Vaccinating badgers against bovine tuberculosis (TB) does not change their behaviour or increase the risk of them spreading the disease, scientists in England have found.
Concerns had been raised that vaccinating badgers against the disease could alter where they go and increase transmission of the disease to cattle, in the same way that culling can make badgers move around more and spread TB.
But researchers, who were tracking the behaviour of 54 badgers with GPS collars on four farm sites in Cornwall, found that 15 animals which had received the TB vaccine at least once moved around their territory in the same way as the others.
Confining them overnight in humane traps to enable vaccination was also found to have no impact on their behaviour, according to the study led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.
Culling badgers can encourage the spread of bovine TB by disrupting established social groups and encourage wider movement of infected animals across the countryside, a major study previously found.
The British Government has rolled out culling of badgers, which transmit TB to cattle, to tackle the disease in livestock in England, but animal welfare campaigners have said it is not humane or effective and have called for a focus on vaccinations instead.
Lead author Professor Rosie Woodroffe from ZSL, said: "The results of this study indicate that badgers' ranging behaviour is not impacted by TB vaccination, and therefore vaccination cannot encourage the spread of disease by causing the wider ranging of infected individuals.
"Our findings challenge recent claims that vaccinating badgers changes their behaviour and so spreads TB to cattle."
She said she hoped farmers and vets would be reassured that badger vaccination is not harmful.
She added: "Compared with the Government's current culling policy, badger vaccination is less risky, more humane, and cheaper.
"Hopefully our findings will therefore open the door for greater exploration of badger vaccination as a tool to control TB in cattle."