Badger cull fails to meet its targets
The pilot badger cull in Somerset could be extended by three weeks after marksmen fail to meet targets.
Just over 40 per cent of badgers have been killed in the cull area (850 animals), less than half of the initial target of 2,000 (70 per cent), during the six week trial which finished on Sunday.
Defra has now moved the goal posts to alter the way it benchmarks a 70 per cent cull rate by following a lower estimate of the badger population, requiring fewer badgers to be shot.
The target number of badgers to be killed in Somerset has dropped from 2,000 to 1,020. The number of badgers to be shot in the Gloucestershire cull area has also been lowered.
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The badger population in Somerset is now estimated at 1,450, significantly lower that a 2012 estimate of 2,400. Floods and food shortages have been suggested as possible causes of the falling numbers of badgers.
A Defra source dismissed suggestions that the controversial cull had been a failure and claimed that shooting free running badgers works “pretty well”.
Opponents of the cull say it won’t work and argue the case for vaccination of badgers and tighter cattle movement measures. The disease can be spread by cattle as well as badgers and the extent to which badgers are responsible for the increase in Bovine TB is not certain.
Adrian Coward, chair of the Somerset Badger Group, said: "The cull was supposedly about being effective as well as humane.
"By the end of week three they had shot about 140 badgers. They introduced cage trapping and shooting to get the numbers up. Once a badger is in a trap it is cheaper to vaccinate than shoot.
"After three more weeks the method has failed. How many more lies can the government tell and expect people to believe them. The people who said the cull would not be effective have been proved right. There is no real benefit to anybody in the long term. It's a total and utter shame.
"This is not an open and transparent government. They will keep on manipulating things until they get it where they want it to be."
Shooting could cause dispersal of badgers and cause further spread of Bovine TB if they are infected. Badgers are territorial and healthy badgers can keep infected badgers of their patch. Opponents say indiscriminate shooting of badgers runs the risk of increasing the spread of Bovine TB.
Badgers are blamed for spreading Bovine TB among cattle. The cull is an attempt to halt the spread of the disease which has led to the slaughter of 305,000 cattle across the UK in the last 10 years. The pilot cull aimed to establish whether badgers could be killed safely, effectively and humanely by free shooting.