Glos pilot cull removed 40% of badgers

Marksmen removed nearly 40% of the estimated badger population in the pilot cull in Gloucestershire, according to official government figures.

The pilot cull was halted on Saturday (30 November) at the end of the cage-trapping season after it became clear that not enough badgers would be culled to meet the revised target of 58%.

In the additional five weeks and three days of culling in Gloucestershire, 213 badgers were removed, giving an overall total of 921 culled.

This represents a reduction of 39% in the estimated badger population before culling began.

The six-week pilot scheme was extended by eight weeks after marksmen killed 708 badgers, an estimated 30% of the local badger population. The original target was 70%.

Natural England granted marksmen more time to try to make up the shortfall. However, it had agreed with the culling company Gloscon to end the cull early on Saturday because there was “no realistic prospect” of the cull reaching its target.

Despite the cull falling short of its target, Owen Paterson insisted that the pilots had been “successful” in a written ministerial statement delivered to parliament on Monday (2 December).

“The decision to extend has been shown to be the right one, with significant numbers of badgers removed at the point that the extension was ended,” said Mr Paterson.

“The extension in Gloucestershire has therefore been successful in meeting its aim in preparing the ground for a fully effective four-year cull.”

The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) under the previous Labour government showed there was a range of culling effectiveness across the 10 areas in the first year of the culls, Mr Paterson noted.

But the trial still showed overall benefits at the end of sustained culling and these benefits were maintained for at least a further seven years, he added.

“The two pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have similarly shown a range of culling effectiveness and at the end of four years of sustained culling long-term overall benefits can be expected to be delivered.”

An Independent Panel of Experts will now consider the information collected during the pilots and assess whether the combination of free shooting and cage trapping and shooting of badgers has been “safe, humane and effective”.

Their report, due to be published early in 2014, will inform the government’s decision over whether to roll out the cull to other parts of England most severely affected by the disease.

The second pilot cull in Somerset ended last month with an estimated 65% of the local badger population removed – which also fell short of the target of 70%.

Mr Paterson said important lessons had been learned from completing the two pilots this year, which were a “significant achievement” and “another major step towards halting the spread of bovine TB”.

In the 10 years to 31 December 2012, more than 305,000 cattle were compulsorily slaughtered as reactors or direct contacts in the UK. Since 1 January to August, a further 22,512 otherwise healthy cattle have been slaughtered because of bovine TB.

Mr Paterson said controlling the disease in wildlife remains a key part of the government’s 25-year TB eradication strategy.

“No country has successfully dealt with TB without tackling the disease in both wildlife and cattle. This government is resolved to do this.”

But opponents of the cull have branded the pilots a failure and called on the government to rethink its bTB policy.

TB expert Rosie Woodroffe, a senior research fellow at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), criticised the government on her Twitter account.

She tweeted: “Glos #badgercull killed 39% of estimated badger popn, so far likely to increase cattle TB rather than reducing it.”

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