The Government has announced it is scaling back a scheme to vaccinate badgers against TB, brought in as part of efforts to tackle the disease in cattle.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) estimates reducing the number of areas where vaccination is being trialled from six to just one, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, will save around £6 million over five years.
The Tories have cut plans for vaccinating badgers in Staffordshire, Devon, Herefordshire and Worcestershire as they consider a “science-led” programme of badger culling, which had been ruled out by the previous Government.
Former Environment Secretary Hilary Benn repeatedly came under fire from farmers concerned about spiralling infection rates in cattle for his decision not to allow a cull of badgers - which can carry and spread the disease to livestock.
Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said: “We’ve committed to carefully-managed and science-led badger control as part of a package of measures, and we’re looking carefully at badger vaccination and culling as part of that.
“It makes sense to review the badger vaccine deployment project to keep our options open and to ensure best possible use of taxpayers’ money.”
The programme will see badgers trapped and vaccinated against TB over a 38.6 square mile area of farmland for cattle near Stroud.
Mr Paice added: “By going ahead with the training in Stroud, we’ll maintain capacity to train lay vaccinators while we consider how best to deploy vaccines as part of a badger control policy.”
Earlier this year a study by researchers from Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) found that widespread, repeated culling of badgers could reduce the incidence of disease in cattle herds.
But the costs of the large scale of badger culling needed to have a positive impact on infection rates in cattle was far greater than the savings it delivered, they calculated.
Culling badgers across 58 square miles using trapping, snaring or gassing would cost between £1.35 million and £2.14 million, outstripping the estimated £610,000 the programme would save in dealing with infected herds in the area, they said.