Badger trapped in a cage for TB vaccination©John Hawkins/Rex Shutterstock

Vets have called for an end to the shooting of free-running badgers in Defra’s two pilot culls in the west of England.

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) said it could no longer support so called controlled shooting, where marksman use high-powered rifles to cull free-running badgers.

Instead it has called for the four-year culls in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire to be completed using only the “tried and tested” method of cage trapping first and then shooting.

See also: Labour pledges farming strategy and to end badger cull

A BVA statement said council members had come to the conclusion “in light of the results from two years of culling in the two pilot areas”.

The statement said: “Following a full discussion at BVA council, members concluded that the results from the first two years of culling have not demonstrated conclusively that controlled shooting can be carried out effectively and humanely.

“BVA remains supportive of the use of badger culling as a necessary part of the comprehensive strategy for control and eradication of bovine TB.”

It added that the organisation wanted the government to revert to the method of cage trapping and shooting only, which it said could “deliver a safe, humane and effective cull, as demonstrated in the earlier Randomised Badger Culling Trial [RBCT]”.

The RBCT established that culling badgers can deliver a net benefit in terms of a reduction in the incidence of bovine TB in cattle.

Vets are now calling for badger culling to be rolled out using cage trapping and shooting only to other areas where badgers contribute to the high incidence of TB in cattle.

The BVA reported that there was widespread agreement among council that the disproportionate focus on badger culling in the public debate about bovine TB fails to acknowledge that no single measure can effectively tackle the disease.

“There must be a comprehensive eradication strategy using all available measures,” it said.

BVA president John Blackwell added: “BVA’s support for badger culling as part of the bovine TB eradication strategy has always been based on it being delivered humanely, effectively and safely.

“We supported the pilots to test the use of controlled shooting but data from the first two years of culling has not demonstrated conclusively that controlled shooting can be carried out effectively and humanely based on the criteria that were set.”

But Mr Blackwell said: “The BVA remains convinced that if we are to tackle this disease then we need to control the infection in the wildlife population, and badger culling must form part of the comprehensive strategy for tackling bovine TB.

“We are therefore calling for the culls in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire to be completed using the tried-and-tested method of cage trapping and shooting, and for culling to be rolled out to other carefully selected areas using this method.”

He warned that the continuing spread of bovine TB within cattle and wildlife had an unacceptable impact on animal health and welfare, and had the potential to pose a risk to public health.

“In the public debate on badger culling and bovine TB, we are in danger of losing sight of the many other important control measures being applied.

“It is essential that the next government commits to a comprehensive strategy that employs all available measures,” Mr Blackwell said.

A Defra spokesman said: “Bovine TB is costing the UK £100m/year and is a significant threat to our beef and dairy industries.

“The government published its bovine TB strategy in April last year which includes cattle movement controls, vaccination in edge areas and culling where the disease is rife.

“The BVA continues to support this strategy and the role that culling has to play. This approach has worked overseas in Australia, Ireland and New Zealand.”