A unique research project in the Banbridge area will see any captured badgers that test positive for bovine TB, humanely euthanised, while those that are clear will be vaccinated and released.
The five-year DARD project known as “Test and Vaccinate or Remove” (TVR), has been taking place in a 100km2 area around Banbridge. It is currently moving into its second year, though up until now no badgers have been euthanised.
DARD’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Robert Huey, said: “Banbridge was selected as the TVR intervention area as that area has a higher cattle herd breakdown level over the past five years. The Banbridge location choice maximises any opportunity to detect a TVR associated change in cattle herd TB incidence.”
The Northern Ireland Badger Group has cautiously affirmed its support for the TVR project, but strongly rejects claims that this is a ‘pilot badger cull’ - something which the group would in no way support as part of any TB strategy.
A spokesperson for the NIBG, Peter Clarke, said: “We, along with the other major conservation groups and industry stakeholders, give qualified support to the Northern Ireland TVR project.
“Although this may involve a very small number of confirmed TB-positive badgers being humanely euthanised, TVR remains primarily a vaccination-led project. All 280 badgers trapped in year one of the project (last year) were vaccinated and any ‘new’ badgers in year two and beyond will also be vaccinated.
“The Badger Group has long advocated an evidence-led bovine TB strategy in Ireland. We expect the TVR project to greatly inform our understanding of the dynamics of the disease and have been transparent about our support for this initiative.”
Clarifying that a cull involves scatter-gun tactics whereas this project removes only TB-positive badgers, Mr Clarke went on to stress the group’s continuing opposition to any form of cull.
“The threat level remains high, fuelled by those who scapegoat badgers for the problem of TB in cattle.
“To date, with the support of the Badger Trust, we have successfully foiled previous attempts to cull badgers in Northern Ireland.
“We recognise that bovine TB is a serious disease that brings hardship to the industry and farming families, but it is a matter of record that not one actual herd breakdown has ever been conclusively proven to have been caused by badgers in these islands.
“Both Northern Ireland and Wales have halved TB using cattle measures alone and TB continues to fall in Northern Ireland without the need to slaughter badgers,” he said.