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DARD Minister Launches Bovine TB Project To Test Badgers
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Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill announced that the Test and Vaccinate or Remove (TVR) Wildlife Intervention Research Project has started in the Banbridge area in County Down.

The Minister said tiday (Tuesday 3 June): “The TVR Wildlife Intervention Research Project has commenced in a 100km² area around Banbridge. This project is unique to these islands and involves seeking access permission from land owners, setting humane traps to capture badgers, taking samples from badgers, microchipping and vaccinating them against bovine TB or where they test positive for TB, removing them.

“The aim of the TVR research project is to describe the effects of implementing a test and vaccinate or remove intervention on badgers in an area of high cattle TB prevalence, such as in the Banbridge area. It will also greatly add to our knowledge base and provide currently unknown data on badgers. The TVR research project will run for five years between May and December each year.”

Badgers are to be surveyed in the Banbridge and Castlewellan area in the fight against Bovine TB.

Badgers are to be surveyed in the Banbridge and Castlewellan area in the fight against Bovine TB.

The Banbridge area was selected for TVR intervention on the ground, as it had a higher TB herd incidence over the past five years compared to the Castlewellan area.

The Castlewellan area, and a number of other 100km² areas in the north of Ireland, will be included in the Project as non-intervention areas. These areas will be closely monitored for any change in the incidence of TB in cattle herds for comparison with the Banbridge area.

The first stage of the project is to establish the initial level of TB in badgers and, by the vaccination of badgers, reduce the possible effects from potential perturbation when infected badgers are removed from next year.

The Minister encouraged all land owners to complete their permission slip recently issued by the Department to those in the TVR area. She explained: “A Department researcher will call and collect permission slips over the coming weeks. We had an excellent uptake rate for last years’ Badger Sett Survey at 82%, but we now need uptake for TVR as close to 100% as possible. Once land owners give permission to access their land, they will have no further practical involvement as the teams will be fully staffed and equipped to implement the TVR research project on the ground.”

In closing the Minister also said: “I would also ask farming representatives and environmental groups to encourage all land owners in the 100km² area around Banbridge to give permission for DARD staff to implement the TVR Project on their land. This is an immensely important piece of research into bovine TB which I know will add to the pool of international knowledge and assist in designing the longer term path to eradication. Bovine TB causes immense disruption within the Industry with high costs to the taxpayer and to farming families. It is so important we all work together to give the project the best chance of success.”

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s long term aim is to eradicate bovine TB in cattle in the north of Ireland. This disease is hugely expensive to the Department in terms of compensation and animal testing, and to farmers due to movement restrictions, loss of productivity and follow up herd testing.

On 3 July 2012 the DARD Minister announced that she had tasked officials with developing and costing a specific “Test and Vaccinate or Remove (TVR)” Wildlife Intervention Research project (which would involve the TB testing of live badgers; vaccinating and releasing the test negative badgers; and removing the test positive ones).

To help formulate the project design modelling work was undertaken and Badger Sett Surveying took place in 2x100km2 areas of Co Down (Banbridge and Castlewellan). Some 82% and 83% of the respective areas were surveyed.

Officials undertook a detailed analysis and developed a number of possible models of TVR Research and Intervention projects. The Minister chose an intervention-type research project based, where possible, on scientific principles in one of the two areas where the badger sett survey has been undertaken. This was done on the basis of benefits that will accrue from this project and on the basis of its affordability. The Northern Ireland Executive approved the commencement of this research project in early May 2014.

The current TVR intervention research project started on the ground on 27 May 2014 and will run for five years and require the capture of badgers between May and December annually. This year (Year 1) will involve the capture of badgers, sampling and vaccination. All badgers will be released. From Years 2 to 5 all TB test positive badgers will be removed from the TVR area. The purpose of vaccination in Year 1 is to mitigate against the effects of any changes in badger movement (perturbation) following removal of infected badgers in Year 2.