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Cattle movements and bovine tuberculosis in Great Britain

Nature volume 435, pages 491496 (26 May 2005) | Download Citation



For 20 years, bovine tuberculosis (BTB) has been spreading in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and is now endemic in the southwest and parts of central England and in southwest Wales, and occurs sporadically elsewhere. Although its transmission pathways remain poorly understood, the disease's distribution was previously modelled statistically by using environmental variables and measures of their seasonality1. Movements of infected animals have long been considered a critical factor in the spread of livestock diseases, as reflected in strict import/export regulations, the extensive movement restrictions imposed during the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak2,3, the tracing procedures after a new case of BTB has been confirmed and the Government's recently published strategic framework for the sustainable control on BTB4. Since January 2001 it has been mandatory for stock-keepers in Great Britain to notify the British Cattle Movement Service of all cattle births, movements and deaths5. Here we show that movements as recorded in the Cattle Tracing System data archive, and particularly those from areas where BTB is reported, consistently outperform environmental, topographic and other anthropogenic variables as the main predictor of disease occurrence. Simulation distribution models for 2002 and 2003, incorporating all predictor categories, are presented and used to project distributions for 2004 and 2005.

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We thank D. Cox for comments on an early draft of the paper; D. Rogers and his TALA Research Group at Oxford for advice and for providing satellite imagery; and P. Roeder for help and encouragement. This work was funded by a DEFRA research project.Author Contributions M.G. did the simulation modelling and spatial statistics. W.W. did the data management, analysis and regression modelling. A.M. and J.M. did the movement data acquisition, processing and analysis. D.B. and R.C.-H. did the interpretation, editing and project management. A.M., J.M. and R.C.-H. are Civil Servants and as such their work is subject to Crown Copyright.

Author information


  1. Biological Control and Spatial Ecology CP160/12, Université Libre de Bruxelles, avenue F.D. Roosevelt 50, B-1050 Brussels, Belgium

    • M. Gilbert
  2. Veterinary Laboratories Agency, Weybridge, New Haw, Addlestone, Surrey KT15 3NB, UK

    • A. Mitchell
    • , J. Mawdsley
    •  & R. Clifton-Hadley
  3. Environmental Research Group Oxford Limited, PO Box 346, Oxford OX1 3QE, UK

    • D. Bourn
    •  & W. Wint


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Competing interests

Reprints and permissions information is available at npg.nature.com/reprintsandpermissions. The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to W. Wint.

Supplementary information

PDF files

  1. 1.

    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Data, Supplementary Methods, four Supplementary Video legends, three Supplementary Figures, six Supplementary Tables and Supplementary Discussion.


  1. 1.

    Supplementary Video S1

    Distributions of number of BTB detected cases per 5 km cell between 1984 and 2003.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary Video S2

    Distribution of monthly cattle movements for 2001

  3. 3.

    Supplementary Video S3

    Distribution of monthly cattle movements for 2002

  4. 4.

    Supplementary Video S4

    Distribution of core area 1987-2003

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