to a study in the Republic of Ireland showing that, since their cull, their native badgers have become ‘much healthier’.
He said: “I don’t want to see badgers, or any other animals, suffer, but one thing that seems to have come out of cull areas in the UK is that badgers they’ve caught are at an extremely low weight.
“Since a similar cull was conducted in the Republic of Ireland and they’ve got on top of the situation, the average weight badgers has been far higher.
“There’s a place for vaccination, there’s no doubt about that, but, while there’s this high level of infection, it has to be dealt with decisively.”
Mr Brookes and his neighbours have been affected by bovine TB in recent years but he has only lost one animal in 2013.
He said: “That one caught TB in its first grazing season, not through animal-to-animal contact.
“Badgers’ population has grown phenomenally since the Badger Protection Act from around 300,000 to closer to a million and they have no natural predators.
“A lot of farmers are finding it very difficult to make retirement plans or plan retirement sales because they have to work around bovine TB tests.
“Farmers in this area are anxious to know whether they’ll be allowed to deal with infected wildlife on their farms.
“Two of my neighbours have gone down with it and it’s closing in on all of us.”
Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s head of living landscapes, Dr Sue Lawley, said: “Bovine TB causes huge economic hardship and distress to farmers and we’re conscious of the need to find the right mechanisms to control the disease.
“However, we believe a cull is not the answer and a cattle vaccine is the long-term solution.
“The wildlife trusts have been lobbying the European Commission to change regulations relating to cattle vaccination, but we believe the next best step is to vaccinate badgers.”
Further information on the badger vaccination campaign is availble online at www.staffs-wildlife.co.uk.