The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) examined the number of cattle herd breakdowns (CHBs) due to bovine tuberculosis in response to proactive and reactive badger culling, at the scale of replicated blocks of 100km2. This design was entirely suitable for evaluation of policy options at a large scale. Unsurprisingly, there remained after statistical analysis, considerable unexplained variability in the number of cattle herd breakdowns, much of which is likely to relate to the localised nature of environmental conditions, including the status of the badger population. This project will investigate the fine-scale nature of variation in the fate of individual herds during the RBCT, by conducting a range of spatially-explicit analyses that take into account small scale variation in time and location of treatments and responses.
We will address three elements of the identified research needs:
1. Investigate the location and timing of CHBs in relation to badger culling, and the infectious status of badgers,
2. Identify the effect of variation in the extent of culling treatment areas within the 1-2km buffer zones,
3. Identify any differences in the outcomes seen on confirmed and unconfirmed CHBs.
This project will provide further insight into the factors affecting incidence of cattle herd breakdowns in the RBCT and provide further measures of the influence of badger populations and disease status, badger culling and environmental characteristics.
The approaches we will adopt make best use of the specific expertise and ecological understanding of two well established teams. CSL will lead the project, providing understanding of badger ecology, TB dynamics in wildlife and in the nature of field operations during the RBCT. CSL will also ensure that the research focuses on policy-relevant questions and that reporting is set in the context of the various policy options. Newcastle University has particular research strength in the area of spatial analysis of disease patterns and will conduct the bulk of the analytical work for this project. CSL already have experience of handling RBCT datasets and we will also work closely with the RBCT data manager and epidemiologists at VLA, to reduce the risk of data handling problems.