Yes. Badgers were first discovered to carry the disease in 1971. Since this discovery much research has been undertaken to try and understand disease dynamics in badgers. Badgers are now widely considered to represent a significant wildlife ‘reservoir’ of this disease.
In hotspot areas of cattle TB, the reservoir of disease in the badger population is considered to play a significant role in maintaining the disease and in preventing its eradication through cattle orientated controls. Although many other wild mammal species have been found to carry the disease, badgers have high rates of infection (the number of animals contracting the disease) and high rates of being infectious (where an infected animal then starts spreading the disease). The ecology and behaviour of badgers means the potential transmission to cattle or other grazing animals, such as alpacas, is high. For example, badgers often forage in pasture, and can spread the disease indirectly through deposition of infected faeces and urine, which other animals then come into contact with. It is considered that these factors make badgers an important link in the cycle of disease maintenance. Other potential routes of disease transmission include direct nose to nose contact between badgers and cattle and disease transmission within farm buildings where cattle are housed or feed is stored. Using proximity collars attached to cattle and badgers we know that they do come into close contact, and remote video footage within farm buildings shows, that at some farms, badgers regularly access cattle sheds and feed stores.
There has been a long-term (over 25 years) increasing trend of TB incidence in cattle in Great Britain. Both cattle-to-cattle and badger-to-cattle transmission are implicated in this trend. Control of TB in cattle in the UK is hampered by a reservoir of infection in badgers, therefore it is widely recognised that we must also tackle the disease in the badger wildlife reservoir. Camelids, such as llamas and alpacas, are also susceptible to TB, and once an individual animal contracts the disease, it can pose a significant risk to others in the herd. Like cattle, if a camelid tests positive to the TB test, it must be slaughtered and movement controls are placed on the remaining herd.
Our ultimate aim is to produce populations of healthy, TB free badgers, breaking the transmission of disease between badgers and other animals, such as cattle and camelids.
Laboratory and field studies have demonstrated that vaccination of badgers by injection with the BCG vaccine, significantly reduces the progression, severity and excretion of TB infection. By reducing the prevalence of disease in the badger population this should reduce the transmission risk to your cattle or camelids. Badger vaccination is not a ‘quick fix’ solution to the TB disease problem, however it acts to address the long term disease dynamics of your land.
An argument repeatedly put forward against the feasibility of vaccinating badgers is that it is a very difficult to trap and vaccinate a wild animal. However the high level of expertise demonstrated by our team at Brock Vaccination, overcomes such problems. The team has excellent field skills, easily locating badger activity and deploying traps in suitable locations. Having vaccinated hundreds of badgers of all ages and varying temperaments, we are very swift and proficient at vaccination, minimising any stress to the animal. We have expert field operatives that can be deployed nationwide, making badger vaccination a feasible landscape scale strategy for tackling TB in the UK.
Laboratory studies have shown that the BCG vaccine is safe for use in badgers, as required for the vaccine to be licensed for use by the Veterinary Medicine Directorate. Cage trapping badgers has been undertaken for over 30 years, and when carried out by trained and experienced operators, the number of badgers injured in cage traps is very low. Injuries such as abrasions on foreheads and forelegs have been noted, however the majority of animals trapped are not visibly distressed; we arrive very early in the morning and often the badgers are asleep. Badgers are injected with the BCG vaccine, then released after being clinically observed, clipped marked and sprayed.
The permanent removal of badgers has shown to cause disturbance to the badger population, resulting in greater movement by any animals left behind (known as ‘perturbation’). This increase in ranging behviour enhances the chance of badgers from one social group contacting badgers from other groups, or ranging further onto new pasture land. This increases the risk of disease transmission to uninfected or ‘clean’ badgers or cattle and risks spreading the disease further afield. Trapping, vaccinating and then releasing badgers back to their social groups, means that badger populations are not disturbed and therefore badgers do not increase their ranging behviour.
To trap and vaccinate badgers against TB, field operatives must have undergone a specific training course and obtained a certificate of competence. Additionally a license must be obtained (from Natural England or the Welsh Assembly) to allow vaccination to take place on your land. Our team at Brock Vaccination is fully trained and Lantra qualified, and we take care of all aspects of license application. Additionally our years of experience and expertise in badger vaccination means we are the most competent and efficient team to successfully vaccinate the highest possible number of badgers on your land.
Even if badgers aren’t living on your land, there is a good chance they will be visiting from neighbouring ground. If you are unsure if badgers do access your land, our experienced field team will be able to determine their presence. Badgers are known to have large territories, sometimes roaming several kilometers from their setts in search of food and mates. Travelling over these distances, allows the potential transmission of disease to cattle and other animals. Our team are specialists in ‘remote trapping’ (catching animals away from setts) which ensures that not only badgers living on your land, but also those visiting are trapped and vaccinated. Our past experience shows that a relatively high number of badgers would be missed if such ‘remote’ locations were not trapped.
Research into developing an oral vaccine bait for badgers in underway in the UK, however the possibility of a usable oral badger vaccine is still many years away. An oral vaccine bait must fulfill many criteria, such as remaining viable in varying environmental conditions, being palatable to badgers but not other non-target species, and must be deployed in such a way to increase the number of badgers from a group accessing the bait and being vaccinated. Cage trapping and then injecting badgers has the advantage of allowing you to know exactly how many badgers are being vaccinated against TB, and ensures no non-target species are exposed to the BCG vaccine. If a suitable oral vaccine bait and deployment strategy is developed, oral vaccination may form part of a long term strategy for vaccinating badgers.
The cost of vaccinating the badgers on your land is influenced by many factors, such as the size of your land, the density of badgers present, and the ease of access to the traps we deploy. The initial survey we undertake allows us to calculate the likely cost, based on the above factors. For more information or to arrange a survey of your land, feel free to give us a call on 07972 297169 or drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To produce a population of badgers with low disease prevalence, annual vaccination is initially recommended. This allows each year’s new cubs to be vaccinated against the disease. As most badgers have a lifespan of 3 – 5 years, undertaking a vaccination program of 5 years should allow old diseased animals to naturally die out, and result in a population of badgers posing a reduced risk of disease transmission.
Yes. Farmers are required to undertake regular herd surveillance testing for the disease. If cattle test positive they are sent for compulsory slaughter. In 2010 around 25,000 cattle were slaughtered. Once a farm has had TB detected in its herd (experiencing a herd ‘breakdown’), movement restrictions are placed on that farm. This means animals cannot be moved off the farm (unless straight to slaughter) until the herd passes two further tests, to ensure TB is no longer detected in the herd.
In areas with high levels of TB, farmers pay for pre-movement testing, to ensure animals moving out of an area do not pass the disease onto new herds.
Individual farmers also take practical measures to prevent their animals contracting the disease from badgers. Husbandry measures, such as ensuring gates and doors on cattle sheds and feed stores fit well and are shut at night and raising troughs and salt licks, are all employed to try an prevent transmission between the species.
Farmers can often be surprised at the level of badger activity in and around farm buildings. Therefore adopting simple ‘bio-security’ measures is often worthwhile in helping reduce the transmission risk between badgers and cattle.
Regular testing and slaughter of animals is a stressful and costly affair. Although farmers receive money for the animals slaughtered, the amount received does not always accurately reflect the true cost of that animal, for example when high value breeding stock contract the disease.
Government figures state that every time a farmer has a breakdown in the herd it will cost an average of £33,000, although this figure can vary greatly between farms. The compensation paid does not cover any consequential losses, for example the loss in milk sales, or the cost of hiring more labour to help with TB testing.
Cattle vaccination against TB is currently prohibited under EU legislation. Currently, the only vaccine candidate for use in cattle is BCG which interferes with the mandatory tuberculin skin test, and there is currently no commercially available diagnostic test to differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals. Changes to the EU legislation to allow this test to be used in place of, or alongside, the tuberculin skin test will be needed.