Belfast Telegraph

Farmers urged to help keep eye on badgers in TB hotspot

By Linda Stewart

Badgers are still the chief suspects as a major study of how tuberculosis spreads in cattle gets under way this autumn.

Many farmers and veterinary experts believe the woodland creatures are responsible for spreading the disease among cattle during their nocturnal ramblings.

Two years ago DARD sparked a furore when it secured permission to cull up to 1,000 badgers as part of investigations into the disease.

The cost to Government of controlling bovine TB is more than £22m a year, which doesn’t include the cost to farmers whose animals have to be slaughtered and herds placed under movement restriction due to infection.

Around 350 Co Down farmers are now to be asked to take part in a major study into how TB is spreading in cattle.

The study in the bovine TB hotspot will investigate the role of badgers in the spread of the disease, but DARD has promised that the animals will not be harmed.

Agriculture Minister Michelle Gildernew appealed to farmers to get involved in the TB Biosecurity Study.

“Their help is vital if we are to get a better understanding of the factors that influence the transmission of bovine TB here. Indeed, the study cannot proceed without the help of those farmers,” she said.

The farmers will shortly be invited by DARD’s Chief Veterinary Officer to participate in the study by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI).

“The key aim of the TB Biosecurity Study is to compare farm characteristics in both herds that have recently had a TB breakdown and those that have had no recent history of a breakdown in a TB high incidence area, which is why the study will focus on Co Down,” Ms Gildernew said.

“Consideration of selected cattle and wildlife factors will be key elements of the research.

“The study findings will be used to identify significant risk factors and should contribute to the development of best practice and biosecurity advice that can be given to all herdkeepers to help reduce the level of bovine TB here.”

Farmers will be asked for some of their time, insight and experience but will not be expected to fill in questionnaires, as this recording will be done by the AFBI researcher.

“Input provided by farmers will be held in strict confidence,” the minister said.

“The questions will be about the farm business as well as about evidence of badger presence and activity both on their land and around their farm buildings.

“There will be some badger sett survey work on and around participating farms.”

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