Farmers face restrictions as badgers found to carry bovine TB in Cumbria

EXPERTS have warned against calls for a badger cull to combat bovine TB outbreaks in Cumbria at this stage, saying it would be 'ridiculous' and a 'knee jerk reaction'. The possibility of a cull comes following the discovery of badgers carrying bovine TB in the Shap and Penrith areas. This is the first time in 30 years that the disease has been detected in badgers in the county. The government's Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has been investigating outbreaks among cattle on 16 farms in the affected areas.

The investigations have recently revealed that badgers have been found to be affected in the same areas where cattle have caught the disease. It is feared that, although the disease is normally passed between cattle, badgers could also transmit bovine TB.

 

APHA has said in a letter to farmers that it will not rule out the culling of badgers in a 250km area from the south of Shap to junction 40 of the M6 at Penrith in an effort to tackle the disease, saying that it is an 'option'.

Dr. Ben Dustan, of Tarn Farm Vets in Shap, said that to encourage the culling of badgers in Cumbria would be a 'knee jerk reaction'. He added: "There is no evidence of cattle to badger or badger to cattle infection. Yes, we have found the same strain of TB in badgers as there has been in cattle in the area, but with increased cattle testing, the number of confirmed cases has decreased. "This discovery is a consummation of the cattle testing protocols that are already in place. A lot of farms here have been doing regular testing. "The difference is that there is now no definite end to the required testing every six months.

 

Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, also criticised the use of culling to deal with cases of bovine TB that was most likely caused by transmission from cattle to cattle. He explained that it was most likely that the transmission of bovine TB was likely the result of cattle being brought into Cumbria from areas where the disease was rife. He said: "There have been a lot of calls for badger culls, but the government is not sure what the cause of the outbreaks among cattle is. "It is most likely cattle to cattle; badgers are not to blame. The disease may be in the badger community, but there is no benefit to culling them. "The government has restarted it's Defra-funded Badger Edge Scheme, which provides vaccination training and support to volunteer groups. "I would recommend that that is rolled out into Cumbria. Any talk of culling badgers is ridiculous."

 

 

David Hall, NFU regional director for the North West, warned that more time was needed in order to make a decision over whether or not to allow a cull, and said that that was the overriding opinion of farmers at an open meeting about the issue in Penrith. Mr Hall said: "It is far too early to say. There are a number of options, and that is one of them. But there is also trapping and testing and vaccination. "We need to identify the level of infection in the badger population. The more information and evidence we have, the better."

It was revealed last week that Cumbrian cattle farmers will face a tougher testing programme as the government launches a crackdown on cattle tuberculosis in the area. Mr Hall added: "We are aware that a number of cattle herds in east Cumbria have suffered bovine TB breakdowns and that an investigation by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) has found evidence of the disease in badgers in the area.

 

"We realise this will be a major concern to cattle farmers in the area and we will be working with them to ensure they are aware of the additional cattle controls that have been introduced. "We will also be offering help and advice to any of our members whose businesses are affected by these enhanced disease control measures. "Bovine TB is a devastating disease and it is important farmers in the area do everything they can to minimise the risk of bringing the disease on to their farms." DEFRA has confirmed that more frequent testing has taken place for all cattle herds situated within a 3km radius of confirmed cases.

 

All cattle herds in the affected area will be subject to compulsory six-monthly TB testing until further notice, and the test will be read at a higher-than-usual level of sensitivity. This does not involve herd restrictions, as long as tests are completed on time.

An Animal and Plant Health Agency spokesperson said: "A number of bTB breakdowns in cattle herds have been identified in east Cumbria. APHA has carried out a thorough investigation, which found evidence the disease is present in badgers in the area.

"We are working closely with farmers and others affected to assess the extent of disease in the badger population. Additional cattle controls are in place and further action will depend on the results of our surveillance. "Farmers in the area should continue to practice good biosecurity to minimise the risk of disease spreading to their farms."

 

APHA has asked that any farmer who sees roadkill badgers should report them by calling 03000 200301, and ensure they are moved to the side of the road so they are in a fit state to be examined.