Gloucestershire badger cull pilot fails to hit 70% target

Badger In both badger pilot cull areas, the government-set target of 70% was not achieved

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".

'Ludicrous and inhumane'

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.

And as he has so closely identified himself with the policy, it is unlikely to change while he is in charge at Defra.

Speaking after the figures were published Mark Jones, Executive Director of Humane Society International (HSI) UK, said: "HSI UK hopes that Defra will now do the decent thing and admit that killing badgers to control TB in cattle is a ludicrous and inhumane idea.

"We urge Defra to abandon its plans to roll out this calamitous cull elsewhere in the country."

Last month, the cull in west Gloucestershire was extended by an additional eight weeks, from its original six-week duration.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson, said: "The aim of the extension was to achieve the earliest and greatest possible impact on (Bovine TB) bTB in the area.

"The decision to extend has been shown to be the right one, with significant numbers of badgers removed at the point that the extension was ended.

"I would like to pay tribute to the local farmers and landowners who have undertaken the pilots in both areas, often in difficult terrain and weather, and often in the face of intimidation by a small minority who resorted to widespread criminality in their determination to stop this disease control policy."

But Jude Walker from Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting said: "Mr Paterson accused the badgers of moving goalposts and this statement show he's moving the parameters."

She said the cull was "ill conceived and ill thought-out, expensive and won't help cattle famers one iota".

"What we're yet to hear and learn is how much this is cost but the main cost has been in our wildlife," she said.

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.

Government ministers and the National Farmers' Union believe culling badgers will curb the disease in cattle spreading across England.

Figures from Defra show more than 19,998 cattle were slaughtered in the first half of 2013 which is down from 21,581 in the same period in 2012.

New herd incidents in the UK have fallen from 3,039 cases in the first half of 2012 to 2,873 in the first half of 2013.

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