The extended pilot badger cull in Gloucestershire is to end this weekend after marksmen failed to meet reduced targets.
A spokesman for the licensing authority Natural England said the cull would be ending in the county on Saturday (30 November) – three weeks ahead of the end of the extension on 18 December.
“The NFU and Natural England have agreed to end the extended cull in Gloucestershire at 12 noon on Saturday (18 December),” a spokesman for Natural England confirmed.
“This is because there are fewer badgers in the area than estimated and the principle of reaching the targets if they continue culling is pretty low. Therefore it has been agreed that the cull will finish earlier.”
Marksmen were originally given six weeks to cull a minimum of 70% of the local badger population.
However, Natural England granted an eight-week extension to the cull after only 30% of badgers were removed in this time.
A revised target of 58% was set, however, it is understood that marksmen have failed to reach this target.
“Now that the cull company is seeing fewer badgers on the ground I agree with the decision to stop the pilot cull for this year and I pay tribute to all those who in the face of provocation have worked so hard.”
Farm minister George Eustice
Farm minister George Eustice said: “The extension to the cull has been worthwhile and has removed a significant number of badgers which will make a difference to disease control in the area.
“Now that the cull company is seeing fewer badgers on the ground I agree with the decision to stop the pilot cull for this year and I pay tribute to all those who in the face of provocation have worked so hard.
“Let’s not forget that more than 305,000 cattle have been slaughtered in Great Britain in the past decade due to this terrible disease, which is why we are doing everything we can to get it under control.”
DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson is expected to publish the official figures for the cull in Gloucestershire in a written ministerial statement to parliament on Monday (2 December).
Anti-cull campaigners will seize on the abandonment of the cull as yet further evidence that the policy in its current format of free shooting and cage trapping and shooting is unworkable.
However, a spokesman for Natural England said: “Although the cull in Gloucestershire has finished early, this does not have any impact on the original licensing, which remains in place for four years.
“The licence remains in place so culling can continue next year.”
An independent panel of experts will assess whether the pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire have been “safe, humane and effective”.
DEFRA plans to roll the cull, part of its long-term policy to eradicate bovine TB, in other counties where the disease is a problem.
Read more news and features on Bovine TB and the badger cull