DAERA to begin NI badger sett surveys in bid to tackle TB crisis

Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture (DAERA) will begin badger sett surveys in two bovine tuberculosis (bTB) problem areas.

It comes as anger over TB mounts in the region; farmers have long been calling for wildlife intervention to tackle the issue.

‘50% of the cause’

The latest official statistics show TB rates in Northern Ireland hit their highest in more than 13 years – with a herd incidence rate of 9.47% in October; the last month for which records are available.

Speaking at an event in Ballymena on Wednesday night, Ulster Farmers’ Union deputy president Victor Chestnutt said so far only 50% of the problem had been tackled.

He said: “We have to tackle TB in the environment, wherever it is.

The time for tackling TB on 50% of the cause – which is the cattle – is long passed and it’s time for a new approach.

Tackling the spread of TB in wildlife was one of the measures recommended by the TB Strategic Partnership Group (TBSPG).

The full TBSPG report – entitled, ‘An Integrated Eradication Programme – Bovine Tuberculosis Eradication Strategy for Northern Ireland’ – can be read online.

What will happen?

During the surveys, DAERA staff will survey land within each selected area to locate and map badger setts using GPS devices. There will be no interference with the badger populations during these surveys.

The information gathered as part of this work will be used to help inform potential future wildlife intervention policies, with the aim of strengthening DAERA’s bTB Eradication Programme.

The surveys will take place in two areas, one around Aghadowey, Co. Derry and the other near Omagh, Co. Tyrone. Fieldwork will commence in January 2018 and continue throughout the spring.

The department intends to write to herd keepers or landowners in each area to ask them to participate in the surveys.

No badgers will be trapped or tested in either area, during these surveys.

‘An important step’

Chief veterinary officer Robert Huey said: “The badger sett surveys are an important step in terms of gathering evidence to inform future wildlife intervention policies and I would encourage those contacted to allow staff access to land to enable this work to progress.”

The department is currently consulting on a package of TB proposals, which includes recommendations for wildlife intervention policies.

A spokesman for DAERA said the badger sett surveys will be taking place “without prejudice to any decisions about future policies”.

He added: “Decisions on future wildlife intervention policies will take into account all responses received during the consultation, as well as any other new evidence gathered through these surveys.”

Concluding, Huey said: “This consultation is an opportunity for everyone with an interest in shaping the future of DAERA’s bTB eradication strategy to express their views.

“I would strongly encourage anyone with a vested interest in bTB eradication, to respond to the consultation which closes on February 1, 2018.”