GLOUCESTERSHIRE Wildlife Trust (GWT) is trying to prove to farmers that a badger cull is not the only answer to bovine tuberculous (bTB) as it begins its badger vaccination programme.

The Trust is breaking new ground by becoming the first private organisation in the UK to vaccinate badgers against bTB on it own land, in a programme that will last for three months.

The Trust paid for its own staff to be trained to vaccinate badgers on six of its reserves in the Stroud valleys, including Daneway Banks and Siccarage Wood.

The department for environment, farming and rural affairs began its own five-year vaccination trials at selected farms last year but the GWT has seized the initiative and started its own programme.

Dr Gordon McGlone, chief executive of GWT said”: “We are walking the talk and trying to change the dialogue from a cull being the only option.

“Bovine TB is a big problem but local mass eradication of one of our much-loved native animals is not the answer. Scientists have spent the last twelve years investigating whether killing badgers will halt this serious disease in cattle and the answer they are getting is that it could well make the problem worse.“ This move has been welcomed by Gloucestershire Badger Group spokesman Tony Dean. He said: “The vaccine is long awaited and we congratulate Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust for deciding to do it on their own.”

Gloucestershire is one of the country’s bTB hotspots with 272 herds under movement restriction out of 1,257 herds on March 31.

It is also the county where badger TB was first found in 1971, on a farm in the Cotswolds.

South west spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union, Ian Johnson said: “In the long term vaccination will be part of the control of bovine TB but in some areas like Gloucestershire the levels of the disease are so acute that nothing short of a widespread cull will suppress it.

“Vaccination of badgers is hugely complex, expensive and practically very difficult. It will not work on its own in areas where the disease is out of control.”

Gloucestershire dairy farmer Jan Rowe currently has his herd under TB restrictions. He believes that not enough is known about the efficacy of the vaccine. “The vaccination programme won’t do any harm but it is pretty unlikely to have an effect for some considerable time and is very expensive. To make it effective you would need to catch 100 per cent of infected badgers.

“In the short term the only way is to target the disease hotspots and cull badgers carrying the disease.”

All parties now await the government decision, expected by the end of this month, on whether or not widespread culling of badgers will be sanctioned.

Bovine tuberculosis. Facts and figures:

* Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a serious disease of warm-blooded animals arising from infection by organisms of the mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) complex.

* Bovine TB is spread primarily through the exchange of respiratory secretions between infected and uninfected animals. There is a significant reservoir of infection in badgers.

* Bovine TB is a largely regional problem, concentrated in the West Midlands and South West of England.

* 91.9% of cattle herds in England were officially bTB-free on 31 December 2010.

* 24,899 cattle were slaughtered for bTB control in England in 2010.

* Government spend on bovine TB in 2009/10 was about £63 million in England.