A government-backed badger vaccination scheme has been relaunched today to help stop the spread of bovine TB (bTB) in England.
The relaunched Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, which was suspended for two years following a global vaccine shortage, opens for expressions of interest today, with projects set to start in spring 2018.
Successful applicants will receive a government grant for 50% of their costs from a fund worth £700,000 over four years.
The government also announced a contract has been awarded to deliver a new bTB advisory service which will offer advice to help farmers protect their herds from the disease and manage the impacts of a TB breakdown on their farm.
Both measures are key parts of the UK's strategy to eradicate bTB in England, which includes one of the most rigorous cattle surveillance programmes in the world, strong movement controls, promoting good biosecurity, and badger control where the disease is rife.
Bovine TB costs taxpayers over £100m every year and England has the highest incidence of the disease in Europe.
In 2016 more than 29,000 cattle had to be slaughtered in England to control the disease, causing devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities.
Farming Minister George Eustice, who announced the relaunch said: "Bovine TB not only has a devastating impact on our beef and dairy farms, but causes harm and distress to infected cattle.
"We have a clear plan to eradicate the disease over the next 20 years and this year we are restarting the government-backed Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme to stop the disease spreading to new areas.
"Vaccination is just one part of our comprehensive strategy, which also includes tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control in areas where bTB is rife to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife.
"While our eventual aim is to eradicate the disease completely, farmers are facing the reality of bTB on their farms every day, which is why we are also launching a new bTB Advisory Service to offer advice to all farmers on limiting on-farm disease risk."
New measures outlined today include eleven additional licences for badger control covering parts of Devon, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset and Cheshire.
Licences have been granted for supplementary badger control in areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset which have completed their original four-year licences.
The relaunch of the Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme following suspension due to a global shortage of TB vaccine has also been announced, with groups invited to submit expressions of interest and feedback on the criteria for the scheme.
A new bTB Advisory Service for farmers is set to launch this autumn. It will provide advice on-farm and by phone or email to farmers in High Risk and Edge Areas on bTB biosecurity and risk-based trading.
Tighter control of Inconclusive Reactors (IRs) in the High Risk and Edge Area has also been announced, which is set to come into force from 1 November.
Chief Vet Nigel Gibbens said: "Taking action to prevent bovine TB infection of cattle from the reservoir of disease in local badger populations is an essential part of the government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease in England.
"Proactive badger control is currently the best available option and the licensing of further areas is necessary to realise disease control benefits across the High Risk Area of England, rather than at local levels."
In 2016 badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Herefordshire and Wiltshire were all successful in meeting their targets.
The government said it is committed to introducing badger control over a wider number of areas in line with plans set out in the bTB strategy.
Responding to the TB strategy update, Minette Batters, NFU Deputy President, said: “In 2016, more than 29,000 cattle were slaughtered in England because of bovine TB and nearly 3,750 farm businesses that had been clear of the disease were affected by it.
“The creation of a TB Advisory Service for farmers in the high risk and edge areas will play a valuable role in efforts to tackle this disease and we will be seeking an early meeting with the company that will run it so we can understand exactly what they will be offering cattle farmers in those areas.
“The NFU has been lobbying the Government to provide a service across the whole country as the testing and surveillance regime can be challenging to all cattle farmers, including those in the low risk area.
“The NFU has always supported a comprehensive and proportionate eradication strategy, which balances disease controls measures with business sustainability. We must have every option available to us to tackle bTB – including cattle testing, cattle movement restrictions, biosecurity advice, vaccination and control of the disease in wildlife.
“The NFU has always said badger vaccination has a role to play in helping stop disease spread into areas which are currently at low risk of bovine TB.”