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The survey arises from a collaboration between three university veterinary schools and various stakeholders, with funding from Defra. It aims to determine whether or not badgers in the bovine TB Edge Areas in England (i.e. the eleven counties of England adjoining the TB High Risk Area in which the infection is endemic in cattle and badgers) have TB, and if so, how common it is. The University of Nottingham team, with colleagues at Liverpool, is covering the northern ‘edge’ counties, while the University of Surrey team is focusing on the southern ‘edge’ counties.
*Edge Area counties: Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Warwickshire.
Apart from a survey of badgers in Cheshire conducted by Liverpool University in 2014, the prevalence and distribution of TB (Mycobacterium bovis infection) in badgers living in the Edge Area of England is currently unknown, but may be of importance in any future TB control policy. While there is plenty of evidence to inform cattle-based control measures, the role of badgers in the spread of TB in the Edge Area counties remains unclear.
The approach of this survey is based on a feasibility survey of road-killed badgers in Cheshire in 2014. That study found around 20% of road-killed badgers were infected with TB, with 10% of those infected having developed signs of disease. Live badgers will not be caught or sampled, and no badgers will be harmed as part of the study. Instead, the study will make use of badgers accidentally killed on our roads.
A network of farmers, landowners, wildlife groups, animal health professionals and other stakeholder organisations is being established to collect fresh found-dead badger carcases for examination at the collaborating universities. We aim to share the results of the study regularly – although it should be remembered that it can take several months to rule out infection, therefore the posting of meaningful results will take some time. Furthermore, the Animal and Plant Health Agency of Defra will not take action (e.g. increased testing of neighbouring cattle herds) in response to any reports of individual positive badger carcases identified as part of the survey, since this is a one-off research project that does not form part of the statutory TB surveillance and control programme.
Using road-killed / traffic-accident sampling is a valuable way of studying disease and conservation issues in wildlife that makes use of an otherwise wasted resource. We will be examining carcases collected to study a range of other diseases and conditions, and also to develop new diagnostic tests, although these studies are not part of the Defra-funded survey.
We only have sufficient resources to study badgers collected through our collaborators in the Edge Area counties. However, we would encourage anybody interested in supporting wildlife and conservation research through reporting road-killed wildlife should participate in Project Splatter, a national survey linked through to conservation projects and run by the University of Cardiff.
For safety reasons, and to ensure that carcases are collected in a way useful to the project, we cannot accept carcases from the general public. We can only accept carcases collected using a special collection kit and according to an approved protocol. All carcases must accompanied by a completed, signed submission form and delivered to a designated collection site. Details of any carcases showing evidence of illegal killing must be reported to the relevant authorities.
The survey is expected to run for 12 months, starting from July/August 2016.
Further information on bovine tuberculosis may be found at the TB Hub.
Organisations and groups in the eleven Edge Area counties can find out how to take part in the badger TB survey by contacting the appropriate research team using the details below:
Southern Edge Counties: Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire and Oxfordshire:
University of Surrey Veterinary Pathology Centre Email: badgerTB@surrey.ac.uk Telephone: 01483 689823 Website: www.surrey.ac.uk/vet/pathology-services/badgerTB
Northern Edge Counties: Cheshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire:
University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science Email: firstname.lastname@example.org