Badger cattle contact project

Cows in UK field

The Badger Cattle Contact Project was established in 2012 to research contact between badgers and cattle to understand how bovine tuberculosis is transmitted between the species. We are independent scientists with no alliance to either side of the debate on managing TB in cattle and badgers. Our research is funded by DEFRA.

Our Research

Methods

Our research is based at sites representing a range of badger densities throughout Cornwall. A combination of GPS collars (to monitor animal locations) and video surveillance are used to give an unbroken picture of badger and cattle movements both indoors and outdoors. Proximity sensors to record when badgers come close to collared cattle provide additional information on contact. Using these three methods in parallel result in data that can be analysed to provide indices of direct and indirect contact.

Having observed patterns of badger-cattle contact, we shall explore the effectiveness of management proposed to reduce such contact, for example by experimentally excluding badgers from farm buildings and/or excluding cattle from field margins.

Where necessary, our work is licensed by Natural England and the Home Office.

Research Progress

June 2013: This month we’ve been deploying our CCTV cameras in each of the barns on the farms we’re working with. As the GPS collars will not work indoors, the CCTV will record the behaviour of any badgers entering cattle barns and any interactions between cattle and badgers. We’ve had a lot of help from a local company,Handykam, to put together CCTV systems that will be quick and easy for us to put up in the barns and that we can easily switch between farms. It seems to be going well so far, especially as we’ve been lucky enough to have the help of our two newly recruited interns, Cally and Amber, who have been fantastic!

We’ve also had some media interest in our project this month. While we were trapping a photographer came along to produce some photos for an article in the Guardian.

May 2013: Trapping again! It’s been all go this month with pre-baiting and trapping of two of our sites. It’s been incredibly exciting as we’ve managed to deploy most of our collars which means that soon we’re going to have data showing where our badgers go and which cattle they come into direct contact with. We’re using two different collars on our badgers from two separate companies. First we have the GPS collars from Telemetry Solutions which will give us the location of the badger every 20 minutes. Then we have the contact collars provided by Vectronic Aerospace; these will be recognised by the cattle collars (also provided by Vectronic Aerospace), which will record cattle position by GPS every 20 minutes, along with the location when they come into contact with a badger wearing a proximity tag. Now we’re just looking forward to collecting the data!

Collared badger

April 2013: Our surveys have identified all our setts and latrines on our sites. Now for bait marking! This was a fun task, specially designed for those who don’t mind getting very sticky hands. Mixtures of coloured beads, peanuts and golden syrup are apparently irresistible to badgers and so at each sett dollops of this recipe (with a unique bead colour for each sett) were distributed under large rocks (to dissuade those other animals keen on the feast). After a couple of weeks of feeding, all latrines previously found during the surveys were revisited and investigated to find the where the beads have ended up. Badgers use latrines to mark their territory and therefore identifying which latrines contain which coloured beads allows us to map the extent of territories for different social groups and to find out which setts are used by the same groups. This information is particularly important for trapping so that we ensure that each social group is sampled evenly.

March 2013: We’ve all been exploring our sites a bit more while surveying. We have walked all field boundaries on the sites looking for setts, badger latrines and any other badger signs. We have also recorded any features that may lead to direct or indirect contact between badgers and cattle. This has included a thorough exploration of the farm buildings and also noting any water and feed troughs or silage clamps throughout the farms. The weather has been both a help and a hindrance – surveying in snow and gales has been less than ideal, but at least the chilly weather has kept the vegetation low for longer, allowing us to identify setts and latrines more easily!

February 2013: During the winter, we have been busy chatting about our project to farmers throughout Cornwall. We have had an excellent response and we are now very close to establishing all of our study sites.

November 2012: We have successfully trapped and collared our first badger. We will monitor the badger closely to ensure the collar does not cause any negative effects. The collar will collect GPS data to enable us to monitor the movement of the badger.