Farmers say that cull must run its course
West Country farmers are keeping faith in the Government's controversial badger cull despite major concerns that the trials are faltering.
The Western Daily Press has previously reported that marksmen on the six-week cull on Exmoor had only managed to shoot a handful of badgers on some nights – significantly fewer than the average target of 50.
It has also been suggested that almost two weeks into the cull in West Somerset, which started on August 26 and is part of the Government strategy to halt the spread of bovine TB, the total was "well below 100".
Neither the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) or the National Farmer's Union (NFU) have commented directly on the numbers. However, farmers remain positive that the culls will deliver against a disease which resulted in more than 20,000 cattle being slaughtered in the South West last year.
Bill Harper, a Devon farmer and chairman of the National Beef Association's TB group, said: "At the end of the day we are waiting for two key reports – the first is from the post-mortems on whether shooting does kill badgers effectively. Secondly, the observers on the ground will make their report on what activity they have seen and what percentage have been accounted for."
In West Somerset, the target is to kill between 2,081 and 2,162 badgers, which represents some 70 per cent of the local population. Mr Harper said the trials would establish whether that population had been over-estimated.
"This should not be presented as some kind of disaster," he said. "There are lots and lots of issues that we need to find out about. We need all the information, we need to allow the people on the ground to gather it and then for it to be analysed."
Alex Stevens, NFU county adviser for Somerset, said: "Pilot trials to cull badgers will continue. We have a cycle of reinfection which we have to break. We must get rid of this disease. The Government strategy is talking about 25 years. We feel perhaps that this can be improved and it can be done more quickly."
Yesterday, it was claimed the culling company, already said to be "desperate" to recruit more marksmen, was rushing more traps to the area to up its success. It is feared that current progress will scupper the prospects of a rapid roll-out of culling to other TB hotspots, including Devon and Cornwall. Opponents of the pilots, who have been carrying out nightly patrols in Somerset to try to disrupt shooting, seized on the figures to demand the scheme be halted.
Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "[Secretary of State] Owen Paterson should be courageous and admit he got it wrong.
"He should immediately review the pilots and stop them before any more badgers are slaughtered, someone gets hurt, and bovine TB is made worse by perturbation caused by frightened badgers scattering across the countryside. Any suggestion of rolling out these trials would be ludicrous."