Shropshire sees increase of TB cases in cattle as badger cull on cards
More than 1,000 cattle were slaughtered in Shropshire last year as the number of cases of TB in herds increased in the county compared with 2016.
It comes after it was revealed the controversial badger cull looks set to be extended to Shropshire following an application to include the county in the scheme in a bid to eradicate bovine TB.
Figures released by the National Farmers' Union have revealed for the whole of 2016 there were 242 new TB incidents in herds and 1,419 animals slaughtered in Shropshire.
For the first 11 months of 2017 there were 268 new herd incidents and 1,576 animals slaughtered.
The NFU said there are always slight fluctuations in the Defra figures year to year, due to the nature of the disease, however, the county remained a TB hotspot area with more and more family farms locked down and restricted.
Robert Newbery, NFU regional director, said: “Bovine TB remains a huge threat to Shropshire’s beef and dairy industry and it is vital we do everything we can to tackle it.
“The Government and chief vet have given a clear commitment to tackling the disease in wildlife in areas where it is endemic and the 25-year TB eradication strategy also includes strengthening cattle movement controls, vaccinating cattle, when available, and improved bio-security on farms.
“It has been proven, without doubt, that badgers are a reservoir of bTB and that disease transmits between badgers and cattle and vice versa.
“Controlling the disease in wildlife, therefore, in areas where it is rife is an absolutely vital part of any package of measures if we are to successfully get on top of this disease and to stop reinfection occurring.”
Natural England has received applications or expressions of interest for a Badger Disease Control Licence within eight counties, including Shropshire and Staffordshire.
The Government has announced a consultation which allows the public to comment on any licence applications made regarding potential impacts the cull may have on their livelihood or daily activities.
The consultation runs until March 19. To take part visit consult.defra.gov.uk/natural-england/8899f8e7
Last year, more than 19,000 animals were killed in eight counties, including Cheshire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.
What do the two sides say?
The culling of badgers in a bid to stop the spread of bovine TB has divided opinion since it started.
While the argument for culling badgers is that in the long term it will control the spread of TB in cattle, campaigners against the scheme believe it is ineffective and other measures can be carried out.
Ministers – and many farmers – say measures to control cattle-to-cattle transmission cannot stop the spread of the disease on their own. Controlling TB in the badger population needs to be done at the same time, they say.
While the effectiveness of culling badgers on reducing TB is set to go on being disputed, Defra cited a recent academic paper showing there was less cattle TB in cull zones in Somerset and Gloucestershire after two years of culling compared to equivalent areas of countryside.
Tris Pearce is licensed to vaccinate badgers and is involved in a badger vaccination programme in Shropshire. He said: "We vaccinate the young of the colony to build up a herd immunity. The cost is just £100 a vaccination which Shropshire Badger Trust is covering so that the programme is free to those farms who have signed up to the scheme.
"As I understand those 10 farmers are currently bovine TB free. However, we should not be looking at badgers at all. Britain should look not to badgers but to farming for eradicating bovine TB.
"We almost eradicated the disease in the 1950s by the close control of cattle movements, double fencing our farms and taking simple bio-security measures. I am amazed when I visit farms that there are very few where I am even asked to clean my boots."
John Hughes, development manager at Shropshire Wildlife Trust, said: "While we have every sympathy with farmers losing cattle to TB, there is no evidence that killing badgers is a solution.
"Indeed there is strong evidence it can make things worse. The trust and other local nature conservation groups have been actively vaccinating badgers. Perhaps it would be more productive to also start vaccinating cattle and for farmers to improve their biosecurity if we want to see an end to this terrible disease."
A statement on behalf of the Shropshire Badger Group added: "We are appalled that the Government/NFU seem determined to blunder on with their discredited and nonsensical badger cull and turn Shropshire into the next wildlife bloodbath.
"This so-called 'consultation' is clearly just a rubber-stamping exercise, given the time constraint and the very rigid parameters imposed upon respondents.
"It has never been proved that badgers can even transmit TB to cattle in the first place. The cull was first introduced in south-west England against the advice of all leading independent scientific experts, and after five years it has cost taxpayers around £50 million with no proof of any disease control benefit whatsoever. Until last year no culled badgers had even been tested to check whether they even had TB, and 85 per cent of the 944 badgers finally tested in 2017 were clear of the disease, with fewer than four per cent of them actually infectious.
"Badgers, farmers and taxpayers alike deserve better than our Government/NFU’s stubborn pursuit of this shockingly incompetent disease mismanagement policy."