Second round of badger culls announced
One of the countryside’s most debated issues, badgers and bovine tuberculosis (bTB), is headline news again this month as further badger culls are announced in Gloucestershire and Somerset. Considered to be ’high risk’ areas, these counties will be subject to another round of badger culling, despite the fact that many people considered the 2013 culls a failure. The Independent Expert Panel (IEP), appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), had concluded that the 2013 culls had been neither effective nor humane, and, therefore, further culls were not expected to take place. However, it is believed that the new programme of culling will start imminently.
Estimates from the IEP’s review have been used to set limits on the minimum number of badgers that should be removed during these new culls, as well as a maximum figure to safeguard the badger populations in these areas. The maximum numbers of badgers to be removed in Gloucestershire is 1091 and in Somerset, 785. The minimum numbers, currently set at 615 in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset, may be subject to change as Natural England has said it will keep these numbers under review and advise on culling effort and levels of badger removal as the cull proceeds, in order to make the programme effective.
A badger vaccination programme known as the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme (BEVS) is also starting this month and aims to create a protected badger population in uninfected ‘low risk’ areas. It is hoped that this will create a ‘cordon sanitaire’ between areas where bTB is present in cattle and those areas where it is absent. The BEVS will be focussed in the Edge areas of the country (i.e. those that are neither low nor high risk), and will include Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, and Northamptonshire. Applicants to the scheme must meet a set of criteria before being granted up to 50% of the costs of the vaccinations.
With passions running high on both sides of the debate, everyone will be waiting to see how these culls impact on the incidence of bTB in Gloucestershire and Somerset and what the future holds for badgers in the countryside.
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