Badger culling in England has now ended for 2017 across all 21 cull zones, as part of government efforts to curb bovine TB.
A Defra spokesman said its farmer-led culling operation finished on 30 November, although the results will not be released until later this month.
“The culls have finished in the intensive cull areas,” confirmed the spokesman. “The results of the culling operation will be published later in December – certainly before the end of this year.”
Defra extended its culling operation to 11 new areas this year, including Cheshire and Wiltshire, after ministers gave the green light to intensify efforts to tackle bovine TB.
The culls now cover 21% of the land area in the High Risk Area, according to the government department. Overall, trained marksmen were set the target of removing between 21,981 and 33,841 badgers.
The NFU remains confident that badger culling is having a positive effect in controlling the spread of TB, which led to the slaughter of more than 39,000 cattle in the UK last year.
Chief vet support
NFU deputy president Minette Batters said: “The chief vet has said action to prevent infection of cattle from the significant reservoirs of bovine TB infection in local badger populations is an essential component of the government’s 25-year strategy to eradicate TB in England and proactive badger culling is currently the best-evidenced available option to do this.
“Researchers who carried out detailed analysis of the first two years of culling in the two pilot areas made it clear it was too early to draw any definitive conclusions from the results of their analysis.
“However, their initial findings appear to support anecdotal evidence from farmers in the areas that culling is having a positive impact on controlling the disease in cattle.”
But she added: “It is important to remember that no one has ever said culling alone will eradicate bovine TB.
“Culling is only one part of a much wider, comprehensive strategy designed to tackle the disease. We will only get rid of this disease by using every available option.”
But Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, branded the culls a “costly and dangerous distraction”.
Instead, he believes the government would have been better off using the money it has spent on the badger cull to explore “long-term solutions” to eradicate bovine TB, such as cattle vaccination and an oral TB vaccine for badgers.
For its part, Defra remains committed to badger control as part of its 25-year strategy to make England TB free, which includes strengthening movement controls, improving biosecurity and vaccinating badgers in “edge areas”.