Organisers of the latest pilot badger culls have described them as “successful” and said there would be no need to extend the trials this year.
The second year of the pilots, part of government plans to eradicate bovine TB in this country, will officially end in Gloucestershire and Somerset at 12pm on Monday (20 October).
The NFU said it believed the pilots had gone well compared with last year when marksmen failed to achieve their targets of removing 70% of the badger population.
Andrew Guest, chairman of the NFU in Gloucestershire and spokesman for Gloscon, the company carrying out the cull in the county, said there were “no plans for an extension” in the county and he did not believe that organisers would apply for one.
Official figures for the number of badgers removed in this year’s culls are not ready for release as they still needed to be independently audited by the government.
But Mr Guest described the pilot in Gloucestershire as “successful” – despite farmers being subjected to intimidation and harassment by a “hardcore of a couple of dozen saboteurs” who tried their best to disrupt this lawful activity.
“We have got a number of farmers this year who have gone clear of TB for the first time in seven to 10 years,” said Mr Guest.
“Farmers will tell you the only thing that has changed is that there are fewer badgers on the ground.
“It’s too early to give any statistical analysis. But if we have culled the sick badger that would have infected a farmer’s cattle, the animal is not there to infect that herd any more.”
“We have got a number of farmers this year who have gone clear of TB for the first time in seven to 10 years.”
Andrew Guest, Gloucestershire NFU chairman
Mr Guest said anecdotal evidence on the ground suggested marksmen had been more successful in removing a higher proportion of badgers in the cull zone last year than was estimated.
“As we have taken the maize off this year, we have seen much less badger activity in most crops,” he said.
“If they are not damaging the maize, they cannot be there. If we have reduced the badger population to the extent that we have, it will help get a disease reduction and benefit farmers.”
The purpose of the pilot culls aim to test whether controlled shooting of free running badgers is a safe, humane and effective culling method. Badger carcasses were not tested for signs of TB infection.
Addressing the three criteria, Mr Guest said: “There has been no issues with regards to the safety of the culls in Gloucestershire.
“As far as we are aware, early indications from Natural England monitors and from the post-mortem examinations that have been carried out suggest we have ticked the boxes as far as far as humaneness is concerned.
“It is widely accepted that controlled shooting is an effective way of disposing of other species, such as deer, so we believe this would be the case for badgers.”
Mr Guest would not comment specifically on the number of badgers removed in Gloucestershire, but he said it was a “mixed bag”.
“There were areas where we were very effective last year and we have only taken a few badgers. There are other areas where we have removed lots of badgers. And there are areas that have been affected by saboteurs where we have taken a few badgers, but not as many as we would have liked.”
Mr Guest said the method of cage trapping and shooting badgers could have been shown to be more effective if saboteurs had not interfered with traps.
“It has been different this year, the protesters were more organised. They know the ground better,” he added.
“Some farmers have been less affected, others more. One farmer in Herefordshire has had his cattle let out deliberately three times at night, which caused him a lot of stress. They could have easily got on to the M50 motorway if they had not been intercepted.
“Other farmers have been subjected to aggravated trespass whereby saboteurs have tried to obstruct the legal activity of the culls.”
Mr Guest remains “confident” that the pilots would be carried out for a third year next summer – whichever government is in place.
“Farmers across Gloucestershire, the South West and the Midlands are keen for the culls to be rolled out so they can benefit from controlling TB,” he said.
“Widening the culls over a larger area would mean protesters would have to spread their activities more thinly. Most people have protested within the law, we are only talking about a couple of dozen saboteurs who go out there to break the law.”
Organisers of the second pilot cull in Somerset would not be commenting on the results until the trial has been independently audited. But last week, NFU deputy president Minette Batters told Farmers Weekly that marksmen in Somerset appeared to have had more success in removing badgers than in Gloucestershire.
Meanwhile, Care for the Wild and the Badger Trust have published a ComRes poll, which found that three out of four adults (74%) are aware of the badger cull.
Forty-seven percent of those surveyed agreed that badgers must be culled to control TB in cattle.
But the survey of more than 2,000 people, which was conducted at the end of last month, showed more than eight out of 10 (84%) said there were better ways to tackle bovine TB.
Nine out of 10 people believed the Welsh government model of annual TB testing, cattle controls and badger vaccination was a better way forward.
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