Bovine Tuberculosis (TB) and wildlife

We have a rigorous TB eradication programme in place, which is approved by the EU Commission and includes a strand to address the wildlife factor. The issue of badgers and bovine TB is very complex, emotive and contentious.

While science has established that there is a link between TB in badgers and TB in cattle, it has not yet established, with certainty, how the disease is spread between them and what can be done to prevent its spread and, also, how much disease is in the badger population.

As the badger is a protected species, any direct interventions in the badger population here would be subject to the agreement of the Environment Minister and the issue of appropriate licences.

Funding has been allocated in our budget to conduct TB and wildlife research and studies to help ensure we have well informed and evidence based strategies to address the issue of cattle to cattle spread of TB as well as the wildlife issue. We will use the evidence produced by this research to guide our TB eradication strategy in the future.

Following discussions with industry (farmer, veterinary and environmental) stakeholders and informed by the views of the external experts who attended the International Vaccination Experts Scientific Symposium hosted in Belfast in May 2012, the Minister requested her officials to design specific wildlife intervention research which is unique to NI and is not simply an expensive duplication of action being taken elsewhere.

The approach would involve testing live badgers, vaccinating and releasing the test negative badgers, and removing the test positive ones – “test, vaccinate or remove” (TVR).

The first stage of this work was to commission the then Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) to undertake the necessary modelling work in order to help identify an appropriate study area(s) that is/are of sufficient size and the appropriate duration of the intervention to ensure that the design is scientifically robust.

Direct interventions in wildlife will incur substantial cost and must be fully justified in cost-benefit terms, that is we need to be certain that the benefit would justify the considerable costs.

We continue to learn from the research experiences of other regions, such as the work that is ongoing in the south of Ireland and England to develop a viable oral vaccine and cost-effective means of vaccine deployment and also the developments in England to produce a viable cattle vaccine. It is important that we draw down the lessons from that work and collaborate where appropriate.

We are also monitoring closely the progress in England and Wales on their proposals for badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine TB.

The badger's role in TB

TB has been found to be present in the badger population throughout the UK and Ireland. A road traffic accident (RTA) survey conducted 1999-2010 in Northern Ireland suggested a badger TB prevalence of 20%. Science has established a link between TB in badgers and TB in cattle. The exact means of spread between the species and the relative importance of potential routes of infection have not been established. The proportion of the disease in cattle can be directly attributed to badgers has not been quantified. Further information can be found on our badgers page.

The deer's role in TB

Deer are rarely implicated in TB breakdowns in cattle herds in NI. However, it makes good sense to avoid having cattle and deer grazing together and to keep deer away from cattle feed troughs. Information about the deer TB surveys DAERA has carried out can be found at the link below:

DAERA's TB Bioexclusion Webinar

DAERA Veterinary Service has developed a webinar (i.e. a web-based seminar) to provide important and useful advice about good TB prevention and biosecurity practices, including the wildlife aspect. While the webinar is mostly aimed at Private Veterinary Practitioners, farmers will also find this information very helpful. The webinar explains what biosecurity and bioexclusion mean, the scientific background to bioexclusion measures, and the range of bioexclusion measures that can be used to reduce the risk of TB entry to a herd. The main webinar video, takes around 45 minutes to watch and there are also 13 shorter optional videos providing further information on relevant topics. The webinar is available to view at the link below:

DEFRA’s TB biosecurity videos

The following 5 videos were produced by FERA (the Food & Environment Research Agency) with funding from DEFRA, the NFU, the Welsh Government and NADIS (National Animal Disease Information System). Based on the findings of a 3 year badger behaviour and observational study conducted by FERA in Gloucestershire, they focus exclusively on reducing the risk of transmission of TB from badgers to cattle, both at pasture and in housing. They do not offer any advice regarding cattle-to-cattle transmission or general biosecurity on farm. The key points are summarised at the end of the most of the presentations.

Back to top