Wildlife Trusts Wales respond to bovine TB consultation

Thursday 26th January 2017

Photo by Elliot Neep

Wildlife Trusts Wales has responded to the Welsh Government’s ‘A refreshed TB eradication programme’ consultation document.

In its response (which you can read in full here), Wildlife Trusts Wales strongly support Welsh Government’s work in recent years towards the eradication of bovine TB through increased cattle surveillance and controls, and badger vaccination. We recognise that current TB data show a decline in the number of new incidents of the disease in Wales, and that the greater intensity of surveillance has resulted in more cattle testing positive and therefore being removed from the national herd (1).

While we recognise that there is still a long way to go before achieving eradication, Wildlife Trust Wales believes that this positive trend means that extreme caution needs to be exercised before implementing changes to the current policy.

This caution needs to take account of:

1. the potential for direct negative and unintended consequences as a result of policy change in relation to badgers. For example, the evidence shows that affecting stable badger social groups by localised culling could make bTB worst (2).

2. the potential for negative consequences arising from behaviour change in the agricultural community as a result of its perception of the proposed approach

In the response, James Byrne, Wildlife Trusts Wales, Living Landscape Manager, stated that: 

“The evidence states that badgers are the direct source of only 5.7% of bTB outbreaks (3) and therefore most bovine TB in cattle is contracted from other cattle. As such, tackling the disease in cattle must remain the top priority. The DEFRA funded Randomised Badger Cull Trial concluded that culling would make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control (4). As a consequence the Wildlife Trusts believe that a substantial additional evidence base, including detailed scrutiny of local drivers in disease epidemiology would be required prior to the adoption of any substantive changes in TB policy.”

Dr Lizzie Wilberforce, Conservation Manager, Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales, said:

“The Wildlife Trusts in Wales have always advocated for an evidence-based approach to counteracting the risk posed to cattle and wildlife by bovine TB. We have been proactive in this area, committing to badger vaccination on our land. Vaccination, unlike culling, reduces the prevalence of disease in the badger population and we believe it offers the greatest hope for eradication. We will continue to work with Welsh Government to inform ongoing measures to eliminate bovine TB in Wales.”

The Wildlife Trusts in Wales believe that for any refreshed approach to the TB Eradication Programme to be successful, proposed changes will need to be backed up by quantitative, relevant evidence and accompanied by an improved communication strategy. This is because the disease management, and requirements on landowners, are very complex and often not well understood, which negatively impacts on its ability to deliver.

(1) Welsh Government bTB dashboard http://gov.wales/docs/drah/publications/170106-wales-tb-dashboard-q3-2016-en.pdf
(2) Bielby (2014) Badger responses to small-scale culling may compromise targeted control of bovine tuberculosis. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences | June 24, 2014 | vol. 111 | no. 25 | 9193–9198 http://www.pnas.org/content/111/25/9193.short
(3) Donnelly & Nouvellet (2013) The contribution of badgers to confirmed tuberculosis in ca le in high-incidence areas in England. PLOS Currents Outbreaks 10 (1). http://currents.plos.org/outbreaks/article/the-contribution-of-badger-to-cattle-tb-incidence-in-high-cattle-incidence-areas/
(4) As reported in the Guardian (Sept 2015) Experts call for immediate halt to £7,000-per-badger cull: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/02/badger-cull-experts-call-for-immediate-halt-programme