Badger cull: Is Northern Ireland's way better?
England 'should emulate Northern Ireland's scheme'
Authorities have insisted that Northern Ireland will not follow England with a widespread cull of badgers. But a control programme to deal with badgers infected with bovine TB is expected to launch here as soon as next year.
The pilot badger control scheme is planned for two areas of Co Down where animals would be captured, vaccinated and released if healthy, and destroyed if found to be infected. Sett surveying has already started in the two areas, with more than 50% of the survey work now complete.
It could leave the way clear for the launch of the TVR (test and vaccinate/remove) scheme next year. However, agriculture committee chairman Paul Frew warned that the disease is costing tens of millions while the department makes only slow progress towards tackling it.
Protesters in England say they are determined to disrupt the cull, which the National Farmers Union says is now under way.
Around 5,000 badgers are expected to be shot over a six-week period across Somerset and Gloucestershire in a bid to curb the spread of bovine TB from infected badgers.
However, groups in Northern Ireland say a lot of money is being wasted in England on fighting over the cull and it would make more sense to look at emulating the approach here.
Ulster Farmers' Union president Harry Sinclair said testing and culling of cattle has been going on for 40-50 years now and the problem has been growing rather than decreasing.
"The industry has said we will never get ahead of this unless we address TB in cattle and in wildlife," he said.
Mr Sinclair said the first of the pilot schemes is expected to launch sometime in 2014 as survey work is still ongoing.
"Our response has been to welcome this pilot scheme," he said.
"At the end of the day, it's only an experiment to see if it works, but it would seem like the best of both worlds if it does."
Mike Rendell of the NI Badger Group says the penny has dropped in Northern Ireland that bovine TB is a complex problem and there is no quick fix.
He said it would be worthwhile for the English authorities to look at the Northern Ireland model or the Welsh cattle vaccination pilot instead of an indiscriminate cull.
"What we have here is an agreed approach based on the common ground that both the conservationists and the farming community want.
"It recognises that indiscriminate culling of both healthy and TB positive badgers is not the way forward."
Some studies have shown that TB incidence can rise in an area where a badger cull has taken place, as infected badgers move in from other areas. Mr Rendell said culling was a high risk strategy and the incidence of TB in the remaining badger population can be higher afterwards.
Jennifer Fulton, director of the Ulster Wildlife Trust, said a number of more acceptable strategies were being piloted in the devolved regions – namely badger vaccination in Wales and TVR in Northern Ireland, that could provide a much more acceptable approach without impinging on ethical production standards.
"Cattle vaccination offers the most viable longer term solution," she said.
DARD said badger sett surveying has started in two 100km sq areas and 75% of the Banbridge/Rathfriland area and 61% of the area near Castlewellan were completed before surveying was suspended for summer.
"TVR will focus on removing diseased badgers and protecting uninfected ones, which could lead in time to a healthier badger population with a reduced capacity to transmit TB to other badgers and to cattle," a spokesman said.
"The badger is a protected species. There are no plans for a badger cull to be undertaken in the north or Ireland."
The alternatives to culling
* England – Enhanced cattle controls since January 2013. Pilot badger culls by 'free shooting'. No testing of badgers for TB. Wildlife group vaccination programmes.
* Wales – Government backed badger vaccination programme. No culling.
* Northern Ireland – Enhanced cattle controls since 2002 with 50% fall in TB. No culling but test and vaccinate/remove programme to be piloted.
* Scotland – Enhanced cattle controls. No badger culling. Now declared TB free.