Bovine TB vaccination

Written evidence submitted by the Badger Trust

Summary

· Six members of the Badger Trust have been trained as lay vaccinators since June 2011;

· Badger Trust has surveyed 17 sites where land-owners have expressed an interest in vaccinating badgers against Bovine Tuberculosis. Six sites were part of the 2011 programme, a further 11 became involved in 2012 due to an increased general awareness of badger vaccination over the 12 month period;

· Using volunteers, Badger Trust has been able to vaccinate 97 badgers and only passed on the cost of the vaccine used to the land-owners;

· This vaccination programme has made more people (both land-owners and conservation-group members) aware that an effective vaccine is available;

· It has shown that volunteers are willing to assist in the vaccination process in order to keep the costs experienced by land-owners to a minimum;

· In addition, it has shown that a range of land-owners (Wildlife Trusts, small-holders, private landowners and farmers) are interested in this method to minimise the (already small) risk of Bovine Tuberculosis being transmitted from badgers, if the cost to them is kept low;

· Finally, like many other programmes undertaken by other organisations, it has shown that badgers can be trapped and effectively vaccinated against Bovine Tuberculosis.

1. Over the last 18 months Badger Trust has been investigating the practicality of vaccinating badgers against Bovine Tuberculosis (TB). Following the announcement by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) that an effective vaccine was available, and that members of the public (without veterinary qualifications) could be trained to become ‘lay vaccinators’, Badger Trust enrolled volunteers on FERA courses throughout 2011 and 2012.

2. The aim of Badger Trust members becoming vaccinators was not to enable the Trust to vaccinate all badgers against TB. Rather, the certification of members as vaccinators meant that Badger Trust could investigate the actual costs and practicalities of vaccination for itself. In addition, it enabled Badger Trust to make people aware that a viable vaccine was available and assess the willingness of land-owners and volunteers to take part in a vaccination programme.

3. A vital step in initiating the programme was finding land-owners who were willing to let Badger Trust members onto their land to survey, trap and vaccinate badgers. In order to do this, trusting and professional relationships had to be forged between Badger Trust and land-owners. In addition, the cost of implementing the programme had to be realistic and attractive to the land-owner. To this end, Badger Trust agreed not to pass on the costs of the training and programme start-up to landowners. Instead, the Trust agreed to just charge for the price of the vaccine used (e.g. a set-fee per badger vaccinated).

4. During the initial stages of the programme, the National Farmers Union (NFU) was approached to undertake a ‘joint-venture’ of sorts. Badger Trust agreed to provide all the man-power and equipment for vaccination if the NFU could advertise the Trust’s services to its members and provide contact details for farmers who were interested in the programme. This working relationship resulted in a joint Press Release advertising the vaccination programme. It should be noted that, during these initial stages, Badger Trust purposefully approached farmers instead of reserve-owning conservation bodies. The Trust wanted to see if it could assist farmers, form a better relationship between the farming and conservation communities and not be accused of only supporting conservation charities. Badger Trust wholly appreciates that Bovine TB is having a serious impact on the farming community and so wanted to physically do all it could to assist them ‘on the ground’.

5. In 2011, Badger Trust was able to get five members through the FERA course, purchase all the relevant equipment and obtain the appropriate certificates of competence in under a four month period. This shows that a vaccination programme can be established in a very short period of time. Throughout this preparation phase, surveys of six sites (three provided by the NFU) were undertaken using local volunteers.

6. Once the location of a willing land-owner was confirmed, the local Badger Group was contacted by the programme co-ordinator. The point of using local volunteers was to keep personnel costs as low as possible (the volunteers were rarely reimbursed for travel expenses), local volunteers know the land well and, sometimes, knew the land-owner involved in the programme. This latter point significantly helped when it came to building trusting relationships with the land-owners.

7. It should be noted that the local Badger Groups were always willing to help and that a significant number of volunteers could be raised to assist with the vaccination programme. All were willing to help with the site survey, placement of cage-traps, pre-baiting (imperative to our programme) and collection of traps. Badger Trust only approached members of Badger Groups. However, now that many of the Wildlife Trusts (Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Shropshire etc.) are vaccinating badgers on their land, and making their members aware, there could be a larger ‘pool’ of volunteers to call on for any future (large-scale) vaccination initiative.

8. As mentioned, everyone involved in the vaccination programme was a volunteer (including the vaccinators). Therefore, the vaccination schedule had to fit with employment and other commitments. This occasionally meant that vaccinators could not be on site for all the activities

(such as pre-baiting). However, it can be worked successfully by having the vaccinators present on a weekend when the traps are placed on site (locked open), teaching local volunteers to pre-bait and submit their findings on a daily basis (via email) to the vaccinator(s), the vaccinator returning to site on the following Friday evening (the 7th night of pre-baiting) to set the traps live and then vaccinate on a Saturday and Sunday morning. Traps are then removed immediately on a Sunday to reduce any disturbance (and the amount of visits required) to the farmers/site/farming operations.

9. This schedule was agreed with the land-owner before any works took place and Badger Trust

always found that, as long as constant contact was maintained with the land-owner, they were

happy with the works being undertaken. Land-owners often assisted with survey information, prebaiting and cage trap placement. They also came out during the actual vaccination to talk through the process more, see the badgers in cages and watch the vaccine being administered.

10. Throughout the last two vaccination seasons all the volunteers have acted extremely conscientiously and Badger Trust has passed all its FERA audits. This shows that, just because a programme uses volunteers, it does not make it any less professional. Indeed many Badger Group volunteers are professional ecologists and some work in the farming industry.

11. The vaccination programme has attracted the attention of the media and this has enabled Badger Trust to make more people aware that vaccination is available. The programme has been discussed on BBC Radio 4, Countryfile, BBC ‘Inside Out’ and in publications such as BBC Wildlife magazine, the Mammal Society Newsletter, Wildlife Trust Newsletters and numerous regional and national newspapers. This shows that there is an immense interest in badger vaccination. The general public are aware of it (especially as the Wildlife Trusts and National Trust have vaccinated badgers on their properties), it is publicly acceptable (unlike culling) and positively supported by the public. This latter point could result in increased numbers of people willing to volunteer (and possibly donate money if required) if a large-scale vaccination programme was undertaken.

12. When the following are considered there should be no doubt that large-scale badger vaccination is possible and appropriate: the short-comings of a cull (in that no significant reduction of TB in cattle has been shown to result by the Randomised Badger Culling Trial), the costs associated with culling, the fact that the costs associated with culling are considered to be significantly greater than the benefit, the effectiveness of the BCG vaccine (proven in field conditions), the avoidance of negative impacts associated with perturbation when vaccination is used and the immense public support for vaccination.

13. As mentioned, the aim of Badger Trust was not to vaccinate all badgers in the UK as part of this feasibility study. To this end, Badger Trust did not target large contiguous areas where several neighbouring farms/sites were linked. It had to go to where individual farmers were interested in having their badgers vaccinated. However, work undertaken to date has shown that, when vaccinating on a farm, neighbouring farmers are aware of what is taking place and the Trust has been approached by several farmers (who abut vaccination areas) who are now interested in vaccination. As mentioned previously, the more vaccination is discussed in the media, the more people become interested. As long as the cost to the land-owner is kept low (and this can be done through the use of volunteers) then many are happy for vaccination to take place.

14. Vaccination during 2012 in West Somerset by Badger Trust has included three contiguous holdings. This resulted in more badgers being caught and vaccinated than is typical on individual farms. The benefit of contiguous holdings was primarily that the area encompassed whole badger social group territories that resulted in more remote trapping opportunities. This benefit also allowed extensive surveys to determine the full extent of badger activity. A combination of trapping in the vicinity of badger setts and remote trapping where badger activity was significant, particularly at territory boundaries, is considered to have produced the results. It is common sense to conclude that vaccinating over a larger area will result in higher numbers of badgers being trapped. Badger Trust is still exploring the results of its vaccination programme to determine how to efficiently maximise numbers of badgers trapped and vaccinated. Regardless of the outcome, it can be expected that the larger the area trapped, the more badgers will be caught. Therefore, any future vaccination initiative should seek to vaccinate on as large an area as possible.

15. Badger Trust has not undertaken a full cost-benefit analysis of the vaccination programme to date. However, after the initial outlay to set-up the project (vaccination fridges at £500 each, cage traps at c.£100 each and disposables (gloves, syringes, FAM30 disinfectant)) the costs could be managed if volunteers were used. It cannot be underestimated how much this reduction in costs to the landowner (Badger Trust only charged £20 per badger vaccinated in 2011) helped when encouraging them to take part in the programme. As stated before, if the cost is considered acceptable then many land-owners are amenable to badger vaccination.

16. Badger Trust has not been involved in the development of the oral vaccine for badgers. However, Badger Trust welcomes any advance in this area and, should the oral vaccine be made available (and a suitable deployment method devised), Badger Trust would encourage its use. An oral vaccine would be easier to distribute and setts could be targeted as opposed to trying to capture wary, mobile animals.

17. Badger Trust has not been involved in the development of a Cattle TB vaccine. Nor has the Trust been involved in discussions regarding the amendment to regulations to allow the vaccine to be administered. However, Badger Trust welcomes all advances in this area. Vaccinating cattle against Bovine TB, as part of regular cattle health checks and vaccines already used against other infections/diseases, seems the most sensible approach. It appears to be the cheapest (if the vaccine is administered when cattle are already together for other checks), it is easier to get the cattle all in one place and farmers can be sure that 100% of their herd have been vaccinated.

18. In the short-term, Badger Trust would advocate that better farm bio-security measures (shown to be both cheap and effective – when maintained), coupled with a large-scale badger vaccination programme, would best serve the farming community. In the long-term it appears that cattle vaccination is the only true sustainable way to control bovine TB in cattle. This will result in both healthy cattle and healthy badgers in the British countryside.

January 2013

Prepared 1st February 2013