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Enabling bovine tuberculosis control in wildlife

Research overview:

For the last 10 years, University of Exeter research has significantly improved understanding of the relationship between badgers and the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB). This enhanced understanding is crucial in improving attempts to tackle the disease, which currently cost an estimated £100 million each year.

Carried out in partnership with the National Wildlife Management Centre (NWMC), now part of Defra’s Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA), the research has focused on developing management interventions - including badger vaccination and biosecurity - to reduce bovine TB transmission.

Key objectives:

Evidence and solutions for tackling the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

Improved understanding of the fundamentals of disease biology and spread.


The research has been highly impactful. It has helped in shaping UK government policies; informed parliamentary and public debates; and has underpinned the roll out of practices aimed at preventing disease spread.

The control of bovine tuberculosis is a complex ecological and social problem in the UK. By working in collaboration with our partners, we have helped improve understanding, generate evidence and develop solutions for disease control.

Professor Robbie McDonald

Carter SP, Chambers MA, Rushton SP, Shirley MD, Schuchert P, Pietravalle S, Murray A, Rogers F, Gettinby G, Smith GC, Delahay RJ, Hewinson RG, McDonald RA. 2012. BCG vaccination reduces risk of tuberculosis infection in vaccinated badgers and unvaccinated badger cubs. PloS One 7, e49833.

Smith GC, McDonald RA, Wilkinson D. 2012. Comparing badger (Meles meles) management strategies for reducing tuberculosis incidence in cattle. PloS One 7, e39250.

Judge J, McDonald RA, Walker N, Delahay RJ. 2011. Effectiveness of biosecurity measures in preventing badger visits to farm buildings. PLoS One 6, e28941.

Drewe J, O’Connor HM, Weber N, McDonald RA & Delahay RJ. 2013. Patterns of direct and indirect contact among cattle and badgers naturally infected with tuberculosis. Epidemiology and Infection 141, 1467-1475.

Silk MJ, Drewe JA, Delahay RJ, Weber N, Steward LC, Wilson-Aggarwal J, Boots M, Hodgson DJ, Croft DP, McDonald RA. 2018. Quantifying direct and indirect contacts for the potential transmission of infection between species using a multilayer contact network. Behaviour 155, 731-757.

Robertson A, Judge J, Wilson GJ, Vernon IJ, Delahay RJ, McDonald RA. 2019.Predicting badger visits to farmyards and making predictions available to farmers. PloS One 14, e0216953.

Judge J, Wilson GJ, Macarthur R, McDonald RA, Delahay RJ. 2017. Abundance of badgers (Meles meles) in England and Wales. Scientific Reports 7, 276.

Fielding, HR, McKinley, TJ, Delahay, RJ, Silk, MJ, McDonald, RA. Characterization of potential superspreader farms for bovine tuberculosis: A review. Vet Med Sci. 2020; 00: 1– 12.

Project Team