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Badger culls may expand, then end

“No one wants to be culling badgers forever,” says minister as Defra launches review to ensure bovine TB strategy is on track.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Richard Austin/REX/Shutterstock (1921679g) Badger in the British Countryside Badger, Britain - 10 Oct 2012

The Government is to review its 25-year bovine tuberculosis (TB) strategy, with suggestions that it will expand its badger culls, before moving away from the practice in later phases of the plan in favour of other approaches.

The 25-year strategy outlines a range of ways in which to combat bovine TB. So far, the first phase has mainly focused on cattle movement controls, the removal of infected cattle from herds and the badger cull, which covered more than 20 different areas in 2017.

Preparing new strategies

Environment secretary Michael Gove and farming minister George Eustice have said that they want other parts of the strategy, such as cattle and badger vaccination and developing genetic resistance, to be ready for the next phase.

Mr Eustice said: “Bovine TB is a slow-moving, insidious disease that presents many challenges. It is difficult to detect, can be harboured in the wildlife population and no vaccine is fully effective.

“There is no single measure that will provide an easy answer and that is why we are pursuing a wide range of interventions including cattle movement controls and a cull of badgers in areas where disease is rife.

“Now is a good time to review progress to date and identify steps we could take now to accelerate some of the elements of our 25-year strategy that might be deployed in later phases. While the badger culls are a necessary part of the strategy, no one wants to be culling badgers forever.”

Culling in new areas

However, Defra has also launched two consultations on its new proposals that the strategy should be updated to introduce licensed badger control in the “low risk” areas of England and remove Natural England’s 10-area cap limit for licensing badger culling activity. “These badger control measures would help stop the disease spreading further,” said Defra.

The Government has set a target of becoming officially TB free by 2038 and said it expects there to be future progress reviews at five-year intervals. This first review will be chaired by Sir Charles Godfray, a population biologist and Fellow of the Royal Society.

The review will end in September, with the findings then considered by ministers ahead of the publication of a final report.