UK Bovine Tb and Badger Cull Zones

by Barnaby Treneer

A significant proportion of my summer holiday was spent working on my family’s farm in the Dartmoor National Park, Devon. We rear livestock, primarily cattle for beef which are sold at between nine months and twenty four months of age at market before going on to be fattened and sent to slaughter. On the 27th September we had our six-monthly bovine Tb test where we had one cow from a herd of over one hundred test positive for the disease. This means that we are unable to sell, or move off farm, any livestock until two clear tests are achieved. This has multiple effects, the first being that there is a significant interruption to the cash flow of the business as the autumn is a time at which we would tend to sell a large proportion of the young stock we were not keeping for breeding. Secondly it creates the issue of having to house and feed many more livestock through the winter months than planned. The culling of badgers is one of the main ways in which the government has aimed to stop the spread of bovine Tb and having narrowly missed out on being in a cull zone recently I was interested to look more into how cull zones are set up and how this form of tuberculosis has spread in UK livestock.

Bovine Tuberculosis is an infectious disease which can infect many mammals. Over the last half century is has spread significantly across the UK (see Figure 1 below). This has caused significant problems and therefore mainly due to the cost to the economy (over £100 million/year (TB Free England, 2013)) that major work was needed to try and reduce the prevalence of this disease. The spread of this disease is interesting because it shows the interaction between human-driven farming and the natural environment. With wild animals including badgers and deer being blamed as the main carriers of the disease it exemplifies a key tension between farmers and nature. This is mainly due to the fact that in areas of no infection in the surrounding wildlife, bovine tuberculosis outbreaks are shown to be short and easily managed (TB Free England, 2013), however when there is a reservoir of the disease in the natural environment controlling the spread is much more difficult. Therefore due to the increasing cost of the disease it was decided that further action needed to be taken.

Figure 1: Spread of Bovine TB (Defra, 2011 in Fur Feather and Fin, 2018)

Due to the link between badgers and the disease cull zones we set up to significantly reduce the number of badgers. The cull zones are concentrated in the high risk areas (Figure 2 and Figure 3 below). In terms of geographical focus it is most interesting to try and determine how the cull zones were set up as they appear to have somewhat arbitrary borders. There are a number of criteria which must be fulfilled in order to set up a cull zone: areas must be at least 150km squared, with 70% of the proposed land accessible for culling and a large degree of the inaccessible land near to accessible land. There is also a four year financial commitment (Badger Action News, 2018). To a large degree the criteria for setting up cull zones are difficult to achieve that this may limit the effectiveness overall due to the inability to destroy the disease reservoir in the natural environments outside of the cull zones. The argument of whether and how to set up cull zones is largely affected by the need to balance political and scientific factors and often political factors take precedent in contentious situations (Nature Publishing Group, 2007).

Figure 2: Relative Risk of Tb Outbreaks Areas (TBHub, 2015).

Overall it has been relatively difficult to obtain unbiased information on the contentious issue of the use of culling badger and also on how the cull zones are set up. The latter is to a large degree down to the need for information over the cull to remain relatively secretive to protect farmers and landowners from campaigners. The south west of the country has traditionally and still is the worst affected area by this disease and this is reflected in the number of cull zones in the region. The creation of cull areas though does appear to be more based upon ease of access rather than the likelihood of helping to achieve the long term aim of eradicating BTb, a wider still approach to wildlife management may be need for this. The most interesting geographical takeaways have been to see the need to balance economy with the environment, relating to the spread of tb, and balance between political aims and science in deciding how best to move forward with eradicating the disease.

Figure 3: Badger Cull Zones in the UK 2017.

References:

Badger Action News (2018) Inside the Cull Zones. Badger Action News. Available at: http://badgeractionnews.org/the-cull/inside-the-badger-cull-zones/ [Accessed on: 30/09/2018].

Cull Zone Areas (2018) Available at: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=125MIf7RnhFOjxl4HH5wNBYghZio&ll=51.80614361665441%2C-2.8091074048800237&z=8 [Accessed on: 30/09/2018]

Nature Publishing Group (2007) In for the cull. Nature. Vol 450. Issue no. 7166 published on 1/11/2007. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/450001b.pdf [Accessed on: 30/09/2018].

NFU IT (2013) How Much Does bTb cost? TB Free England. Available at: http://www.tbfreeengland.co.uk/faqs/how-much-does-btb-cost/ [Accessed: 30/09/2018].

TBHub (2015) Risk Map for Great Britain. TBHub. Available at: http://www.tbhub.co.uk/risk-map/ [Accessed: 30/09/2018].

Fur Feather and Fin (2018) Badger Cull to Commence in June 2013…Right or Wrong? Fur Feather and Fin. Available at: https://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pixies/2012/9/29/1348947992834/Bovine-TB-spreading-002.jpg [Accessed: 30/09/2018]

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