A dawn badger hunt with Derbyshire Wildlife Trust

Even with a 4.30am start, I was pleased to join staff and volunteers from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust to see for myself their work in High Peak to vaccinate badgers against bovine Tuberculosis.

It is very important to keep bovine TB at bay.  From speaking to farmers, I know it can have a huge impact on the farmer, their families, their livestock and their livelihood.

But badger culling – which is now spreading across the country – is not only cruel, it’s also very disruptive for farmers and communities and hugely expensive.  Areas where the cull takes place require a high police presence due to animal welfare activists and as we know Derbyshire have scarce police resources as it is.

286 badgers across Derbyshire, mainly around the Edale valley, have been vaccinated at a cost of around £82 each compared to over £6,000 to shoot one badger.

Faced with the nightmare of marksmen traipsing round our countryside, shooting the badgers we all love to see, any more humane alternative to protect cattle is preferable.

Debbie and the volunteers from DWT set up cages with bait (apparently peanuts work best!) every evening for over a week to get badgers used to the cages, then they start to set the cages to hold the badgers inside until the volunteers come at first light to vaccinate them.

The badgers we saw were mostly very sleepy and barely disturbed by the vaccination, which only took a moment before they were released, to run back into their nearby sett.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust was the first to set up a vaccination programme which is now in its fourth year and well established, with 15 professionals and over 100 volunteers taking part.

The Trust has obtained significant government funding to extend the programme over four years which would enable it to be properly assessed to see the impact on TB both in the badger population and in cattle to see if vaccination has the potential to be a viable alternative to culling to control the disease.

So I was very sad that the effectiveness of the study has now been put at risk by the government allowing the principle of culling in low risk areas, including Derbyshire.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust informed me it would be very difficult for culling to take place alongside a vaccination programme, and that culling would distort the results of the vaccination programme making it less useful as a scientific trial.

I hope that we don’t see badger culling come to Derbyshire. I am also calling for bTB testing in cattle improved, to make sure that cattle are not culled unnecessarily.

We don’t want to see any animals culled and I congratulate the staff and volunteers at DWT – and local landowners – for trying to make sure we succeed for both badgers and cattle.

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