No independent panel for year two of badger cull

An independent panel of wildlife experts will not be asked to oversee the second year of the pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire, the government has confirmed.

Farming minister George Eustice said the government had no intention of asking the panel to report back on the culls this year.

Mr Eustice confirmed the government’s plans in a response to a parliamentary question from shadow DEFRA secretary Maria Eagle, who wanted to find out if the independent expert panel (IEP) would be consulted again.

The panel concluded that year one of the four-year pilot culls, designed to tackle bovine TB, failed on the criteria of humaneness and effectiveness.

DEFRA said it would “learn lessons” from the first year of the culls and make improvements recommended in the independent panel’s report, including better training and equipment for marksmen.

Although there will be no independent monitoring of the pilots this year, government agency Natural England will monitor the culls on the ground and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) would carry out post-mortem examinations of culled badgers.

Read more on the badger cull

Labour said the decision showed ministers did not follow the findings of independent scientific advice.

Ms Eagle said: “What do the Tories do if they don’t like the independent scientific advice they get? Stop asking for advice.

“Labour has consistently said the culls are bad for farmers, bad for the taxpayer and bad for wildlife.

“Working with wildlife groups, farmers and leading scientists, we need an alternative strategy that would focus on badger vaccination and enhanced cattle measures.”

A DEFRA spokesman said: “We will continue to monitor the badger culls closely to assess the effect of the changes we are making following the independent expert panel’s recommendations.”

The spokesman added DEFRA had not yet confirmed that the badger cull would be rolled out to other areas in 2015.

“We will first assess the effect of the changes we are making to improve the culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire before deciding on rolling out.”

Dominic Dyer, chief executive officer of the Badger Trust and policy adviser for animal welfare charity Care for the Wild, said he was “not surprised” by the government’s decision, adding that it was a “big mistake”.

He added: “We are talking with our lawyers today about whether to take action and bring a judicial review claim over the badger cull. This will be a key issue for us to address.

“The BVA [British Veterinary Association] has come out against the cull and IEP members have been expressing their concerns on Twitter about the decision to scrap the independent panel.

“I think Owen Paterson has made a significant error of judgment,” said Mr Dyer.

The BVA said it could only support the continuation of the pilot culls if steps were taken to improve the effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting.

 BVA president Robin Hargreaves added that robust monitoring and collation of results with independent analysis and auditing by a non-governmental body were vital.

 “We will be meeting with the chief veterinary officer and secretary of state Owen Paterson shortly to discuss our response to the IEP report,” he said.

 “The minister’s response to the parliamentary question states that the IEP will not be asked to monitor the pilots in year two, but we hope we can discuss other ways to ensure robust, independent analysis and auditing.”