AN ARMY of volunteers to administer TB vaccines to badgers has begun to take shape.
The group emerged from a meeting called by west Cornwall and Isles of Scilly MP Andrew George as part of a bid to tackle TB in cattle without resorting to a cull.
He said it was a very encouraging start: "I am delighted that so many are prepared to offer to become trained and licensed volunteers to assist in a vaccination project.
"It certainly won't be easy and could not proceed without the co-operation and support of local farmers."
The meeting in Penzance attracted about 40 people and in a show of hands most supported proceeding with the project, with many saying they wished to become more involved.
Professor Rosie Woodroffe, a senior fellow at the Institute of Zoology and one of the Government's independent scientific advisers, said she was delighted but warned that farmers must be brought on board.
"We can be as keen as we like but it's not going to work if we can't get on to farmers' land, and we won't get to do that if farmers see us as anti and against them," she said.
Professor Woodroffe said she was convinced a cull would lead to perturbation, a phenomenon where normally sedentary badgers are disturbed and flee their setts, spreading infection. However, she said vaccination was also problematic as there were many unknowns, such as how quickly the benefits would emerge.
The meeting also heard from Alex Raeder, from the National Trust, about a current project to vaccinate badgers on the Killerton estate near Exeter. He said that two and a half years in, the results were quite positive.
However, he warned: "If you want to have an impact on the disease you have to look at both (badger and cattle) together."
Cheryl Marriott of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust told the meeting vaccinating badgers on the Penwith peninsula could, by her "very rough estimates", cost more than £4 million.
At one point Mr George was heckled by a farmer, who accused the coalition Government of being uninterested in the industry and caring more about internal wrangling, referring to the resignation of Andrew Mitchell. "You're more interested in Plebgate," he said.