Sett survey a ‘tiny’ step in the right direction

European badger (Meles meles), young cub foraging in daylight, England, UK
European badger (Meles meles), young cub foraging in daylight, England, UK

A survey of badger setts in two areas hardest hit by Bovine TB is a ‘tiny step’ in the right direction, the Ulster Farmers’ Union has said.

DAERA staff will survey land within each selected area to locate and map badger setts using GPS devices.

There will be no interference with the badger populations during these surveys. The information gathered as part of this work will be used to help inform potential future wildlife intervention policies with the aim of strengthening DAERA’s bTB Eradication Programme.

The surveys will take place in two areas, one around Aghadowey, Co Londonderry and the other near Omagh. Fieldwork will commence in January 2018 and continue throughout the spring.

The Department intends to write to herd keepers or landowners in each area to ask them to participate in the surveys.

Mr Huey said: “The badger sett surveys are an important step in terms of gathering evidence to inform future wildlife intervention policies and I would encourage those contacted to allow staff access to land to enable this work to progress.”

Responding to news of the survey, UFU deputy president Victor Chestnutt said bTB has been the scourge of the countryside for nearly 60 years and it is currently causing major problems in farms across the country.

“Incidents of TB are at the highest point in a decade and farmers are beyond frustrated,” he added.

“DAERA’s badger sett surveys are a tiny step in the right direction. However, it does not go far enough.

“For too long, only one side of the TB problem has been addressed and this disease continues to be rife. Farmers want to see the Department taking robust, meaningful action to address TB in wildlife,” he added.

The Department is currently consulting on a package of TB proposals, which includes recommendations for wildlife intervention policies. These badger sett surveys will be taking place without prejudice to any decisions about future policies. Decisions on future wildlife intervention policies will take into account all responses received during the consultation as well as any other new evidence gathered through these surveys.

The consultation closes on 1 February 2018 and Mr Huey is encouraging all those with an interest in bTB eradication to respond.

Meanwhile, Ulster Wildlife has said the badger sett survey could be a precursor to a badger cull, which would be unacceptable.

Ken Brundle, Chair of Ulster Wildlife, said: “We appreciate that the levels of bTB are rising and this is concerning for the farming industry. However, the Department’s proposal to implement a badger cull in certain areas of Northern Ireland, for which this sett survey is a potential precursor, will not be acceptable to Ulster Wildlife and to large sections of the general public.

“The ‘Test Vaccinate Remove’ intervention methodology offers a much more balanced alternative to control levels of TB in badgers and cattle, given the badger is a protected native species. It is important to remember that badgers are only a very minor part of the bTB infection chain. Biosecurity, cattle movements and slurry are much more important elements of the solution and we will be urging the Department to put more resources into these and other measures, in our response to DAERA’s consultation on a future TB Eradication Strategy for NI.”