It applied for its first cage trapping licence from Natural England and funding from International Animal Rescue and the Southdowns Badger Group has paid for five vaccinators to be trained over the past 12 months.
Badgers are vaccinated for around £25 each and SBVP is seeking additional funding to expand the project over the next five years.
SBVP project director Kate Edmonds said: “This is great news for Sussex’s badgers and cattle. Bovine tuberculosis is a huge problem for farmers and this is such a positive way forward in the fight against it. After doing some initial survey work earlier this year and working out the key target areas, we have been undertaking the pre-baiting by placing peanuts down, which helps us identify the best locations to trap and vaccinate on the land.”
Edmonds said landowners from four sites in East Sussex had asked the SBVP to vaccinate badgers but because of “the sensitive nature of the badger, cattle and TB issue”, the project would not be disclosing the exact locations.
The SBVP said it believed the option of vaccinating badgers – as part of practical on-farm biosecurity and husbandry to prevent cattle-to-cattle and wildlife-to-cattle transmission – would prove a more effective means of eradicating bTB than culling.
Earlier this month, research published in the journal Nature, suggested that badger culling was not an effective way of reducing tuberculosis in cattle. The study, which modelled the way in which TB spread across Britain using data on cattle dating back to the 1990s, found that few options could reverse annual increases in the disease. It found that only culling the whole herd when infection was found, vaccination of cattle, or additional national testing for infection would be effective in stemming the rise of the disease. Vaccination had a marked effect in reducing the disease, although the vaccine offered cattle only limited protection, the report claimed.
Defra’s chief scientific adviser, Prof Ian Boyd, said the more severe control measures suggested in the report would probably result in a rapid decline in the cattle industry in areas where TB occurred.
Meanwhile, farming minister George Eustice said the government could not accept the findings because the study did not investigate the full range of ways in which TB could spread.
But Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, claimed the government and farming industry had focused far too much on badgers and not enough on “holes in cattle management policy, which have been letting this disease through”.
Paul Wilkinson, head of living landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We firmly believe that vaccination offers the most effective, long-term and sustainable approach to bTB in badgers, and there is a strong scientific evidence base supporting this view. However, addressing the disease in badgers can at best make a limited contribution to the eradication of bTB in cattle.”
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