Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) president Victor Chestnutt has taken to the BBC airwaves in order to defend the validity of badger culling as part of a strategy to eradicate bovine TB (bTB) in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week he took part in a debate on the matter with Ulster Wildlife Trust chief executive, Jennifer Fulton, and Mike Rendell, from the Northern Ireland Badger Group.

Members of the public also took part courtesy of a ‘phone-in’.

Chestnutt made it very clear that farmers had no issue with healthy badgers. But he went on to point out that badgers do harbour bTB.

Badgers are part of the problem

As far as Chestnutt is concerned, badgers are part of the problem, so they must be included in the solution when it comes to eradicating bTB from Northern Ireland.

Fulton indicated that no one is yet sure of the transmission direction when it comes to the spread of bTB between cattle and badgers.

As far as she could ascertain, there is a very strong likelihood that cattle have given the disease to badgers, with transfer in the other direction being very minimal.

Rendell confirmed that Northern Ireland is home to a population of 34,000 badgers. This compares to a figure of 1.7 million, where cattle are considered.

Chestnutt questioned the validity of these figures, adding that badger numbers may well be increasing given the enhanced number of road kills now being reported.

He also pointed out that many of these badgers had been found to be infected with bTB.

Selective badger culling

The union president kept coming back to his main point, which was that badgers are significant carriers of bTB and, as a result, selective culling must be considered as an integral part of any future eradication plan.

The UFU had recently agreed to the principle of a future badger cull being funded courtesy of a producer levy.

Those calling in to the BBC programme were equally divided in their opinions regarding the need for a badger cull.

One listener highlighted the need for much higher biosecurity measures on farms, particularly where the spreading of slurry is concerned.

Chesnutt referred to the results of a trial badger cull in the Republic of Ireland, which – he claimed - had led to a significant reduction in bTB reactor rates on farms within the area in question.

Significantly, everyone taking part in the debate confirmed their awareness of just how devastating a bTB outbreak can be on farms affected by the disease.