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Government strategy will lead to more badger killings - Irish Wildlife Trust

The Irish Wildlife Trust believes that the ‘Food Harvest 2020 Plan’ will lead to an increase in bovine TB which will, in turn, lead to more healthy badgers being culled.

Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/Press Association Images

THE IRISH WILDLIFE TRUST (IWT) is fearful that plans by the Department of Agriculture will lead to an increase in the number of badgers being needlessly culled throughout the country.

The Food Harvest 2020 Plan hopes to increase the value of output in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector by 33 per cent by 2020. The IWT believe that any major increase in beef production will lead to an increase in bovine TB which will, in turn, have a detrimental effect on Ireland’s badgers.

Bovine TB is a chronic infectious disease which can be caught by a large number of mammals, including humans, cattle, pigs, foxes and badgers.

The increase in herd densities and the greater movement of cattle between these herds will also lead to an increase in the number of cows with the disease, the IWT believe.

The development officer at the IWT, Conn Flynn, told TheJournal.ie that “the reservoir of [bovine] TB is with cattle at the moment” and that badgers would be viewed as being “complicit with this”.

The department’s current wildlife policy in relation to the eradication of bovine TB says that while its intention is to replace badger culling with vaccination, “it will be some years before the benefits of a vaccine can be seen and therefore targeted badger removals will continue in the medium term.”

“This is an issue”, said Flynn, adding that “vaccinations currently exist for both cattle and badgers”.

Studies have shown that nearly 60 per cent of badgers which have been culled are “uninfected healthy animals”.

Northern Ireland

“Northern Ireland is currently trapping and testing in the field with new field tests that give results in an hour,” Flynn said, adding:

Infected animals are culled and uninfected animals are vaccinated. The best aspect of this is that this approach has buy-in from farmers, conservationists and the government in Northern Ireland.

The conservation charity have now launched a petition which they hope will raise government awareness of the potential impact of the proposals outlined in the Food Harvest 2020 Plan.

Following successful campaigning by the IWT and Friends of the Irish Environment, the Department of Agriculture is set to carry out an environment impact assessment to determine the effects of the 2020 plan in Q2 of this year.

Department response

Responding to the concerns of the IWT, a spokesperson from the department said that the herd incidence of bovine TD had fallen from 7.5 per cent in 2000 to 4.1 per cent in 2012 – the lowest recorded since the commencement of the eradication programme in the 1950s.

They went on to say:

While it is difficult to attribute trends to a single factor, we believe that most of the improvement in the TB situation, in recent years, is due the badger removal programme which was significantly enhanced in 2004 and, in particular, put on a more structured footing.

The department spokesperson also said that a complaint by the IWT to the Council of Europe about badger culling in Ireland had been rejected, adding that departmental policy was to keep the badger population at “safe low levels, far from causing the species to be threatened.”

Research is on-going on vaccines for badgers and trials are starting, which may hopefully provide appropriate alternative solutions to culling.

Read: Objections to proposed Galway Bay organic fish farm >

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Paul Hyland

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