Badger cull on the back-burner

Controversial plans to cull thousands of badgers in Somerset and Gloucestershire have been shelved by the government.

In an announcement made yesterday (23 October) the environment secretary Owen Paterson said the government was going to delay the cull until next year at the request of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU). Paterson was forced to return from an official trip to Europe to make the announcement, which stemmed from cost and effectiveness concerns, due to there being more badgers to cull than first estimated.

It was originally estimated that between 500 and 800 badgers would have been killed in each of the pilot areas. However, new estimates released last week saw this number quadruple to a total of 5,530. In light of the new figures, the NFU said it could not be confident in culling 70% of the badgers before winter.

In his speech to parliament, Paterson said: “Despite a greatly increased effort over the last few days and weeks, the farmers delivering this policy have concluded they cannot be confident that it will be possible to remove enough badgers based on these higher numbers and considering the lateness of the season. It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations.”

The cull has seen growing debate from the public, leading scientists and animal rights charities since it was given the go-ahead nearly a year ago by Defra, in a bid to combat bovine tuberculosis (bTB). Around 70% of the badger population was to be wiped-out in attempt to curb the threat of bTB, a disease that cost British taxpayers £90m last year as well as leading to the slaughter of 26,000 cattle.

RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant welcomed the news as positive and said: “Science, the public and MPs from all parties had said very clearly that a cull is no answer to bovine TB. The RSPCA stands ready to play a full part working with farmers, land owners, government and conservationists to move forward rapidly and constructively to tackle this dire disease in cattle and wildlife.”

The NFU, which recently launched an attack on the RSPCA for warning farmers they risked losing Freedom Food accreditation if they supported the cull, said it was still committed to the cull and that the move to delay it showed how seriously they were taking it.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: “The NFU and its members take their responsibilities on this issue extremely seriously and I know there will be many who are devastated by today’s news.

“And let’s be clear, the numbers from the badger population survey last week, which demonstrated just how large the badger numbers are, have left us with a huge challenge to ensure we achieve the targets needed for disease control.”

A Defra spokeswoman told MeatInfo.co.uk that Defra still supported the cull, adding: “The badger cull is still being carried out and we’re still committed to it.”

Related newsd:

>Government to postpone badger cull

>Wales could implement badger cull

>Badger Trust says Defra figures prove bTB testing works