A free badger vaccination service offered to Shropshire farmers over the past five years is going from strength to strength.
The Shropshire Badger Vaccination Project was established with support from registered charity Shropshire Badger Group, in order to help farmers tackle the problem of bovine TB by vaccinating badgers as an effective and humane alternative to culling them.
Frustrated at the lack of practical help and financial support from the Government, the Project was determined to offer farmers, many of whom are struggling financially and emotionally, the chance both to protect their badgers from bTB and ensure that any badger population on their land remains healthy and stable.
The Project is believed to be the only self-funded volunteer group in the country to offer badger vaccination, with all involved fully trained by the Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) and monitored by Natural England (NE).
A large group of skilled and dedicated volunteers are involved in the project who are fully committed to making the whole process efficient and discreet and have established excellent working relationships with partner farmers and landowners.
With the first 4-year cycle of farm sites having been successfully completed, applications were accepted for a new round of vaccination sites in 2019. As well as helping local smaller-scale farmers who are often struggling with the whole bTB testing process, the Project is also working with larger landowners.
Badger vaccinations have just concluded on one notable site owned by a large Shropshire landowner, and the Project is now working on the first stages of the vaccination process with another.
A Shropshire Badger Vaccination Project spokesperson said: “The science behind badger vaccination is that it protects badgers against contracting bTB and allows social groups to build up a herd immunity. Unlike culling, it also helps to ensure that the badgers are not displaced and that others from elsewhere do not move in to fill the vacuum that culling creates, a phenomenon known as perturbation.
“It is also well worth remembering that the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), which was the biggest badger culling trial ever carried out in England, found that less than 1.5% of the already very small number of badgers that carried bTB actually had the potential to be infectious.”
The Government departments DEFRA and APHA have found that vaccination reduces the rate of new bTB infections in badgers by 76% and that vaccinating more than a third of adults in a badger social group reduced new infections in unvaccinated badger cubs by 79%. The estimated lifespan of a badger is 3 to 5 years and the replacement rate is thought to be around 30%.
In the unlikely event that an already infected badger is vaccinated, scientists believe that the rate of disease progression is slowed and its ability to shed bacteria is reduced. Cubs tend to be the most curious, and accordingly they are the ones most commonly caught and vaccinated. An individual only has to be vaccinated once to provide lifelong immunity.