Over three-quarters of badgers killed in £1m Welsh Govt TVR programme were vaccinated or healthy
The Badger Trust has today sent an open letter to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, raising a number of serious concerns around the badger Test Vaccinate Removal programme (TVR), which is currently being implemented by the Welsh Government as part of its bovine TB reduction strategy.
Under the TVR programme, badgers are cage trapped and tested with the field Dual Path Platform (DPP). They are then euthanised by lethal injection if they test positive for bTB. If badgers test negative for bTB, blood samples are taken for analysis in the laboratory and the badger is microchipped and released.
At first sight, this might seem a proportionate and reasonable course of action. However, data emerging from the operations from publicly released reports and Freedom of Information requests obtained by Sarah Reisz on the Dyfi Badger Group, paint an extremely worrying picture of a policy failing on scientific effectiveness, humaneness and public cost grounds.
It now appears that the overwhelming majority of badgers euthanised over the past three years of the programme (66 in total) have tested negative at post mortem. Even more alarming is the fact that most of those badgers had previously been vaccinated
Commenting on the letter to the Welsh First Minister, the CEO of the Badger Trust said:
“These results show that badger testing under the TVR programme is far from accurate and healthy badgers are being killed, including many that have been vaccinated. The public cost of the policy is also completely unsustainable, with over £1 million spent killing 66 mostly healthy bTB-free badgers to date.
The TVR programme has shown that the level of bTB in badgers, even on high risk farms, is extremely low. If the Welsh Government considers it necessary to continue to lower bTB in badgers, it should do so by using a badger vaccination strategy only. It should also return to providing funding, training and equipment to landowners, wildlife conservation groups and volunteers for this purpose.”
The letter is supported by Born Free, IFAW, HSI and the League Against Cruel Sports.
Mark Drakeford First Minister Wales Cathay’s Park Cardiff CF10 3NQ
19 August 2020
Dear First Minister
Welsh Government Badger Test Vaccinate & Remove Policy
The Badger Trust is the leading voice for the protection, welfare and conservation of badgers in England and Wales.
The Badger Trust has a number of serious concerns around the badger Test Vaccinate Removal programme, which is currently being implemented as part of the Welsh Government’s bovine TB reduction strategy.
Since 2017, the Welsh Government has been working on a number of bespoke bovine TB reduction Action Plans (59 up to December 2019) on farms with ‘persistent’ herd breakdowns. To a large degree these Action Plans have been based on cattle interventions including tighter movement controls, informed purchasing, improved TB testing and biosecurity measures. To the Welsh Government’s credit, this policy has had some success and resulted in the lifting of bovine TB restrictions on 23 farms by the end of 2019.
However, on a small number of farms the Welsh Government has also been implementing a badger intervention programme, alongside cattle control measures, supposedly to ‘identify and remove diseased badgers only’. The Welsh Government has made it clear that this is not a scientific trial and there is no way, or indeed any attempt, to distinguish between the impact of cattle control measures or badger interventions.
Under the test, trap, vaccinate and removal programme (TVR), badgers are cage trapped and tested with the field DPP (Dual Path Platform). They are then euthanised by lethal injection if they test positive for TB. If badgers test negative for TB, blood samples are taken for analysis in the laboratory and the badger is microchipped and released.
At first sight, this might seem a proportionate and reasonable course of action and the Welsh Government even described the policy in the early days of the project as little more than a ‘veterinary intervention’ for sick badgers infected with TB. The policy has so far only been carried out on a small number of farms – 3 in 2017, 6 in both 2018 and 2019 – and has involved the removal of relatively few badgers (5 euthanised in 2017, 26 in 2018 and 35 in 2019).
However, data emerging from the operations from publicly released reports and FOI requests by Sarah Reisz of Dyfi Badger Group, paint an extremely worrying picture of a policy failing on scientific effectiveness, humaneness and public costs grounds.
It appears that the overwhelming majority of badgers euthanised over the three years of the programme (66 in total) have tested negative at post mortem. Even more alarming is the fact that most of those badgers had previously been vaccinated.
The key test results are displayed below:
In 2017, 5 badgers were euthanised; all tested negative for TB at post mortem
In 2018, 26 badgers were euthanised; 17 were either negative or not confirmed as positive for TB at post mortem, 12 had been previously vaccinated
In 2019, 35 badgers were euthanised; 29 tested negative at post mortem, 25 had been previously vaccinated
These results show that testing under this programme is far from accurate and healthy badgers are being condemned. Even more concerning, vaccination is actually putting badgers at higher risk of testing positive and being destroyed.
The Welsh Government has been praised for taking a more ‘humane and targeted approach’ to dealing with TB infected badgers, when compared to widespread indiscriminate culling policy being carried out in England. However, the Badger Trust believes the TVR programme is seriously flawed and has serious implications for badger protection for the following reasons:
The Welsh Government appears to be ignoring the results of its own trial and continuing to insist on the viability of the DPP trap side test, both as a diagnostic tool for infection in badgers and as a DIVA test to distinguish between vaccination and infection
This presents a false picture to farmers, politicians and the wider public that removing badgers under this programme equates to identifying and removing diseased badgers, which is not borne out by the scientific evidence from the trial data
The flawed testing wrongly inflates the number of TB infected badgers. This plays into the hands of those seeking to blame badgers for spreading TB to cattle and calling for badger culling in Wales
A lack of openness and transparency around the badger test results allows the TVR programme to go unchallenged and could lead to increased numbers of healthy badgers being killed if the programme is rolled out more widely in years ahead
Despite its serious flaws, the TVR programme in Wales has shown that the level of TB in badgers, even on high risk farms, is extremely low. In the first three years of the programme over one million pounds has been spent killing 66 mostly healthy badgers. The Badger Trust therefore believes that the Welsh Government should cease any further spending on the failing TVR programme and focus its time and resources on cattle based measures to continue to lower bovine TB.
Should the Welsh Government consider it necessary to continue to lower TB in badgers, it should be using a vaccination only strategy as part of targeted intervention on high-risk farms. It should also return to supporting farmers and landowners who wish to work with wildlife volunteers in local vaccination projects.
The Welsh Government is rightly proud of its world leading Wellbeing of Future Generations legislation. This states:
The benefits of a healthy, bio diverse environment will be understood and appreciated across all areas of work and sectors, with nature embedded in all decision making through plans, policies and developments.
In view of the serious concerns we have raised on this policy, the Badger Trust would like to request an urgent meeting with you on this issue along with representatives of Born Free, IFAW, HSI and the League Against Cruel Sports, which also support this letter.
This letter has been copied to the Minister for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, and the Chief Veterinary Officer, Christianne Glossop.
This letter is also being released publicly to Badger Trust Groups, supporters and the media.
We look forward to hearing from you shortly.
Dominic Dyer CEO Badger Trust
Download the letter
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