Impact of localized badger culling on tuberculosis incidence in British cattle

Abstract

Pathogens that are transmitted between wildlife, livestock and humans present major challenges for the protection of human and animal health, the economic sustainability of agriculture, and the conservation of wildlife. Mycobacterium bovis, the aetiological agent of bovine tuberculosis (TB), is one such pathogen. The incidence of TB in cattle has increased substantially in parts of Great Britain in the past two decades, adversely affecting the livelihoods of cattle farmers and potentially increasing the risks of human exposure. The control of bovine TB in Great Britain is complicated by the involvement of wildlife, particularly badgers (Meles meles), which appear to sustain endemic infection and can transmit TB to cattle1. Between 1975 and 1997 over 20,000 badgers were culled as part of British TB control policy, generating conflict between conservation and farming interest groups2. Here we present results from a large-scale field trial3,4,5 that indicate that localized badger culling not only fails to control but also seems to increase TB incidence in cattle.

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Figure 1: Percentage of total cattle herds found to show evidence of exposure to TB (in confirmed and unconfirmed breakdowns) based on routine testing, and the badger culling policies in operation at the time.
Figure 2: Triplet-specific TB incidence in reactive trial areas (the number of confirmed breakdowns since enrolment in the trial, on completion of the initial proactive cull, divided by the number of baseline herds at risk) observed and predicted had these areas received no culling.
Figure 3: Map of reactive (filled shapes) and no culling (outlined shapes) trial areas superimposed over the 1998 testing intervals for cattle (1-yr testing is conducted in areas of highest incidence, 4-yr testing in areas of lowest incidence).

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Acknowledgements

This study was funded and implemented by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). We acknowledge the contribution made by staff of DEFRA and its associated agencies. We also wish to thank the many farmers and landowners in the trial areas who allowed the experimental treatments to operate on their land. W. T. Johnston helped prepare Fig. 3.Authors' contributions J.B., C.A.D., D.R.C., G.G., J.P.M., W.I.M. and R.W. constitute the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB, and were jointly responsible for designing and overseeing the study. Statistical analyses were carried out by D.R.C., C.A.D. and A.M.L.F. C.A.D. and R.W. drafted the manuscript, although all authors contributed to its preparation.

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Correspondence to Christl A. Donnelly.

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Donnelly, C., Woodroffe, R., Cox, D. et al. Impact of localized badger culling on tuberculosis incidence in British cattle. Nature 426, 834–837 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02192

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