More cows have been slaughtered over the past year in Devon and Cornwall due to bovine tuberculosis (bTB) than since the government’s statistical series began in 1996.

Between June 2016 -17 Devon saw 7900 animals killed, 645 more than last year. 3911 animals were killed in Cornwall, 136 more than the highest previous number recorded in 2009. Throughout the south west a total of 19,342 animals were slaughtered this year. Between June 15-16 the total was 18,067.

Since April 2016 all herds suffering a new TB incident in the High Risk Areas have been subjected to a more sensitive TB testing protocol to regain OTF status. This testing policy change is likely to have contributed to the increases in herd prevalence and number of animals removed for TB control purposes.

A small number of severe TB herd breakdowns in one county can have a big effect on the total number of animals removed in that county, even if the number of newly affected herds during the same period remains stable or declines on the previous 12-month period.

Despite this significant increase in slaughters, both Devon and Cornwall saw the numbers of new incidents in herds fall, bucking the trend for the region.

Throughout the south west the number of new incidents of bTB has risen by just 13 over the past year to 2213. Somerset saw the largest drop, from 328 during June 2015-2016 to 276 between June 2016 – 17. Wiltshire saw a rise of seven cases and Dorset just two. The largest number of new incidents is 821 which was recorded in Devon, although this is 35 fewer than the previous year.

The south west is classified as a High Risk Area and the incidence and prevalence of infected cattle have increased steadily to relatively high levels. This is considered to be partly a result of a reservoir of endemic M. bovis infection in the local wildlife.

Herds in the south west are tested for bTB annually and represent nearly 60% of all herds in England. In the rest of England most herds are tested every four years although herds that have a high risk of contracting bTB or present a potential public health risk, such as producer-retailers of unpasteurised milk, are tested annually regardless of their location.

A new herd incident is recorded when a herd which was previously declared officially bTB free (OFT) has either had cattle reacted to a tuberculin test or had a tuberculous animal disclosed by routine meat inspection at slaughter.

A Defra spokesperson said: “England has the highest incidence of bTB in Europe and that is why we are taking strong action to deliver our 25-year strategy to beat the disease and protect the livelihoods of our dairy and beef farmers.

“Dealing with the disease is costing the taxpayer more than £100 million each year and in 2016 alone, more than 29,000 cattle had to be slaughtered in England to control the disease, causing devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities

“Our comprehensive strategy includes one of the most rigorous surveillance programmes for bTB in cattle in the world, strengthening movement controls, improving biosecurity on farm and when trading, badger control in areas where bTB is rife and badger vaccination when possible.”