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Irish badger culling 'is futile'

14 May 2007 - BBC news

A new report claims the "virtual extermination" of badgers in the Republic of Ireland has failed to stop the spread of bovine TB. Although so many badgers have been killed that they are extinct in many areas, the level of TB in cattle is twice as high as in Britain, it says. The study comes from Badgerwatch Ireland and the UK Badger Trust.

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The UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) says the government will assess the science, including data from the Irish experience, before deciding on the most appropriate solution to the problem in England. It is due to receive recommendations from the Independent Science Group on Cattle TB this summer. The devolved powers in Wales and Scotland are assessing the issues in tandem with England.

Badgerwatch Ireland and the UK Badger Trust have reviewed documents relating to the systematic destruction of badgers in the so-called Four Areas Project which operated in Cork, Monaghan, Donegal and Kilkenny from 1997 to 2002. The project compared proactive and reactive culling of badgers in outbreak areas to try to determine which approach would have the greatest impact on the incidence of TB in cattle.

A review of the project for Defra found it to be the "best evidence yet of the fact of badgers contributing to bovine TB in cattle". But the two conservation groups concentrate on what they regard as flaws in the project - and in the Irish Republic's current control methods. Their report says with 6,000 badger snares in operation every night in the Republic, the incidence of TB in cattle remains a major problem. It claims the density of badgers in Ireland is now only 10% of that in equivalent habitats in South West England; and yet, in 2006, Ireland slaughtered 9% more cattle with bovine TB than Great Britain - even though the Irish national herd is only 56% the size of Britain's.

"If you've eradicated virtually all your badgers and you've still got twice the level of bovine TB in your national herd than you have in Britain, where we're not slaughtering our badgers, then clearly Ireland has got it wrong," Trevor Lawson told the BBC News website.

The groups believe their assessment supports the view that bovine TB in Ireland is largely spread by the movement of cattle. They say the disease rocketed in Ireland when pre-movement TB testing for cattle was abandoned in 1996. It quickly reached the highest level ever recorded in 1999, with more than 45,000 positive tests. Badger culling continued throughout that period, their report states.

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In Britain, the government-backed Randomised Badger Culling Trial (also known as the Krebs Trial), which ended in 2003, showed that culling could make the TB problem worse. Reactive culling raised TB incidence by 25%. A proactive regime lowered incidence inside the target zone, but resulted in an increase in surrounding areas.

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