The National Trust revealed today that it had slashed the costs of vaccinating badgers during a four year project at its Killerton estate in Devon, set in the heart of one of the country’s bovine TB hotspots.
The aim of the project, funded by the conservation charity, was to demonstrate that the vaccination of badgers at an estate-wide scale can be made practical and cost-effective. This has meant that the National Trust can play an important part in reducing the exposure of cattle to bovine TB in wildlife, which has had a devastating impact across the farming community.
Vaccinating badgers in order to reduce their level of bovine TB infection will reduce the risk of cattle being exposed to the disease.
18 National Trust tenant farmers were involved in the programme which was carried out across an area of 20 square kilometres on the south west estate.
When it launched in 2011, the Trust estimated that the project would cost £80,000 a year to administer. During the four years, however, the process of capturing and vaccinating the badgers became more efficient, reducing the annual costs to £45,000 while the number of badgers vaccinated increased significantly from the first year.
Patrick Begg, Rural Enterprises Director for the National Trust, said: “As a major landowner with many farming tenants, we understand how devastating an outbreak of bovine TB can be. That’s why it’s important for us to play our part in tackling this disease by finding a practical solution to prevent its spread.
“As well as calling for better biosecurity, we started the project at Killerton to show how badger vaccination can be deployed over a large area, which we’ve done. Now we want to share this knowledge and the lessons we’ve learnt with the opening of Killerton as a national training school for the vaccination of badgers.”
Working alongside trainers from Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), the Killerton estate will host training courses aimed at farmers and landowners in affected areas. The course will provide attendees with the skills required to obtain a license to trap and vaccinate badgers.
Patrick Begg continued: “Whatever the conclusions about whether the pilot culls are effective, vaccination needs to be part of the mix of measures needed to tackle bovine TB. We’d like to see the Government working with partners to carry out further testing to show its effectiveness as part of a multi-pronged approach to tackling the disease.”
The National Trust is continuing its support of badger vaccinations by also working with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, NFU and CLA on a vaccination programme in Derbyshire.
The programme will see badgers vaccinated over the next four years in an area focussing on 26 square kilometres of farmland and National Trust land in and around Edale and the Peak District National Park, following funding of £98,600 from Defra.
Carl Hawke, National Trust’s Wildlife and Countryside Adviser in Derbyshire, said: “We’re really pleased to be part of this project. We’ve employed a project co-ordinator and recruited volunteers to work alongside Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s team to ensure we vaccinate as many badgers as possible over the next four years.”