The farmer-led badger vaccination programme in mid-Cornwall, recently featured on BBC Countryfile, has got off to a flying start with 66 badgers vaccinated already and several farms still to go.

Badgers are being vaccinated against bovine TB at the request of local farmers in and around St Stephen, near St Austell, in an effort to reduce the level of the disease in the badger population.

Tackling the disease in badgers is not enough on its own to eradicate TB as disease transmission from badgers is a relatively small part of the wider cattle TB problem.

However, it is hoped that it will go some way to helping to reduce the level of TB in cattle, offering an alternative to badger culling.

The initiative is a team effort, with farmers pre-baiting traps with peanuts in the days leading up to the vaccination itself which is carried out by qualified scientists from international conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society London).

Professor Rosie Woodroffe from ZSL vaccinating a badger on farmland in mid-Cornwall Photo:ZSL

Cornwall Wildlife Trust is co-ordinating the work on the farmers' behalf. Head of conservation Cheryl Marriott said: “We were planning to just vaccinate badgers on our own nature reserves, but when farmers asked us to help them vaccinate on their farms as well we had to say yes. These farmers recognise that badger vaccination is a positive alternative to culling and it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be working alongside them.

“We keep hearing ‘no-one wants to be killing badgers’ – so we would love to hear from any farmers or land owners across Cornwall who are interested in vaccination as an alternative to the cull.”

Keith Truscott, one of the farmers involved, said: “It is good to know we have a choice about how we tackle this disease in badgers; before I contacted Cornwall Wildlife Trust I didn’t know we had a choice. It seems to me that culling badgers is a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

A badger being released from a trap after receiving its vaccination Photo: ZSL

It is hoped that as well as reducing TB in badgers, the vaccination project will have a knock-on impact in reducing the disease in cattle. However, other measures like farm bio-security and cattle testing and movement controls are essential as well to help prevent cattle-cattle transfer of the disease.

Professor Rosie Woodroffe, senior research fellow at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology said: “We will be blood-testing a proportion of the badgers each year so that we can monitor the expected reduction of TB prevalence in the badger population.

“This will complement other research happening as part of the ZSL West Cornwall badger vaccination project in West Penwith, and we’ll be sharing the results with farmers, in order to showcase the benefits of vaccinating badgers.”