13 September 2013
Badger culls could be extended if marksmen fail to kill enough animals in the planned six-week period, under a Government contingency plan to ensure the trials are completed. The possibility of prolonging the culls emerged as reports claimed that the one in Somerset had fallen behind schedule, with fewer than 100 badgers killed in the first ten days. Any extension would add to the £4 million estimated bill for policing the two culls.
Shooting began in west Somerset on August 26 and in west Gloucestershire a week later. The two pilot culls have been licensed to test whether “controlled shooting” can be carried out effectively, humanely and safely. If the trials are successful, culls are expected to be licensed in many other areas affected by bovine TB from next year.
In order to achieve their target of killing 5,000 healthy or diseased badgers in the trials, marksmen should by now have shot more than 700 badgers in Somerset alone.
Derek Mead, a farmer from Westonsuper-Mare, wrote in theWestern Morning News that he had been told that by the middle of the second week of the Somerset cull fewer than 100 badgers had been killed. The same newspaper quoted a source saying: “They are having major problems. Only three or four badgers are being shot every day. It is just a case now of who gets the blame.”
If the figures are correct, the pilot culls could fail the “effectiveness” test set by the Department for Environment, Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs (Defra). Companies set up to conduct the culls have been set a target of killing 70 per cent of badgers inside culling zones within six weeks. Cutting the population quickly is thought to be essential to minimise the risk of diseased animals leaving the area.
Defra is understood to have accepted that the licences might need to be extended if circumstances, such as interference by animal rights protesters, prevent marksmen from reaching the required target within six weeks.Extending the cull would mean marksmen were more likely to contend with adverse weather, but Defra believes that an extension could be preferable to failing to meet the target.
Ian Johnson, a spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union, which backs the cull, said that talk of failure was premature. “It is a pilot cull, therefore we can’t fully assess the effectiveness of it until it is completed,” he said.
The RSPCA, which opposes the cull, called on Defra to reveal the number of badgers shot. A spokeswoman said: “We would be very interested to find out but for some reason they don’t want to tell us.”