CHESHIRE Wildlife Trust is disappointed that the Government is going ahead with its controversial badger cull, but has vowed to continue with its programme of badger vaccination in Cheshire.
On Saturday, June 1, a trial badger cull got under way in Somerset and Gloucestershire in a bid to reduce bovine TB in cattle by shooting infected badgers to stop the disease spreading further.
If the culls are deemed to be humane, efficient and safe, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson plans to extend them to 40 more problem areas over the next four years.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust, based near Malpas, says culling will not prove an ineffective way of reducing TB in cattle, and vaccination is the answer.
The Trust is rolling out badger TB vaccination across south Cheshire, and this week is vaccinating on the first of five private farms added to its sites in 2013, beginning with a 280 hectare south Cheshire dairy farm.
The Trust has identified around 4,000 hectares of land in the region for potential vaccination, and is pleased with the response from a number of farmers.
The area they are working on has increased beyond two initial deployments at sites managed by the Trust and Shropshire Wildlife Trust last autumn.
The charity believes that badger vaccination has an important part to play in tackling TB, and as part of a wider package including livestock management and cattle vaccines is the best long-term solution to the £100m a year disease.
All other UK county Wildlife Trusts say they will not sanction culling on any of their nature reserves.
They believe that though culling may have a positive short-term impact, it will increase the spread of bovine TB during the initial two years as infected badgers move out of the culling hotspots.
Cheshire Wildlife Trust manages over 300 head of livestock across four native breeds, and is promoting ‘conservation grazing’ on its nature reserves.
Chief Executive, Charlotte Harris said: “After considering the evidence and issues related to the role of badgers in transmitting bTB over many years, we will continue to implement badger vaccination programmes with the support of our membership.
“We believe Defra should be prioritising both this and the development of a cattle vaccine, diverting the estimated £6m costs of licensing, monitoring and policing the pilot culls into a major programme of badger vaccination.
“The scientific community continues to back vaccination.”
The Trust has funded the ongoing costs of badger vaccination with a public appeal that has already raised almost £20,000.
Last week, a cross-party group of MPs published a report urging the Government to produce a strategy for use of the badger vaccine.
A Defra spokesman said they are confident that controlled shooting will be effective and humane and worked in tackling TB in other species.
The pilot schemes will be monitored and an independent panel will compile a report at the end of the cull.