Campaigner Brian May launches the Badger and Cattle Vaccination Initiative (BACVI). With partner groups, they will kick-start a fund and appeal for sponsors.
Forefront in the fight against the Government’s badger cull policy, Queen guitarist Brian May joins with cosmetics company Lush and leading animal welfare organisations including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Save Me, to launch a new initiative, BACVI (Badger and Cattle Vaccination Initiative), a nationwide appeal to promote and support vaccination of badgers and cattle as a tool in the fight against bovine TB.
The launch took place in Portcullis House, House of Commons, today, (Tuesday), at which May presented the initiative to a cross-party delegation of MPs.
Despite the failure of last year's pilot culls to achieve their objectives, the Government is preparing to go forward with plans to roll out the culling of badgers throughout the UK. It is no secret that farmers and landowners are already being called on by Natural England to prepare applications for future badger control licences.
By launching BACVI, May and partnering organisations are striving to win support among farmers to adopt vaccination as an immediate move towards helping to control bovine TB in both badgers and cattle, as opposed to culling, which it suggests may currently be accelerating the spread of the disease.
BACVI is announced as “a new, humane and credible project that will protect badgers from bovine TB, and take them out of the equation as regards bTB in cattle”.
Cattle vaccination is also very much in BACVI's sights, which it believes is ultimately the only real hope of eradicating the disease, but needs, as priority, field testing in the UK in order to secure a licence from the European Commission.
The initiative is initially funded by donations of more than £200,000 from May and those involved. As well as providing these starter funds, the group will also launch a nationwide appeal for the public to become involved by sponsoring the first vaccination projects currently being set up in the areas of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucester and Somerset.
Over 300,000 members of the public voiced their opposition to the cull by signing May’s Save Me ‘Stop the Cull’ petition on the official Government website making it the most signed ever. BACVI is hoping to convert this signature support into funding help.
The BACVI sponsorship page is at www.bacvi.co.uk. All monies raised will go directly to support vaccination schemes, and farmers throughout the UK are eligible to apply for help in vaccinating their badgers.
The BACVI launch document sets out the help it will provide to those adopting the initiative, namely “to complete a comprehensive survey, the supply and placement of traps, appropriate prebaiting, trapping and vaccination based on a simple cost per badger”.
Speaking to farmers, the BACVI launch document sets out to appeal to the community with assurances: “You may have considered the cost of trapping and vaccination of badgers to be uncompetitive compared to culling. By using volunteers and charity funding we are able to offer this service at reduced costs.”
”We have the necessary experience, equipment, vaccines and trained ‘Lay Vaccinators’ to undertake badger vaccination. Our application of the agreed protocols and effective delivery of vaccine to badgers in the wild has been audited and confirmed to be of a high standard by the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera). This audit investigated all aspects of our operation including survey, placement and setting of traps, application of vaccine, maintenance of records and biosecurity on, across and between trapping sites and holdings.
According to charity Care for the Wild, the pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire cost more than £7m - equivalent to more than £4,000 per badger killed. In comparison, according to the BACVI, each badger vaccine costs £20; every trap £100. Staff time to carry out the baiting of traps and injections is also a significant cost, but these costs are proposed to be offset through the use of volunteers and ‘Lay Vaccinators’.
BACVI’s chosen vaccine will be BCG based, and in trials in Ethiopia and Mexico this used as a cattle vaccine has been proven to be statistically more effective than the human BCG vaccine programme. In badgers the Government’s own science shows that it works.
Says Brian May: “For this launch, we hope all those people genuinely in search of a solution for the bTB problem will put aside their differences to support BACVI. Naturalists, scientists, MPs, along with many members of Team Badger and the farming community will be participating.”
“The contribution to the spread of bovine TB by wildlife is relatively small, compared with cattle to cattle transfer, but if we are to eliminate this component, vaccination is the only effective long-term solution. Vaccination of cattle is the Holy Grail, and we are pushing for trials on cattle vaccine to be run here. The Government seem to be dragging their heels, and we will endeavour to get them to see this as a priority.”
Robbie Marsland, UK Director of IFAW, said: “We are delighted to be involved with this national vaccination initiative aimed at tackling the grave issue of bovine TB. This should be coupled with strict control on cattle movements and enhanced cattle protection. By combining cattle based solutions with wildlife vaccination we hope this will stamp out the scourge of bovine TB and protect badgers from needless culls.”
Highlighting the benefits of vaccination, the BACVI policy report sets out its supporting claims:
Government research has shown that if we vaccinate as little as 30% of the badger population, 79% of cubs are protected.
This will logically provide 'herd immunity' of a badger population within five years. Whilst new cubs will need to be vaccinated each year it is estimated that the average life of a badger is between 4-5 years in the wild and this should therefore substantially eliminate the disease in badgers, and protect them from reinfection from cattle in their area.
Vaccination has the massive advantage of preserving stable populations, unlike culling, which, through perturbation, sees badgers migrating to other areas and potentially making the problem worse.
A statement from the Government's AVHLA laboratories: “Only a proportion of the susceptible population (that is those that are not already infected with bovine TB) need to benefit from the protective effects of the vaccine in order to reduce the prevalence of infection in the population. This is known as herd immunity and works on the principle that if some of the population are protected from the disease it is less likely that an infected individual will come into contact with a susceptible individual, therefore, the disease is less likely to be passed on. Obviously, the higher the proportion of protected individuals there are in a population, the lower the number of animals that could become infected.”
Brian May is best known for his role in the band, Queen, and recognised as one of the world’s finest rock guitarists. Brian founded Save Me (www.save-me.org.uk) to give wild animals a voice and ensure that they are protected. He is also a founder of Team Badger.
For further information please visit www.bacvi.co.uk