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Badger vaccine – progress made

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: April 18, 2013

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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.

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  • Clued-Up  |  April 19 2013, 10:47AM

    The Andrew George project might give ministers a face-saving way of transforming the loathed badger slaughter programme into a more rational badger vaccination scheme. What DEFRA really needs to do, though, is to push ahead with the work necessary to introduce CATTLE bTB VACCINATION into the UK. Though it's little comfort for those of us who hate cruelty and the pointless destruction of our cherished wildlife, the badger cull project's likely to come to a very early end if it gets started. The total amount of DEFRA money put aside for 4 YEARS POLICING of any cull area will be used up in 32 days (just over 4 weeks), assuming - as seems likely - the active opposition to the slaughter remains as strong as it was on the one day Fotherhampton protest (that cost £62,000). In other words, DEFRA will only be able to pay the total policing costs for a fraction of the cull period during the first year. One wonders what will happen when DEFRA funds are exhausted, the first year's badger killing is still underway and the public mood is at boiling point. Whose budget is the "top up" £millions going to come from (eg other DEFRA budgets, the Home Office budget or the cull area police services budget, all of which are under pressure)? How much in-fighting between these bodies will there be to try to offload the extra costs elsewhere?

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