Farmers in West Cornwall are to begin vaccinating badgers as an alternative scheme to the government backed cull.

The vaccination project was proposed by MP Andrew George almost a year ago and will now get off the ground with a pilot on five farms in the Penwith area.

If the pilot proves successful, and the project receives the anticipated support from both the wider community and local farmers and landowners, the intention is to undertake a five to six year vaccination programme across the whole of the 200 km2 of the Penwith peninsula.

Mr George met with a group of 60 volunteers last Friday to update supporters on progress of the project to tackle the growing problem of Bovine TB in cattle.

The meeting took place at the Cornwall Council offices in Penzance, where he was joined by Professor Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London, which will manage the project.

Describing it as a “better and more workable solution” than the badger cull, Mr George said: “I'm pleased we can now confirm that the project will get underway in a few weeks time. Government funding will enable a monitored pilot project on five farms. This will help us with the scoping of the roll out of the vaccine in the next five years.

“This disease has had a devastating effect on cattle herds in this area for decades. Concerted action is necessary. It is clear that we cannot wait for solutions to arrive from Whitehall.”

He said whatever action was taken needed to be “scientifically sound and evidenced based.”

The badger culling pilots required a 70 per cent cull of the badger population in a given area. When culling trials were undertaken in West Cornwall about a decade ago, Mr George said despite “strenuous efforts” and government resources they could not manage to kill more than 50 per cent of the badger population within the trial area.

“It is therefore highly unlikely that West Cornwall will ever be identified as an area where the government's policy can proceed. Therefore, in the light of that, and for many other reasons, we cannot simply leave this disease to ravage our dairy and beef herds without taking action. Local farmers are at their wits end,” he said.

“I am delighted that so many people have volunteered to assist in a vaccination project. It is brilliant that the Zoological Society of London will manage the project and that we have secured the support of one of the most respected scientists in this field, Professor Rosie Woodroffe. It won't be easy and could not proceed without the cooperation and support of local farmers and landowners.”