Photo: Badgers in the wild by Tim Brookes via Flickr.
2014 badger cull failed - but the cull goes on
18th December 2014
England's 2014 badger cull has failed to meet key targets for effectiveness with such low numbers of animals shot that TB spread is likely to be increased. But Defra boss Liz Truss insists the cull will go on regardless.
The report paints a picture of a disastrous policy which has clearly failed on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds.
The Government today has released the results of the 2014 badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
In West Gloucestershire the cull was an outright failure. To be consider 'effective', the cull needed to kill at least 615 badgers, and no more than 1091. In fact, just 274 were killed - less than half of the minimum figure.
Defra today blamed the failure on the "challenges of extensive unlawful protest and intimidation" in Gloucestershire - an admission that may only encourage badger groups opposing the cull.
In West Somerset the cull killed 341 badgers - just within the specified range of 316 - 785.
But in fact, badger expert Professor Rosie Woodroffe has dismissed the targets as having been in effect fixed at dangerously low levels to make them easier to meet.
"The targets are all rubbish because they are based on rubbish data. In Somerset they set themselves an unbelievably easy target", she told the Guardian in October. "It was not set in line with their aim - to kill at least 70% of badgers. They have completely thrown that out."
Spread of bovine TB could actually be increased
The danger is that if too few badgers are killed, populations are disrupted causing increased badger movements, and more spreading of bovine TB among badgers and cattle. To prevent that the aim is to kill 70% of the population.
The badger population was estimated by counting the number of setts in the area, then multiplying it by the estimated number of badgers per sett. In Somerset, that led to a minimum cull number between 316 and 1,776 badgers - of which Defra chose the lowest possible figure.
It's therefore highly likely that the 341 badgers killed in the Somerset cull is well under the 70% threshold for effectiveness and will serve only to disrupt badger society and increase the spread of bovine TB.
"In a clear attempt to bury bad news over Christmas, the report paints a picture of a disastrous policy which has clearly failed on scientific, economic and humaneness grounds", said Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust.
Gloucestershire cull should not continue unless more effective
Nigel Gibbens, chief veterinary officer at Defra, said: "Given the level of badger population reduction estimated in the Somerset cull area in 2014, the benefits of reducing the disease in cattle over the planned four-year cull can be expected to be realised there."
However he issued a stark warning over the Cloucestershire cull: "Given the lower level of badger population reduction in the Gloucestershire cull area over the past two years, the benefits of reducing the disease in cattle may not be realised there."
And he added that culling should continue in Gloucestershire in 2015 only if there are "reasonable grounds for confidence that it can be carried out more effectively".
He also conceded that there was "room for disagreement" over the humaneness of the culling, with some badgers surviving in agony for five minutes after being shot.
Environment secretary Liz Truss insisted: "The chief vet's advice is that the results of this year’s cull in Somerset show they can be effective. That is why I am determined to continue with a comprehensive strategy that includes culling."
Bring an end to this cruel policy!
But Dyer disagrees: "Despite spending millions of pounds of tax payers money the DEFRA Chief Veterinary Officer admits for the first time today that the badger cull is failing. It's now time for the Government to admit it has got it wrong and bring an end to this disastrous cruel policy once and for all.
"It should now follow the example of Wales and introduce annual TB testing for cattle combined with tighter bio security and cattle control movements, with compliance linked to CAP single payments for farmers.
"This policy has delivered a 48% drop in the number of cattle slaughtered for TB in Wales in the last 5 years without killing any badgers at all."
Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.
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