IRELAND - Badgers are capable of travelling distances of over 20 kilometres, Europe’s largest ever badger study has revealed.
A four year, 963 badger study assessed badger travel across a 755 square kilometre area of County Kilkenny finding badgers travelled an average of 2.6 km from their sets.
However, five per cent of movements were over 7.5 km with 22.1km being the furthest.
This is according to lead author Dr Andrew Byrne, University College Dublin, who said the Irish study findings may inform tuberculosis (Tb) intervention strategies such as the ‘cordon sanitaire’.
This is a strip of vaccinated badgers used as a biological barrier between an infected and a disease free area.
“Our data could be used to estimate an appropriate effective width for such a barrier,” commented Dr Byrne.
The team concluded that long-distance badger travel could be responsible for the survival and persistence of Tb in new hosts despite disease control.
Dr Andrew Byrne described this phenomenon as ‘seeding’. This is when an infected animal moves to a Tb-free location also known as the ‘incidence rate’.
Another study is currently underway to see how far Tb infected badgers can travel.
Depending on the findings, the follow-up report could show the disproportionate effect of far-travelling badgers on disease spread.
The value of such research was discussed by the UK Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) once again this week when it revealed 90 cattle were culled daily due to Tb last year.
The alarming figure comes despite 300 fewer new farms to test positive when compared to 2012 and a cull reduction of over 5,000.
The message from the National Farmers Union was that Tb is still a ‘massive problem’ for beef and dairy farmers.
NFU Deputy President Minette Batters said: “A drop in the figures is welcome but there are often fluctuations in long-term diseases like this.
“Bovine Tb continues to devastate farming family businesses and it is vital that action is taken on all fronts to control and eradicate it.”
The NFU remained unchanged on the issue of tackling disease reservoirs.
But Mrs Batters stressed the importance of stringent cattle testing, improved farm biosecurity and cattle movement controls.
Farming minister George Eustice looked forward to new techniques such as cattle and badger vaccines and diagnostics that will assist in tackling Tb in the future.
He said the fact that the proportion of newly infected herds had been above 4 per cent for a decade.
Defra described this as ‘unacceptable’.
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