European badgers (Meles meles) are in the news again this week, this time as the focus of a study seeking to determine the efficacy of badger exclusion methods installed on cattle farms. Badgers are an important reservoir of Mycobacterium bovis, the pathogen that causes tuberculosis in cattle.
The study was conducted by researchers from both the Environment Agency and the University of Exeter. Farm buildings were subjected to a range of exclusion methods and these consisted of aluminium sheets, sheet fencing, solid fencing and electric fencing together with a "no change" control.
The scientists used infrared, motion-triggered digital cameras to record badger visits to farmyards, in general, and to specific areas in particular. Over the course of the initial surveillance period prior to the exclusion practice being installed, badger visits occurred on 59% of all farms, during as many as 71% of nights investigated.
All Badger exclusion measures significantly reduced badger visits to farm buildings. In fact, the anti-badger devices were 100% effective. Overall numbers of badger visits were impacted by the presence of an exclusion measure anywhere on a farm, but deterrence was most notable on farms where devices were installed on both feed stores and cattle housing buildings.
As was expected, excluded badgers simply used other sources of food within their territories and the areas targeted were quickly abandoned. The success of the exclusion measures is quite promising and suggests that badger-cattle contact on farms can be drastically minimized.