Badger vaccine project generates 'delight'
The UK's first independent badger vaccination project has proved that the technique is "viable and affordable", according to the charity running it.
The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust vaccinated 35 badgers during the summer against the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (TB) in cattle.
The government wants to fight cattle TB in England through culling, but animal groups see vaccination as preferable.
The trial did not look for any impact on disease in badgers or cattle.
Instead, the idea was to see how feasible it would be to train staff and vaccinate the animals, and how much it might cost.
"We are delighted with the results (which prove) that there is an affordable alternative to the proposed cull," said Gordon McGlone, the trust's chief executive.
"Bovine TB is a big problem, but local culling of one of our much-loved native animals is not the answer.
"Scientists have spent the last 12 years investigating whether killing badgers will halt this serious disease in cattle, and the answer they are getting is that it could well make the problem worse."
The UK's so-called "Krebs Trial", the largest investigation of badger culling undertaken in any country, found that culling can reduce the incidence of bovine TB in the target area.
But if it is not done thoroughly and consistently over a large area, it can actually increase the disease burden, as badgers roam further from their setts when others die, taking bacteria to other farms.
Conservation groups argue that vaccination does not carry this risk.
But the Gloucestershire experience suggests it might be more expensive than culling, with the wildlife trust reporting an average cost of £51 per hectare.
The true cost of culling will not be known unless and until it happens, but farmers' leaders believe it may be in the region of £20 per hectare.
The Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust hopes it will never happen.
They, and other conservation groups, argue that a combination of tighter restrictions on farmers and vaccination will be more effective, and that in any case, badgers should not be killed as a matter of principle.
The National Trust has also begun an implementation trial, at its property at Killerton in Devon.
Other wildlife trusts are expected to begin similar projects now that the Gloucestershire group has reported its positive experience.
The UK government, meanwhile, is midway through a second consultation period on its culling proposals for England.
It is not against vaccination, but believes the approach will have much more success when an edible formulation becomes available to supplant the existing injectable dose, which could take another four to five years.
In Wales, plans are on hold following May's election of a Labour government.
Follow Richard on Twitter