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Vaccinating Dorset’s Badgers

August 13, 2015
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A beautiful badger cub, captured as part of our vaccination project

Written by Amy Brocklehurst, Practical Conservation Trainee.

As part of a five-year programme, Dorset Wildlife Trust vaccinates badgers in an attempt to control and reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB) a disease hugely burdening the farming industry, and to demonstrate that there is an alternative to badger culling.  A vaccine for cattle would be the Trust’s ideal long term solution but sadly this is not yet available and is still subject to regulatory approval and changes to EU legislation.

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Bovine tuberculosis is a costly problem for farmers and can result in losses of stock

Many oppose vaccination in favour of a cull, but the presence of other non-targeted carriers such as deer means that the disease could quite literally dodge the bullet. Additionally, research has shown that badger culls can lead to group dispersal through changes in group dynamics and territorial boundaries, thus spreading the bTB even further and potentially to unaffected areas. It is hoped that badger vaccination will help to reduce the spread of the disease into domestic stock whilst also protecting an iconic species so characteristic of our British countryside.

The vaccination process requires specially trained vaccinators and a lot of man-hours, so I volunteered on one of our sites to lend a helping hand and learn the process. The traps, heavy to lift and each costing around £100, first have to be dug into the ground around the sett deep enough to withstand a badger trying to dig its way out. Each trap is labelled, informing members of the public that any badgers inside will be released unharmed, and provides a contact number should anyone have any concerns. The traps are then baited with peanuts placed underneath a stone outside the trap, which the badgers will curiously lift up in their search for food. This baiting is repeated by volunteers every night for a week, with the stone gradually moved closer to and eventually inside the trap.

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Volunteers digging in a badger trap.

The night before vaccination the trap is set by wiring up the stone, so that when the badger pulls it towards itself the wire pulls the door shut behind it. Vaccination runs over two days to try and capture any that may have evaded the traps the first time, to try and ensure as many badgers are vaccinated as possible.

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The trap ready to be set: the peanuts inserted at the back of the cage with a long funnel, and the wired stone waiting on top.

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Volunteers place the stone on top of the peanuts, feeding the wire through the back ready to connect to the trap door.

Vaccination day means a very early start, as we had to release all trapped badgers within 3 hours of first light, or 8am (whichever is the later), so we met at 5am. Kitted out in full waterproofs, gloves, safety goggles and face masks, and armed with a portable fridge full of vaccines, we checked all the traps to see if we’d had any success before preparing our vaccine ready for our new individuals.

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Face masks, goggles, gloves and waterproofs to protect vaccinators and assistants against diseases.

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Preparing the vaccine in the field, with the necessary sharps disposal box and secure box for carrying syringes.

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Jane, our trained badger vaccinator, carefully mixes the vaccine and draws it into a syringe.

Recaptures from the night before were assessed for their health/welfare and condition, and if everything was OK were released, whilst those newly trapped were assessed and then carefully injected with the vaccine, had a small patch of fur clipped, and were then sprayed with stock marker before being set free. The marker ensures recaptures are identifiable. Details such as trap occupancy (vaccinated/recapture), sex and age (adult/juvenile) as well as health, welfare and condition were recorded for every trapped badger, and start and finish times recorded for each sett as an ongoing data record.

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A badger in one of our traps – no stock marker visible so this one needed vaccinating.

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Our final trap contained two badgers!

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We separated the cub (left) to be vaccinated and marked. The other was a recapture.

As this was the second of the two nights vaccinating this group of badger setts, our final task was to dig out every trap, wire them open and brush off all the dirt ready for the traps and stones to be steam-cleaned and disinfected. After bringing all the traps back to base we also disinfected our boots and the tyres of the truck as a biosecurity measure.

A small but crucial detail - disinfecting our boots.

A small but crucial detail – disinfecting our boots

The vaccination process, from digging in the traps a week beforehand to vaccinating in the early hours, was an intense and tiring one, which couldn’t succeed without generous donations from the public and the days put in by volunteers.

If you would like to find out more about the Dorset Wildlife Trust vaccination project click here

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jack permalink
    August 14, 2015 8:35 am

    It sounds like you had a brilliant time! What a worthwhile scheme, and some beautiful photos to go along with the story!

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