Whilst the recent badger cull in Gloucestershire, Somerset and Dorset has been widely publicized, now plans are being made to extend the cull to Cheshire, Cornwall, Devon, Herefordshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire. Meanwhile, in East Sussex, a charitable body, the Sussex Badger Vaccination Project (SBVP) had been vaccinating badgers for Bovine TB (bTB) in the East Sussex 'High Risk Area' (HRA).
However, in December, the Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), announced that there is a BCG vaccine shortage, and that they are no longer sourcing the vaccine to the SBVP or other groups vaccinating badgers, though they do appear happy to increase the extermination of badgers, by extending the cull!
Although a large part of East Sussex is a High Risk area for bTB, there is a relatively low incidence in the county, though it has proven very persistent, and why Defra has named East Sussex a HRA. Whilst culling is the Defra strategy for HRAs, they don’t believe East Sussex has enough farmers or landowners who have been badly enough affected by bTB to make a case for culling now.
Consequently, farmers in East Sussex have no legal means of tackling the disease in wildlife, and the SBVP had decided to target their resources within the HRA, particularly toward cattle farmers, as needing more urgent assistance than in the rest of the county, which is a Defra 'Edge Area', eg where Hastings is situated. Sadly, even this is not happening now, and it is unclear when the vaccine will be available again.
The SBVP was founded in August 2013 by Kate Edmonds, who, together with help from colleagues, arranged for fund-raising, training and equipment to enable a core team of volunteers to commence vaccinating badgers.
The use of a vaccine is currently the only non-lethal way of tackling bTB in badgers. During the vaccination process, badgers are captured overnight in baited traps before being vaccinated the following morning. They are released after being checked for well-being, vaccinated in the thigh muscle, and then sensitively marked to ensure they do not get vaccinated again.
After release the traps are reset, and the process repeated the next day for unmarked badgers. The minimum level of stress for badgers is important while they’re in the trap, and during vaccination and marking.
Kate’s colleague, Trevor Weeks, advised that if 80% of badgers in a herd could be caught each year, herd immunity can be expected within 4-5 years. The SBVP had also gained acknowledgement from the local NFU and Country Landowners Association, as well as the local farm vet. Kate told me that they had “all agreed to help promote badger vaccination here in the Defra High Risk Area of East Sussex.”
Kate submitted an application to Defra for funding, whose current strategy for the Edge Area is badger vaccination plus cattle controls, though no vaccine is available for now! They have no strategy in place for the East Sussex HRA, which is roughly in the area east of Brighton, around Lewes, Hailsham, and west of Eastbourne.
Funding for the SBVP has been provided by International Animal Rescue, the Southdowns Badger Group, and from voluntary contributions. However, the more funds the SBVP can raise, the more badgers they can vaccinate (when the vaccine becomes available again), extra equipment can be bought, and more volunteer teams can be trained.
The SBVP is a charitable body, go to their website for more information.
This blog is an update to an article I wrote for the Hastings Independent in 2014.