A badger control policy should be implemented in Northern Ireland to reduce the overall level of infection in the badger population, according to the North’s Bovine TB (bTB) Eradication Strategy.
Such a policy should be based on an agreed flexible process which could be used as appropriate in a particular area or set of circumstances, it said.
It is recommended that the intervention should include the culling of badgers in areas of high levels of bTB in cattle and, in order to mitigate the risks associated with the perturbation effect, the vaccination of badgers, combined with culling of test positive badgers in a surrounding area.
After a multi-year programme of badger culling is completed, it recommends that consideration be given to a further period of vaccination in the core zone.
The Tuberculosis Eradication Partnership (TBEP) should consider how this could best be delivered and make recommendations to DAERA, it found.
It equally recognises that, in Northern Ireland, badgers are the main wildlife reservoir of bTB infection and its strategy must address the issue.
In making its recommendations DAERA has sought to balance the available evidence and in doing so it has said it is confident that these recommendations would contribute to the reduction and eventual eradication of the disease in cattle.
It is accepted, however, that the badger population acts as a reservoir of bTB in the UK and the Republic of Ireland and the strategy report said that removal of badgers has been shown to reduce disease in neighbouring cattle populations in both England and the Republic.
In the long term, it recommends that badger vaccination should form part of a sustainable badger intervention strategy in support of an effective disease control strategy.
This could be combined along with strategic removal of badgers or implemented as a stand alone intervention depending on the circumstances.
DAERA also recommends that once an effective oral bait vaccine for badgers has been developed and is available, it should be considered how it could most effectively be deployed.
This widespread vaccination of badgers, deployed in suitable areas, would be an integral part of a sustainable and long term curtailment of bTB infection in badgers.
DAERA said that it recognises that the wild deer population on the island of Ireland has generally increased, and it is known that deer can act as a host of M. bovis infection.
It also recognises that, in recent years, deer have been identified as a local disease risk in some areas of the Republic of Ireland (such as Co. Wicklow).
However, there is little data to suggest that they act as a widespread reservoir of disease Northern Ireland, it found.