Industry leaders have pledged to ensure a badger cull goes ahead next summer after being forced to abandon any hope of a cull this autumn.
A cull to combat bovine tuberculosis remains feasible in two pilot areas of west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, insists the NFU – despite higher than expected badger populations, which resulted in an a cull being postponed this year.
Culling was due to begin imminently. But it was called off at the 11th hour after new survey results revealed estimated badger populations of 4,300 in west Somerset and 3,600 in west Gloucestershire – far higher than previous data suggested.
The decision to postpone was announced by DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson on Tuesday (23 October). In light of the new figures, the NFU could not be confident of removing enough badgers in the two cull areas this autumn, he told the House of Commons.
The criteria for a successful cull required at least 70% of the local badger populations to be removed from each area. Already facing higher than expected badger numbers, farmers were then asked to target 80% of the population to ensure they met the 70% target.
“It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations,” said Mr Paterson. “Now, in the next few months, we will ensure that the pilot culls can be implemented effectively, in the best possible conditions, with the right resources.”
NFU president Peter Kendall said it was with “deep regret and massive disappointment” that the cull had to be postponed. But a delay was the only responsible action in the face of a significant increase in the estimates of badger numbers that farmers would be required to cull.
“If we proceeded under these circumstances, we ran a very high risk of falling short of the new higher numbers needed to demonstrate that the policy worked. Failure to demonstrate that the policy worked would have stopped it dead in its tracks with no prospect of future roll out.”
Going next year meant there would be a clear idea of badger numbers, Mr Kendall said. Farmers would be able to gear up their preparations to achieve the target and the cull would be taking place at a more favourable time of the year.
“Let me make it absolutely clear: the cull in the pilot areas has been postponed until next year, it has not been abandoned,” Mr Kendall said. “We have received assurances from the coalition government that every effort will be made to ensure the pilots will go ahead in 2013.”
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News and background on bovine TB and the badger cull