Campaigners welcome badger cull delay in West Gloucestershire
BADGERS in Gloucestershire have been saved from a cull after a dramatic government u-turn delayed it until next summer.
After Environment Secretary Owen Paterson announced the halt to the cull in the House of Commons yesterday, campaigners welcomed the reprieve. But they said they continue will their fight to stop the animals being killed as a means of controlling bovine TB.
Farmers, however, who were hopeful the trial cull would help control the disease prevalent in the county, expressed shock at the decision as they thought the first shots were imminent.
Mr Paterson said the culls in west Gloucestershire and Somerset will be pushed back by a year as delays caused by the weather, legal challenges and the Olympics meant the "optimal time" had passed.
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He made the decision after the National Farmers Union (NFU) wrote to him requesting the postponement.
It said farmers were not confident they could carry out the cull given the lateness of the season and new figures revealing higher than anticipated badger numbers in the two pilot areas. The estimated badger population in west Gloucestershire is 3,600 – 2,520 would need to be shot to reach the cull target.
Mr Paterson said: "It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70 per cent of the populations."
He said given the circumstances the delay was the "right thing to do".
He emphasised there had been "no change" to government policy on the issue and he remained "fully committed" to delivering the pilot culls.
"I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do, and the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action," he added.
Campaigners are hopeful the cause could be snowballed into a cancellation of the culls.
Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting (GABS) spokeswoman Liz Gaffer said she was "so pleased" at the news and believed the government had "taken on board" concerns voiced by the people of Gloucestershire.
She said the group would continue to campaign for a vaccination programme of cattle and badgers and added: "We hope the government will not just delay, but will decide not to pursue a cull as the evidence is clear that culling badgers is not the most effective, efficient or humane way of reducing bovine TB."
He also paid tribute to the Gloucestershire police for their work ahead of the cull, and confirmed the force would be compensated.
"This has been an extra burden on them in recent weeks," he admitted.
Chief executive of the RSPCA Gavin Grant said: "This is good news. Hopefully, it marks the beginning of the end for these unscientific, foolish and cruel plans to cull badgers."
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon, Labour's leader in the Lords and a Forest of Dean resident, said: "I welcome this delay – as I am sure many people in the Forest of Dean will too. Bovine TB is a terrible disease that can have a devastating effect on farmers' livelihoods, but culling badgers is not the answer."
Speaking after the announcement, the NFU said the decision to delay was "exceptionally difficult" but on balance "responsible and right".
President Peter Kendall said: " I know there will be many who are devastated by today's news. But there have been a series of obstacles, not least the appalling weather."
A spokesman for Gloucestershire police said the embargo on annual leave for its officers during the period of the proposed cull has now been lifted.