Defra has updated its bovine TB (bTB) control strategy with the addition of 11 new badger cull areas in the counties of Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. With the existing 10 areas, this means there will be 21 zones where Defra and Natural England seek to reduce badger numbers by 70%.

Defra has also announced a new bTB advisory service to offer advice to farmers on how to protect their herds or to manage a bTB outbreak on farm. The Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, which was suspended two years ago because of a global vaccine shortage, opens for expressions of interest this week. Successful applicants will receive a grant for 50% of their costs from a fund worth £700,000 over four years. Projects are set to start in spring 2018. 

The NFU has welcomed the moves. Minette Batters, deputy president of the NFU, commented: “In 2016, more than 29,000 cattle were slaughtered in England because of bovine TB and nearly 3,750 farm businesses that had been clear of the disease were affected by it.

“The creation of a TB Advisory Service for farmers in the high risk and edge areas will play a valuable role in efforts to tackle this disease and we will be seeking an early meeting with the company that will run it so we can understand exactly what they will be offering cattle farmers in those areas.

”The NFU has been lobbying the government to provide a service across the whole country as the testing and surveillance regime can be challenging to all cattle farmers, including those in the low risk area. The NFU will continue to offer support and advice to our members regarding bovine TB wherever they farm.

“The NFU has always supported a comprehensive and proportionate eradication strategy, which balances disease controls measures with business sustainability. We must have every option available to us to tackle bTB – including cattle testing, cattle movement restrictions, biosecurity advice, vaccination and control of the disease in wildlife.

“The Chief Vet has said that action to prevent infection of cattle from the reservoirs of bTB in local badger populations is an essential component of the Government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate bTB in England and proactive badger culling is currently the best available option to achieve this. He has also said the licensing of further cull areas is necessary to achieve disease control benefits across the high risk area, rather than just at local levels.