23 October 2013 by Ben Webster Environment Editor
Sir David Attenborough accused the Government of ignoring the scientific evidence
The badger cull in Gloucestershire has been extended until the week before Christmas after Natural England overruled the advice of its board’s lead scientist that the shooting should stop.
The farmers’ company carrying out the cull has been given an extra eight weeks until December 18 to hit the target of killing at least 70 per cent of the badgers in the culling zone.
The company killed only 30 per cent during the six weeks of the original culling licence, even though the target was made much easier to meet by a reduction in the official population estimate in the final few days.
Natural England’s nine-member board was split on whether to grant the extension, which was backed by Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary. Professor David Macdonald, chairman of Natural England’s science advisory committee, argued for an end to the shooting and said that he had little confidence that the cull would cut TB infections in cattle as farmers desired.
However, he was overruled by other board members at a meeting yesterday. Natural England refused to say how many members opposed the extension, but said that at least five supported it.
Under the new licence, the company can only use cages to trap badgers before killing them until the end of November. Cage trapping is banned in winter because it is considered inhumane to leave badgers exposed for extended periods to cold weather.
Humane Society International, an animal welfare charity, said that the decision to grant the extension risked increasing the spread of TB because diseased badgers could flee the area and infect setts outside the cull zone.
A previous ten-year culling trial found that it was important to carry out the killing quickly to reduce the risk of “perturbation”.
Mark Jones, the charity’s executive director, said: “I am flabbergasted that an extension has been granted to Defra’s badger-killing fiasco in Gloucestershire. By extending culls here as well as in Somserset, the pilots are moving even more dangerously away from the recommendations of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial which were clear — the longer you subject badgers to this sort of disruption, the greater the risk of worsening the spread of bovine TB among both badgers and cattle.”
Sir David Attenborough, a longstanding opponent of the culls, accused the Government of ignoring the scientific evidence.
Natural England said it was possible that any culling licences would in future be for significantly longer than the six weeks originally granted.