SCOTTISH farmers, particularly in the Borders, have been viewing with fear and alarm the slow spread northwards of Bovine Tuberculosis being spread by badgers.

The dreaded disease, from which Scotland has been classed as “free” since 2009, was found in 30 cattle in Cumbria recently – the first time in 37 years that cases of Bovine TB have affected the northern English county.

Scientists then examined two ‘road kill’ badgers and found Bovine TB in one of the carcasses indicating that badgers may have been responsible for the infection.

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The UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has attracted much controversy over its licensing of culls of badgers in affected areas, and it will be a blow to their control measures system that the disease has spread northwards.

The National understands that traces of Bovine TB were found on 16 cattle holdings and farms extending over an area of 250 sq km south of Shap on the M6, only 44 miles south of the Scottish Border.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency immediately imposed a range of measures designed to discover the extent of infection among cattle and wildlife in the suspect area, and to prevent spread of the disease.

These include additional cattle movement control and six-month testing of all farms in the area. The Scottish Government is monitoring the situation. On its website, the Government’s chief vet states that “TB is a contagious disease caused by the mycobacterium bovis.”

The advice adds: “The disease is characterised by the development of ‘tuberculosis’ lesions in any organ of the body. It mainly affects cattle but can be passed between most mammals. It is also a Zoonotic which means it can be passed from infected animals to people, causing an illness similar to human TB. However, the risk of people contracting TB from cattle in GB is considered to be very low.”

Scotland’s designation as free of the disease does not mean that Bovine TB is absent, but as long as 99.9 per cent of herds have been free of the disease for six years, the “free” status will be maintained.

Official Defra figures show that some 3768 “herd incidents” were reported in England in the year to April, compared to just 40 in Scotland. Lockerbie farmer Robin Spence told the BBC: “This is of extreme concern, especially given the area from Scotland to this TB outbreak and the infected badgers is an area that is full of livestock,” he said.

“It is not an area where there is a great urban conurbation or great areas of arable which are keeping the disease from spreading up towards us.

“Cumbria’s a very, very rich livestock area akin to Dumfries and Galloway —it is a mirror image of here — so we are very concerned.”

NFU Scotland’s animal welfare policy manager, Penny Middleton, said: being Bovine TB-free was “a really good thing for Scotland and we were really pleased when we managed to get it”.

She added: “Particularly when we are facing Brexit and have to negotiate our own trade deals it’s going to be a really important thing that we can keep hold of because it could make a big difference for us in the future.”

The conservation charity Scottish Badgers is hopeful that the outbreak can be contained and doubts that culling would be acceptable here.

Spokesman Eddie Palmer told reporters: “I don’t think any sort of culling experiment or action would happen in Scotland for several reasons.

“One is that it wouldn’t work, the second thing is it’s really expensive and I think there would be a public outcry about it.”