Western Daily Press: Badger cull maths is muddled, but goal the same
There can be little surprise, only regret and concern, that the badger cull in Somerset has failed to meet its target of removing 70 per cent of the mammals within a 130-square-kilometre area of countryside highly infected with bovine TB.
It was always going to be a challenge to reach the self imposed target of taking out 2,100 badgers from the pastures, copses, hills and valleys of this extensive corner of the West Country, given that badgers are wild animals who do not fill out census forms and publicise their addresses.
The very fact that the first proposed cull dates had to be put back because the farmers organising the operation feared they had dramatically under-estimated the number of badgers living in the cull zone tells its own story.
The updated news, confirmed yesterday, that in the end they concluded there were fewer badgers than expected – which accounts for the shortfall in those culled – underlines the point.
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In truth no one really knew how many badgers lived in this area. They still cannot be sure, even though the cull will now be extended.
Ministers must shoulder much of the blame for this failure. They should not have been so confident about the figures. If it was their intention to be transparent about the number of badgers that had to be culled then their openness has backfired, spectacularly. Sometimes it is better to be honest and admit you just don't know.
But the numbers are one thing; the larger issue of whether or not shooting free-running badgers with rifles and shotguns is an efficient and acceptable way to tackle the crisis of bovine TB in the countryside is quite another. And that, surely, must now be called into question.
We have seen, over the past six weeks, the determination of a small group of cull saboteurs and the impact they can have. We have seen too the difficulties the cull teams faced in simply finding and killing badgers, given the wariness of the animals and the complications of carrying out a large-scale operation under the public gaze.
The Western Daily Press has consistently argued that the scourge of bovine TB and the misery it causes to so many farming families cannot be tackled without the culling of wild animals. We applauded this Government when it showed the courage Labour so lacked in pressing ahead with a cull. We ask now, however, whether it isn't time to review the method. Ministers must know too that the need for action on this issue is as urgent as ever.