Badger culls were 'ineffective and failed humaneness test'
An independent scientific assessment of last year's pilot badger culls in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset has concluded that they were not effective.
Analysis commissioned by the government found the number of badgers killed fell well short of the target deemed necessary, the BBC understands.
And up to 18% of culled badgers took longer than five minutes to die, failing the test for humaneness.
The pilot culls were intended to limit the spread of TB in cattle.
They were carried out to demonstrate the ability to combat bovine TB though a controlled reduction in the population of local badgers.
End Quote Robin Hargreaves, President, British Veterinary Association
We have always stated that if the pilots were to fail on humaneness then BVA could not support the wider roll out of the method of controlled shooting”
Contracted marksmen, paid for by farming groups, were employed to shoot the animals at night.
The Independent Expert Panel was appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to help ministers evaluate the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the Gloucestershire and Somerset pilots.
Prof Rosie Woodroffe, a scientist at the Zoological Society of London, said that the panel's "findings show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria.
"I hope this will lead to the Secretary of State (Owen Paterson) to focus on other ways of eradicating TB in cattle," she told BBC News.
Robin Hargreaves, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said it was the BVA that had taken a lead in calling for the controlled shooting to be tested and critically evaluated before it was rolled out.
"We are unable to comment in detail on the findings of the IEP until we have seen the report," he told the BBC. "But if these figures are true then they would certainly raise concerns about both the humaneness and efficacy of controlled shooting.
"We have always stated that if the pilots were to fail on humaneness then BVA could not support the wider roll out of the method of controlled shooting."
The pilots were authorised by Defra and licensed by Natural England.Continue reading the main story
Badger cull in numbers
or fewer badgers were killed than target figure
6.4% - 18% badgers took longer than five minutes to die
1,771 number of badgers culled*
£7.29m estimated cost of badger cull, according to animal welfare charity*
The target for marksmen was to kill at least 70% of badgers in the cull areas within a six-week period.
Extensive research carried out by Prof Woodroffe in earlier trials in the 1990s had shown that a failure to kill this percentage of badgers in a narrow window of time could actually worsen matters as disturbed and diseased animals took the TB into new areas.
When both trials duly failed to kill sufficient badgers within the specified period, they were extended on the advice of the Chief Vet, Nigel Gibbens. The panel in its report, though, concerns itself only with the initial six weeks.
End Quote Defra spokesman
We knew there'd be lessons to be learned from the first year of the pilot culls which is why we're looking forward to receiving the panel's recommendations for improving the way they are carried out.”
However, BBC News understands the independent panel's analysis, which used more precise methodology, found that less than half of badgers were killed in both areas over the six-week period.
Defra had also agreed a criterion with the expert group for how the trials could be deemed humane.
The standard set was for no more than 5% of the shot badgers to take more than five minutes to die.
But the expert group found the time limit was exceeded by between 6.4% and 18% of shot animals, depending on the assumptions made.
The expert group, however, held back from describing the trial as "inhumane" on the grounds that there may be some circumstances in which greater suffering of badgers might be justified. An example would be if the spread of TB was causing more problems than otherwise anticipated.
Prof Woodroffe was among 32 scientists who wrote to Mr Patterson in 2012 expressing fears that the culls risked increasing TB in cattle rather than reducing it.
"Our predictions have been borne out," she told the BBC. "It has cost a fortune and probably contributed nothing in terms of disease control, which is really unfortunate."
The assessment also found a wide variation in the effectiveness and humaneness of the contractors brought in by farming groups to kill the badgers.
The expert panel said that if culling was to be extended to other parts of the country, the marksmen recruited would need to be closely monitored.
On the issue of public safety, the panel found no problems.
Andy Robertson, director general of the National Farmers' Union, said he could not comment on the contents of the IEP report until it was officially published. However, he stressed the threat TB in cattle posed to his members.
"More than 30,000 cattle were killed in the first 11 months of 2013 because of the disease. It is vital that we do everything we can to tackle the disease. Badgers play a key role in spreading bovine TB and so it's essential that any TB eradication policy must include a targeted cull of badgers in those areas where TB is rife."
Defra said that it did not know when the report would be submitted by the IEP or when it would be published, stating only that "no deadline had been set". A spokesperson added: "We knew there'd be lessons to be learned from the first year of the pilot culls which is why we're looking forward to receiving the panel's recommendations for improving the way they are carried out, because we need to do all we can to tackle this devastating disease."
More than 1,700 badgers were culled in total in the two counties, according to Defra.