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An English badger cub, innocent as summer days are long. Photo: Peter Burnage via Flickr.
An English badger cub, innocent as summer days are long. Photo: Peter Burnage via Flickr.
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Badger cubs to be shot in new 'summer cull' plan

Damian Carrington / the Guardian

10th December 2014

England's 2015 trial badger cull will be moved to summer, writes Damian Carrington - when cubs are numerous and easy to shoot. The surprise move follows 2014's failed autumn culls, which missed their minimum kill targets.

Not only is it a moral outrage to allow marksmen to take pot shots at baby badgers simply to provide a larger body count, but it makes even less scientific sense than the current strategy.

Badger cubs will be shot under plans to shift the controversial cull to early summer in 2015, the Guardian has learned.

The badger culls, aimed at curbing tuberculosis in cattle, have so far taken place in the autumn and have repeatedly missed their minimum kill targets.

Cubs are easier to catch and shoot and are more numerous in early summer, making it more likely an earlier cull will hit its target.

But scientists have warned killing cubs rather than adults has less effect on cutting TB, while animal campaigners condemned the plan as "appallingly crude and desperate".

The National Farmers Union (NFU), which speaks for the culling companies, said government licences permit culling to begin any time from June. The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the timing of the culls was a decision for the culling companies.

Summer cull to begin as early as June 2015

Badger cubs are born underground in February and first emerge in April. While the cubs and their parents legally cannot be culled until the start of June, it is legal to shoot them under licence afterwards.

The cullers intend to start in June or July 2015, according to Guardian sources. However, leading badger expert Professor Rosie Woodroffe, at the Zoological Society of London, said:

"They may well catch more badgers if they cull in June, because young cubs are naïve and easy to trap. But many of cubs die in their first year, especially in dry summers. So killing 100 badgers in June wouldn't reduce the badger population as much as killing 100 badgers in November.

"Also, cubs are much less likely to have TB, so killing cubs would not have the same effect on reducing disease as killing adults."

Woodroffe was a key member of an earlier landmark and decade-long culling trial which found that TB in cattle could actually be made worse if the badger population was not heavily reduced, as surviving but disturbed badgers spread the disease more widely.

"An earlier cull would seem to be more about trying to achieve a target number of badgers killed, rather than controlling TB. It's more like meeting the letter of the law, rather than the spirit", said Woodroffe.

She believes the cull pilots in Somerset and Gloucestershire, judged in April not to be effective or humane, should stop immediately.

NFU: the cull must go on

The NFU disagrees. "The NFU remains convinced the current pilot culls will help deliver a reduction of TB in cattle and it is vital that they are allowed to be successfully completed so they can achieve the maximum benefit", said a spokesman.

"We also remain committed to seeing badger culling rolled out to other areas where TB is endemic to help control and eradicate this terrible disease, which continues to devastate the lives of farming families."

The Conservatives are understood to want a roll-out, but have been opposed by their LibDem coalition partners. The NFU spokesman added:

"The terms of the existing four-year licences mean that culling can begin from 1 June. This has always been the case. We are not aware that any decision has been made as yet about the timings of next year's cull."

Claire Bass, executive director of the Humane Society International / UK said: "If true, an earlier cull would be an appallingly crude and desperate tactic to boost the number of badgers killed to create a veneer of success in an otherwise failed and discredited badger cull policy.

"Not only is it a moral outrage to allow marksmen to take pot shots at baby badgers simply to provide a larger body count, but it makes even less scientific sense than the current strategy, as the likelihood of cubs carrying the disease is even lower than adults."

The earlier landmark culling trial found 12% of adult badgers had TB but only 8% of cubs.

A Defra spokesman said: "England has the highest levels of bovine TB in Europe which is why we are pursuing a comprehensive strategy to make England free of the disease, including cattle measures, vaccinations and culling badgers where TB is rife.

"The licences in Somerset and Gloucestershire allow culling to commence any time from 1 June, which was based on the advice of wildlife experts."

 


 

Damian Carrington is the head of environment at the Guardian.

This article originally appeared on the Guardian. It is republished with thanks via the Guardian Environment Network.

 

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