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Could controversial badger culls be extended to East Anglia?

The government is to review its bovine TB strategy behind badger culls: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The government is to review its bovine TB strategy behind badger culls: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

The possibility of licensed badger culling in East Anglia has been raised as the government reviews its strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (TB).

Badger culls, aimed at preventing the spread of the cattle disease in “high-risk” areas in the west of the country, have been a source of controversy between farmers, scientists and animal rights campaigners.

Meanwhile in East Anglia, where the risk of TB is lower, there have not yet been any government-backed badger culls.

But after announcing a review of its 25-year TB eradication strategy, Defra has also launched a three-month consultation on proposals to allow limited culling of badgers in low-risk areas, including Norfolk and Suffolk.

A Defra spokesman said: “Badger control in the low risk area will only be considered on the rare occasions where disease is present in badgers and is linked with infection in cattle herds. At this stage this is simply a consultation that has only recently opened.”

Shipdham dairy farmer Ken Proctor, a Norfolk representative on the Bovine TB Eradication Advisory Group for England, said there is “absolutely no threat” of a widespread preventative badger cull in the county, but said any new measures could be useful in the rare event of an outbreak linked to infection from badgers.

“I would say it [badger culling] is one of the many, many tools there are to implement the 25-year strategy,” he said. “It has kept the infected population down to manageable numbers. Nobody wants diseased animals, they want a healthy badger population.

“It is not coming wholesale into our area at all. If TB ever broke out in Norfolk and we couldn’t control it, we would have to look at the source and work out the best thing to do, for the wildlife’s sake. If they cannot control a hotspot they have to do something about it, and they need that option.

“We have applied to the EU for East Anglia and the rest of the LRA (low risk area) to get TB-free status in January 2019. That is so important when you are doing trade deals, that we have a part of our country that is TB-free. So we have got to have that in our armoury.”

Conservationists welcomed the review of the strategy but are “very concerned” about any possible extension of the badger cull.

Brendan Joyce, chief executive of Norfolk Wildlife Trust said: “Norfolk Wildlife Trust supports the view of The Wildlife Trusts throughout the UK that badger culling is ineffective and inhumane as a means of controlling the spread of bovine TB in cattle.

“We are very concerned to learn the government may now be planning to extend the current culling to other areas of England. Whilst we have every sympathy for the plight of livestock farmers and the effect of the disease on livestock, we not believe this is the way forward, and that the scientific evidence supports our view.

“We would expect to be involved in any consultation as part of the review of the strategy.”

DEFRA’S 25-YEAR STRATEGY

The 25-year strategy to end the disease in cattle was first published four years ago and covers a range of measures, including tighter livestock movement controls, removal of infected animals from herds, improved diagnostic tests and work to develop a viable vaccine for use in cattle.

It also included culling and vaccination of badgers, which can spread the disease to cattle.

Now ministers say they want to ensure other elements such as cattle vaccination are ready to be deployed in the next phase of the strategy to maintain progress to becoming officially TB free by 2038.

Farming minister George Eustice said: “Bovine TB is a slow moving, insidious disease which presents many challenges.

“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.”

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