PLANS for a project to administer a TB vaccine to badgers in the wild have moved a step closer to being realised after a successful meeting between farmers, vets and a politician in Penwith.
St Ives MP Andrew George called the meeting at an undisclosed location in Morvah "successful", and described himself as being "more optimistic" than he thought that the project, which could start on a micro-scale as early as this year, would take place.
At a meeting called by Mr George in Penzance late last month, as part of a bid to tackle the growing problem of bovine TB in cattle without resorting to a cull, a small group of volunteers put themselves forward to help in the project and said they knew others that could too.
The St Ives MP said he would be speaking to ministers in coming weeks and drawing up a business plan.
It is estimated the project would cost anything from several hundred thousand pounds to the low millions and could be funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), as well as charities and organisations. He added the cost would be lower than a previously suggested £4 million because of the use of volunteers. "I am more optimistic than I expected to be at this stage," he said.
"The meeting went well. It was really an opportunity to explain and answer questions from the farmers. It is obviously essential to have farmers on board. The next stage will involve drawing up a business plan, go and speak to ministers and also look at funding.
"I think the issue is really the scale at which it commences next year. I suspect we will probably start with a micro-area this year just to find out how we do it, what the pitfalls, challenges and obstacles are, and then start in earnest.
"While it seems the Government is determined to go ahead with its badger-culling pilots in Somerset and Gloucestershire, I really don't think that such a project would ever get off the ground in this area.
"In any case, as I have already said in Parliament, I fear that such an approach is likely to be counterproductive and risks making the problem even worse." The project already has the support of the National Trust, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the Zoological Society of London, with the latter likely to take on the role of manager of the project.
Professor Rosie Woodroffe, a senior fellow at the Institute of Zoology and one of the Government's independent scientific advisers, said at the meeting in Penzance last month that she was convinced a cull would lead to perturbation, a phenomenon where normally sedentary badgers are disturbed and flee their setts, spreading infection.
Pilot culls were approved for Gloucestershire and West Somerset by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson in February, who also said a reserve pilot would be drawn up for Dorset.
Mr Paterson also said the cost of tackling bovine TB had cost £500 million in the past decade and could rise to £1 billion if action was not taken.