Badgers And TB in Ireland



Prior to 1954 17% of cattle were infected with BTB. Then a voluntary programme, the Bovine TB Eradication Scheme got under way in 1954. Its priority was to retain/improve exporting markets. Also there was a risk to human health. Some progress was made with as many as 160,000 animals (TB reactors) being removed annually in the early sixties.
*Reactors: Cattle who test positive to the TB skin test, although some ‘reactors’ may be found to be clear of the infection at slaughter. These are known as ‘false positives’.

By the mid-sixties, the Eradication Scheme had reduced the incidence of cattle TB from 17% to circa 3% thanks to stringent testing. There was at one stage a strict compulsory 14-day pre-movement test on animals. Progress was achieved without badger culling strategies. In 1965, the then Minister of Agriculture, Charles Haughey had the State declared “disease attested”. But, Ireland was not quite free of the disease. In the period 1968-88 bovine TB levels remained static at 3-4% infection rate.

Now, 30,000-40,000 cattle are removed annually from the national herd. It is interesting to note that our national herd, which in the 50’s and the 60s stood at four million animals has almost doubled to present day figures of over seven million animals. Intensive farming practises had arrived on the country. The alleged link between badgers, a protected species and bovine TB continues to be a long-running and very emotive issue. Many farmers lay blame on the badger while, conservationists deny the link in the absence of hard scientific evidence.

In 1988, the war on bovine TB continued with the setting up of the Eradication of Animal Disease Board (ERAD). The Board consisted of representatives from the Farming organisations, the Veterinary Profession, Agribusiness, the Department of Finance and the Department of Agriculture. Identifying the source of infection and controlling its geographical spread was undertaken by ERAD. It was given the impossible task of reducing the level of bovine TB in Irish cattle by 50% over a four year period. A number of ‘research projects’ have been undertaken by the Irish Government since the late ‘80’s to examine the effect of intensive badger culling operations on the levels of the disease in cattle.

In 1989, ERAD commissioned a report, ‘Badgers and Bovine Tuberculosis in Ireland’. It was known as the O’Malley-O’Connor Report. Both were economists at the Economic and Social Research Institute. The Terms of Reference provided by ERAD (listed below) were interesting insofar as they confined this “high level independent survey” to badgers to the exclusion of other relevant factors.

“It is increasingly recognised that badgers can contract tuberculosis and can transmit the disease to cattle. This study should examine the significance of this for the bovine tuberculosis scheme in Ireland and should be divided into three sections”.

Review of the international knowledge on the subject. Work carried out in the United Kingdom should be particularly relevant.

Review investigations carried out in Ireland and other information accumulated at District Veterinary Offices.

Summary of the conclusions in the ESRI/ERAD Report.

In addition to the very high cattle movements in the State, the various weaknesses in the operation of the bovine TB scheme during the past decades have contributed to the failure to eradicate bovine TB in Ireland.

It is also true that the dramatic flare-ups of bovine TB to unprecedented levels in some areas of the country cannot be explained on this basis.

These episodes, which seem to have become more common since the late 70’s, cannot be permanently controlled by the normal testing procedures and even saturation testing is not always effective.

Many of the areas concerned have a badger population in which over 10% of the animals have gross TB lesions.

Removal of the badgers together with intensive testing has, in most of such cases, been attended by a marked decrease in bovine TB.

It should be stressed, however, that the badger is not the sole or, indeed, primary source of bovine TB in many areas of the country.

With the high residual level of TB in the cattle population, the most serious risk of cattle infection in most areas is from direct or indirect contact with infected cattle.

Thus, eradication of the badger population would not eradicate bovine TB in the country.

It may also be true that in many areas of the country it may not be possible to control bovine TB without controlling the badger population.

Many regard the ESRI/ERAD findings as totally inconclusive and open to interpretation. Some would say it went far in exonerating the badger. Unfortunately this report and the conclusions drawn from it, form the basis of the case against the badger

1. The East Offaly Badger Research Project. (EOBRP)

The first of such badger culling projects strategies began in 1989. The licence for snaring was sought from Duchas (National Parks and Wildlife Service). Ironically, Duchas is also the agency entrusted with the protection and preservation of badgers in Ireland. Each ‘project’ has a ten-year lifespan. Badger culling is undertaken during the first five years. When the ten-year ‘project’ has been completed, that area will continue to be recognised as a badger-free zone. Setts will be checked annually for signs of renewed badger activity. Snares will be put in place again if badger presence is suspected. In the EOBRP, 1,735 badgers were snared from 1989-1994 in this 600km area. An infection level of 10.5 per cent was found in the badgers. Even though almost 90 per cent of the badgers were disease-free, the EOBRP set the stage for more intensive badger removal operations.

2. The four Areas Project (FAP)

To validate the findings of the EOBRP, another ten-year badger culling experiment was initiated in November 1996. The actual snaring of the badgers began in September 1997. This was the Four-Areas Project, which operated in parts of Counties. Donegal, Cork, Monaghan and Kilkenny. 2,129 of the total badgers removed up to the end of 2001 underwent full post mortem examination. 432 (20.3%) of the badgers examined before December 2001 were classified as positive for bovine TB.

3. The Programme for Prosperity and Fairness Cull

BadgerWatch believes this cull should be fully implemented in 2004 after numerous delays since its announcement by Minister Walsh in 2000. From the Department of the Environment, we know that its official commencement date was Ist January 2004. However, BadgerWatch has requested details of this cull, under the Freedom of Information Actc 1997. We note that no licence requests under this programme have been received by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to date.

The document states “In addition to current arrangements relating to wildlife, take a pro-active approach in each DVO (District Veterinary Office) area, using 75 dedicated Departmental and Farm Relief personnel, to the removal of all sources of infection in the 20% of the country which yields some 50% of the current TB reactors; the distribution of these resources will be finalised in consultation with the farm organisations”.

To achieve the objectives of the PPF agreement a Wildlife Unit has been established within DAFRD. This cull is being regarded as a massacre of unprecedented ferocity.

Copyright 2008 by Badgerwatch Ireland. All rights reserved.