The Irish government is to gradually replace badger culling with vaccination after killing more than 60,000 badgers in the past decade.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has given no indication of the exact timescale for the shift, but says a four-year vaccination trial that started in 2014 is currently in progress, and results will be published in 2018.
The Republic of Ireland, like the UK, has a serious problem with bovine tuberculosis (bTB), which some scientists say is passed from badgers to cattle.
“The department believes that the removal of badgers has contributed significantly to the very substantial reduction in the incidence of TB in cattle in recent years,” DAFM said.
It cited figures showing that the number of new incidents of the disease – so-called ‘reactors’ – halved from 30,000 animals in 2008 to 15,300 in 2015.
But Tom Langton of Eurobadger – a federation of European badger groups – said the statistics showed a fall in herd incidence of 5.88 to 3.37 per cent, a change too small to attribute to culling.
He added: “The data is scientifically unconvincing. Further, studies show that any bTB levels in badgers follow levels in cattle – it’s infected cattle perpetuating infection in wildlife, not the other way round.”
Nevertheless, Eurobadger welcomed the news that Ireland will phase out culling, saying it should act to inform the UK, which began culling badgers in England in 2013 and may roll it out to 10 more areas this year.
“Bad value for money from culling makes the oral vaccine programme a good stepping-stone to moving away from badgers altogether and towards stronger and better-enforced cattle-based measures,” Langton said.
The Irish Wildlife Trust says culling hasn’t worked. “In 2012 a whopping €3.4m [£2.85m] was spent culling 6,939 badgers,” it claimed. “After all this slaughter, only 55 fewer cattle were diagnosed with bTB compared with 2011.”
While the British government halted all of its badger vaccination programmes this year because of a shortage of supplies, DAFM says that it has purchased the BCG vaccine from a Canadian company and does not anticipate any shortfall.
Did you know?
The badger population in the Republic of Ireland is estimated to be about 84,000 – numbers may have fallen as a result of culling.