CONSERVATIONISTS in Dorset began their own battle against badgers with TB this week, but have begun to vaccinate them instead of culling them.
The Dorset Wildlife Trust said it wants to demonstrate there is a "safe, humane alternative" to badger culling, and has embarked on a five-year programme to vaccinate all the badgers living on some of its nature reserves in the county.
With the prospect of the badger cull moving from west Gloucestershire and west Somerset to Dorset and Wiltshire next year, the Dorset Wildlife Trust said it wanted to show there were "more effective and reliable" ways of controlling bovine TB.
It launched a successful appeal to fund the project, trained volunteers and has now started the five-year programme which has already seen badgers trapped and vaccinated at 'selected' locations throughout the county.
"Dorset Wildlife Trust wants to see the eradication of the devastating disease bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) and understands the serious implications for farmers who lose stock as a result, but believes there are more effective and reliable ways of controlling the disease, such as better biosecurity, badger vaccination and, in the long term, cattle vaccination," said chief executive Dr Simon Cripps.
"Badger vaccination has the potential to reduce bTB without the negative impacts of increasing the transference of bTB among infected and healthy badgers and cattle that culling would bring. We were extremely disappointed to see the Government drive forward with the badger cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire in August this year. The recent news that the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have finished with low numbers of badgers being shot, strengthens the need for the Government to support alternative methods to culling.
"Our understanding from Defra is that if badger culling continues despite these failures, shooting in Dorset is highly likely to start in 2014. Thanks to our successful badger vaccination appeal, Dorset Wildlife Trust is pleased to be able to start a vaccination programme on selected nature reserves in Dorset, to both protect badgers and support farmers," he added.
Meanwhile, the RSPCA has been told it cannot use an anti-badger cull advert again which used the term "exterminate" to describe the Government's cull trials.
The ad featured an image of a syringe and bullet at the top with a headline "Vaccinate or Exterminate?"
Tory MP Simon Hart, a former chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, was one of more than 100 people who complained to the Advertising Standards Authority, although three of the four grounds for complaint were dismissed by the advertising watchdog, it agreed the use of the word "exterminate" implied wrongly that every badger in the cull area would be shot.
An RSPCA spokesman said: "The RSPCA welcomes the judgment by the ASA to dismiss three out of four of the areas of complaint about the advert. We respectfully disagree in relation to the one area of complaint that has been upheld."