The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has reopened its 2014 scheme to fund badger vaccination in selected English counties, in areas close to high-risk bovine TB (bTB) hotspots.
First launched in April, the take up then was slow, with many farmers in heavily infected areas being sceptical about the effectiveness of vaccination as it does not address disease in already infected badgers.
However, also planned is a new Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) to be launched towards the end of the year, where the aim is to slow the onward spread of bTB from high risk areas, creating buffer zones to prevent the disease being carried out of the hotspots by sick badgers.
The move, welcomed by Care for the Wild and the Badger Trust, will fund the inoculation of badgers against the disease, and the training to administer the vaccine.
The government will be working with wildlife and farming groups to make the scheme work as a jointly funded, privately led project.
For any group to apply for the new funding their plan must, like the old scheme, involve two or more adjacent cattle farms in the Edge Area comprising Hampshire, East Sussex, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire.
There will also be other criteria such as undertaking to vaccinate across a minimum area and for a minimum number of years, but these details are still to be finalised.
Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said: “It’s great to see the government pushing ahead with this scheme. Care for the Wild and the Badger Trust were helping evolve a similar plan a year or so ago so it’s fantastic that this has taken shape and is being given the full backing of DEFRA.”
The National Farmers’ Union has also welcomed the launch of the scheme, but it maintained that diseased badgers still needed to be culled in TB hotspot counties to get on top of the disease.
John Royle, NFU chief farm policy adviser, said: “We’ve always said that we would support the idea of vaccinating badgers in the Edge Area as one of the measures to help slow disease spread.
“However, in high-risk areas such as Somerset and Gloucestershire we still believe controlling the disease in wildlife remains a crucial element of tackling TB and remain confident that the pilot badger culls will help deliver a reduction of TB in cattle in those areas.”