Farm minister George Eustice says the government intends to cull badgers in more areas next year – even though two pilot culls failed to hit their six-week target.

“We are minded to go on next year and roll the cull out more widely,” Mr Eustice told the NFU tenant farmers’ conference on Thursday (7 November).

Culling had been carried out safely, humanely and effectively in West Somerset where an initial six-week cull was extended by three weeks after failing to kill enough badgers.

The Somerset cull had succeeded in eradicating 65% of the badger population in the area – just “slightly short” of the optimum 70% target, said Mr Eustice.

“We think it has demonstrated that the culls we carried out were safe, humane and effective,” he told delegates at the Pavilions of Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

“If we had hit 70% earlier we would have stopped because we don’t want to annihilate the badger population – 70% was our maximum target.

“I think it has been actually quite successful.”

Mr Eustice acknowledged there had been a more “difficult time” in Gloucestershire, where there were more footpaths, different terrain and different cropping patterns.

“We have said that we would like to add a couple of areas each year – and also we have got to sustain the cull for a period of four years in total in those zones that are affected.”
George Eustice, farm minister

But an eight-week extension to the Gloucestershire cull on the advice of the government’s chief veterinary officer would ensure the government got closer to its target.

DEFRA was keen to learn the lessons from both pilot zones and would be looking carefully at the “quite different results” when both culls had completed, said Mr Eustice.

The government was inclined to roll out the culls to other TB hotspot areas, he suggested.

“We have said that we would like to add a couple of areas each year – and also we have got to sustain the cull for a period of four years in total in those zones that are affected.”

Mr Eustice said it would much easier to maintain the badger population at a lower level following the initial cull.

“The first year is always the most challenging and I think we are going to learn quite a lot from these pilots,” he said.

“We are putting a lot of resources into getting this right.”

Animal welfare campaigners continue to oppose the cull, arguing that it has failed reach its targets and should be abandoned completely.

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