Application submitted to extend badger cull in Gloucestershire
AN application to extend the badger cull in Gloucestershire was submitted to Natural England this morning by private cull companies.
News broke last night that a failure to shoot enough badgers over the last five weeks could mean an extension was needed.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson confirmed this morning the six-week period of the Somerset cull was completed on October 6, but a “short extension” had been asked for.
He added the population of badgers in both of the cull zones have fallen from about 3,400 to 2,350 in Gloucestershire and 2,400 to 1,450 in Somerset.
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He also confirmed only 850 badgers were shot in Somerset, well short of the 2,200 expected in the area.
In his ministerial statement, he said: “One of the lessons we have learned already from this pilot is that in order to ensure high levels of safety and humaneness, the cull period may need to be longer than six weeks in future.
“The Independent Panel of Experts will consider all the information which has been collated during the culls and it will be made publicly available after the culls have finished.”
With the cull in Gloucestershire due to finish next week, news of any extension could prove devastating for campaigners against the cull.
A confirmation on the extension application will be announced next week.
Protestors have long claimed the number of killed badgers only came up to around 800 in Gloucestershire, well short of the 2,800 expected in the county and 5,000 in both cull zones.
Mr Paterson had insisted the badger cull was a necessary step to halt bovine tuberculosis.
He added: “The two badger cull pilots, in Somerset and Gloucestershire, were designed to test that controlled shooting is a safe, humane and effective means of reducing badger numbers. Successfully tackling bovine TB (bTB) in the badger population is a key element in our strategy to rid England of bTB within 25 years.
“Current indications suggest that the pilot has been safe, humane and effective in delivering a reduction in the badger population of just under 60 per cent. We set ourselves a challenging target of aiming to ensure that 70 per cent of the badger population was removed during the pilot.”
The chief veterinary officer at Defra added a 60 per cent reduction will deliver “clear disease benefits” as part of a four-year cull.
His advised that increasing the number of badgers cull would “improve those benefits”.
NFU president Peter Kendall welcomed Mr Paterson’s recognition of the work that had been carried out.
He added: “After the Secretary of State’s comments today on the progress that has been made, I want to thank those involved in carrying out what is a very important first step on the long road towards eradicating TB in cattle, in badgers and from our countryside.
“Safety and humaneness are two really important tests. I am also pleased to hear confirmation from the government chief vet that the current cull operations in Somerset to date will deliver disease reduction as part of a four-year plan.
“The knowledge learned from these two badger cull pilot areas will be invaluable in helping to deliver future roll out of badger control operations in areas where the incidence of TB is rife.”
The cull was meant to test the humaneness and effectiveness of shooting badgers to control the deadly disease.
Groups patrolling west Gloucestershire over the last five weeks include Stop the Cull, the wounded badger patrols from Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting and We are Change Gloucestershire.
Thousands of protestors have spent nights chasing marksmen, helping wounded badgers and patrolling the sites.
It was also reported that the target has been more than halved to around 2,000 badgers instead of the original 5,000 target.
Defra has refused to comment on operational matters throughout the cull, and insist a report would be made available “within months” of the cull ending.
The cull is being carried out by private companies, with Natural England handling the licences under the Defra policy.
Reaction and more information as they come in.