Badger cattle contact project

Cows in UK field

Aim

The Badger Cattle Contact Project was established in 2012 with the aim of investigating contact between badgers and cattle to help understand how bovine tuberculosis is transmitted between the species. Currently, it is not known how transmission occurs, it could be through either direct contact between the species or indirectly through a shared environment. 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.

Methods

Our research is conducted on dairy and beef farms in four areas of Cornwall which range in badger density. To give an unbroken picture of badger and cattle movements both indoors and outdoors we are using a combination of:

  • GPS collars (to monitor badger and cattle movements)
  • Proximity collars (to detect when a collared badger is within a 2m radius of a collared cow)
  • CCTV surveillance (to monitor indoor spaces)

The combination of all three methods in parallel allow us to identify when and where there is direct contact between badgers and cattle, and where the ‘hotspots’ of overlap in their use of the environment are. 

Data Collected

The project is ambitious and unprecedented in its scope. From 2012 until spring 2015 we tracked the movements of 54 badgers for a total of 5,500 badger nights and a total of 422 cattle.

Additional smaller scale experiments were conducted to investigate how cattle and badgers respond to environmental stimuli associated with the other species and how their behaviour is affected by different farm management practices.

Results

Direct contacts between badgers and cattle were extremely rare and within our study areas badgers rarely entered farm buildings.  However, GPS-collared badgers spent a large proportion of their time foraging in cattle pasture fields. Our results suggest that transmission of Mycobacterium bovis between badgers and cattle is most likely to occur through their shared use of pasture fields.

Ongoing Work

Working in collaboration with Warwick University we are mapping the distribution of Mycobacterium bovis in environmental farm samples, including: soil, water and faeces. These data will be combined with the GPS-collar data to determine where each species might be most likely to come into contact with environmental sources of infection.

Publications

Woodroffe R, Donnelly CA, Chapman K, Ham C, Moyes K, Stratton NG, Cartwright SJ. (2021) Successive use of shared space by badgers and cattle: implications for Mycobacterium bovis transmission. Journal of Zoology. 314(2): 132-42.

Woodroffe R, Donnelly CA, Ham C, Jackson SY, Moyes K, Chapman K, Stratton NG, Cartwright SJ. (2017). Use of farm buildings by wild badgers: implications for the transmission of bovine tuberculosis. European Journal of Wildlife Research. 63(1) :1-9.

Woodroffe R, Donnelly CA, Ham C, Jackson SY, Moyes K, Chapman K, Stratton NG, Cartwright SJ. (2017). Ranging behaviour of badgers Meles meles vaccinated with Bacillus Calmette Guerin. Journal of Applied Ecology. 54(3): 718-25.

Ham C, Donnelly CA, Astley KL, Jackson SY, Woodroffe R. (2019). Effect of culling on individual badger Meles meles behaviour: Potential implications for bovine tuberculosis transmission. Journal of Applied Ecology. 56(11): 2390-9.

Woodroffe R, Donnelly CA, Ham C, Jackson SY, Moyes K, Chapman K, Stratton NG, Cartwright SJ. (2016). Badgers prefer cattle pasture but avoid cattle: implications for bovine tuberculosis control. Ecology Letters. 19(10): 1201-8.

Fitting a badger collar
Fitting a badger collar

 

News

A ZSL-led study dispels fears that badger vaccines could encourage spread of TB to cattle. Learn more.

Close contact between badgers (Meles meles) and cattle may not be responsible for the transmission of bovine tuberculosis (TB), according to a new paper which paves the way for novel approaches to managing this controversial disease.  Read more.

 

ZSL Staff Involved

Research Technician: Naomi Stratton
Research Technician: Cally Ham
Postdoctoral Research Assistant: Sam Cartwright
Principal Investigator: Rosie Woodroffe 

For more information on this project, please contact Rosie Woodroffe

Badger vaccination

ZSL is researching whether badger vaccination can reduce TB infection in the badger population, and whether this helps control TB in cattle. We are looking for landowners and volunteers to get involved with the project. 

Find out more