Government funds project to vaccinate badgers
The Government has granted funding to a "pilot" project to vaccinate badgers against bovine tuberculosis in West Cornwall.
Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, has spearheaded moves towards immunisation of the wildlife as an alternative to badger culling that got under way this week in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Mr George confirmed that the Zoological Society of London will oversee the programme which – he hopes – will run for at least six years and extend to the whole of the Penwith peninsula.
The Government has granted funds to the project to commence a trial vaccination project in West Cornwall for the first year, with a start date earmarked for later this year.
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But Mr George, a former Lib Dem rural affairs spokesman, conceded the project still needs to raise volunteers to prevent catching badgers in traps, and then vaccinating the animals, becoming too expensive. A six-year vaccination could cost £2 million.
The MP said: "The Government's pilot cull runs the very high risk of making the situation worse. In any case it is highly unlikely that the Penwith area would ever succeed in securing Government support for a cull, even if it were proven to be a success because when the Government backed badger cull trial was undertaken in the Penwith area a decade ago, non-cooperation and disruption resulted in less than 50% of the area being accessible for culling.
"Bovine TB has had and is continuing to have a devastating effect on many livestock farms here in west Cornwall. It is absolutely essential that we make every effort to get on top of this disease.
"But the project cannot succeed without the support of volunteers (otherwise it becomes prohibitively expensive) or local farmers and landowners. The response so far has been encouraging but there's much more to do."
He added: "Although the Government has offered financial support for a small pilot to be undertaken this year, we still have more work to do to plan for the remaining six years of the project. However, things are coming together well and with the support of the National Trust, the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the Zoological Society of London I am confident that this project could have a real and beneficial impact on beef and dairy farms in the area."
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is funding badger vaccination research. But critics warn injectable doses are costly, difficult to administer and does nothing to help infected animals. An oral vaccination is years away from approval.
The Government wants South West hotspots to be TB-free within 25 years, and says a badger cull is essential. Ministers say the cost of tackling bovine TB has cost £500 million in the past decade and could rise to £1 billion.