Natural England has given the green light to a much-criticised badger cull for the second time in two pilot areas to fight tuberculosis in cattle, despite experts warning that the measure is both ineffective and inhumane.
The organisation has said that criteria have been met to authorise two pilot projects in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, with the aim of preventing the spread of bovine TB.
Licensees have to shoot between 615 and 1091 badgers in Gloucestershire and between 316 and 785 in Somerset over a six weeks period. Last year’s pilot cull fell short of its target by at least 50% but cost an estimated £7.29 million.
Natural England said, “A government-approved training programme has been put in place to improve shooting accuracy. Natural England will monitor controlled shooting through field observations to record accuracy in 60 cases.
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“Vets from Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency will carry out post-mortem examinations on at least 60 randomly-selected badgers from each cull area to assess accuracy of controlled shooting.”
However, the cull has been strongly criticised by both animal rights campaigners and the opposition as ineffective and cruel.
Mark Jones, veterinarian and Humane Society International UK executive director, said, “It beggars belief that despite last year’s cull being exposed as an abject failure, this scandalous killing of a supposedly protected wild mammal is going to be allowed to take place.
“It is shocking that science and ethics are being swept aside to assuage farmers over a bovine TB problem that will not be helped by the indiscriminate slaughter of hundreds more innocent badgers.”
Since the plan was launched by the government last year, experts have said that not enough badgers were killed, making the whole cull completely ineffective. Moreover, many animals were not shot ‘properly’, with up to 18% of culled badgers taking longer than five minutes to die.
The failure led to campaigners and scientists calling for the use of alternative measures, such as vaccinations for badgers. The government has launched a pilot vaccination programme but only on the ‘edge areas’ of the affected regions.
The Badger Trust has filed a legal challenge against the cull. Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor to Care for the Wild said in Wales bovine TB has been reduced by 50% in five years without killing animals, by testing cattle instead.
“The Welsh government have made it clear that this is the reason for their success “, he said.
“But the National Farmers’ Union here in England refuse to do annual testing because they claim it costs too much. Yet they were prepared to spend £10m last year on killing 1861 badgers, and they are about to do the same again. It is a failure of judgement, a failed policy and it will fail their own members, the farmers who desperately need an effective solution.”
Photo: hehaden via Flickr