Badger Cull Halted

Extract from item dated December 2 2013. Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC News.

The pilot cull of badgers in west Gloucestershire has failed to meet the 70% target set by the government, official figures have shown. In the additional five weeks and three days of culling, 213 badgers were killed, giving an overall total of 921. It shows only 40% were culled during the operation, which ended on Saturday.

Rural affairs minister Owen Patterson criticised “a small minority who resorted to widespread criminality” in an attempt to stop the cull. Campaigners said Mr Patterson’s claim of criminality was “without any basis of fact whatsoever” and said the cull had been a “complete failure”. But BBC Environment Correspondent Matt McGrath said Mr Patterson was “essentially saying you have to judge it over the longer time frame”.

A similar cull pilot in Somerset ended last month after it also failed to meet its target even after a three-week extension. In that area there was an estimated 65% reduction in the badger population – the target was 70%.

Missing both the original and the revised badger target for Gloucestershire might be seen by many as evidence that the cull has failed – but that’s not the view of Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. In his statement he says the cull in Gloucestershire has been “successful in meeting its aim in preparing the ground for a fully effective four year trial”. Essentially Mr Paterson is saying you have to judge it over the longer time frame. But some critics believe taking almost three months to shoot about half the target you were supposed to kill in six weeks is evidence the free shooting method that was used has some serious flaws.

According to Care for the Wild and several other campaigning groups, the culling policy has shown itself to be too expensive, ineffective and cruel. They are calling for revised and improved cattle management systems and increased efforts to vaccinate badgers. But Mr Paterson says the government is “resolved” to continue to tackle TB in badgers by culling. As he has so closely identified himself with the policy, it is unlikely to change while he is in charge at Defra.

An independent panel of experts will now consider the information collected during the pilots on the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting. This information will be used by the minister to make a decision on any wider roll-out of badger control operations in the parts of England most severely affected by bTB. Figures from Defra show more than 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in England in 2012 because of bTB. New herd incidents in the UK have risen from 1,075 in 1996 to 5,171 in 2012. In 2012, 6,919 herds were under restrictions due to bovine TB.

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