Badgers have been unfairly blamed for bovine tuberculosis (TB) – a problem that was not their making, according to the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT).

The IWT welcomed this morning’s announcement by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine that the vaccination of badgers is to become an “integral part” of the plan to eradicate TB in cattle.

This move was seen as a “long-overdue shift in policy” by the IWT.

It argues that the vaccination of badgers was first mooted as a possible solution in addressing the disease in that animal 27 years ago; in the intervening years, well over 100,000 badgers have been snared and shot – while bovine TB remains high in many areas, it added.

Commenting on the announcement, IWT campaigns officer Padraic Fogarty said: “By the department’s own admission, culling badgers on the scale we have seen over the past decades is unsustainable.

It’s high time we saw the end of indiscriminate culling and especially the barbaric practice of culling during the badger breeding season.

“The department has admitted that culling is affecting the populations of badgers; while oversight from the National Parks and Wildlife Service has been non-existent.”

The IWT would also like to see a firm commitment for the ending of the culling programme.

Next step

Meanwhile, this morning’s announcement by the department was described as the “logical next step” by the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) Animal Health Committee chairman, Pat Farrell.

He is of the opinion that the Wildlife Control Programme has been the key driver in reducing the levels of TB in cattle and any fundamental changes to this must, at a minimum, be equally as effective.

Early indications from the seven trial areas are positive, Farrell said. But, farmers will have to be convinced and the department must prove this effectiveness can be replicated on a national scale and in higher-density populations of badgers, before the vaccination programme moves outside these areas.

The IFA chairman indicated that the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and his officials must recognise the “enormous financial burden” TB controls impose on farmers.

These must be minimised and, where controls are deemed necessary to achieve eradication, farmers must be fully compensated for the disruption and costs imposed on their business, he added.

Farrell believes that the eradication of the disease in the shortest feasible time-frame must be the objective; but, this will not be done cheaply and cannot be just about tightening controls on farmers.

Other contributing factors – such as deer and disturbance of wildlife from major infrastructural works and deforestation – must also be addressed, he added.