Review of the Year: Badger cull pilot

Will badger culling take place in more places to combat bovine tuberculosis next year? DEFRA ministers are determined it will – despite criticism from opponents who say two pilot culls during 2013 failed to reach their targets.

After they were called off at the last minute a year ago, pilot culls finally got under way in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire in late summer. But neither went according to plan, with the timetable extended in both areas in a bid to reach the initial kill quota.

The target of removing 70% of badgers in the Somerset pilot – even though marksmen were granted three weeks extra to do their job. An additional 90 badgers were removed during the extension, taking the total culled to 940 badgers, an estimated 65% of the local badger population.

In Gloucestershire, Marksmen removed less than 40% of the estimated badger population. The pilot cull was granted an extension until 18 December but was called off early after it became clear that not enough badgers would be culled to meet a revised target of 58%.

During an additional five weeks and three days of culling in Gloucestershire, 213 badgers were removed, giving an overall total of 921 culled. This is equivalent to removing 39% of the estimated original badger population in the area.

Despite marksmen falling short of their original targets, DEFRA insisted that both pilot culls – which were designed to show that shooting badgers could be carried out safely, humanely and effectively – had been a success.

DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson paid tribute to the local farmers and landowners who had undertaken the cull – often in difficult terrain, poor weather and “often in the face of intimidation by a small minority who are determined to stop this disease control policy.”

Opponents to badger culling claim that the failure of marksmen to reach their targets may increase the risk of tuberculosis in cattle. Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle has called for the government to abandon culling, describing it as “misguided and unscientific”.

But farm minister George Eustice says the government intends to cull badgers in more areas next year. “We are minded to go on next year and roll the cull out more widely,” he told the NFU tenant farmers’ conference in November.

Even so, rather a blanket approach, many farmers would prefer the culls to be more targeting. This could include gassing badgers in infected setts. But it is almost certain that opponents would launch a legal challenge against such methods – preventing culling from taking place.

For more on this topic

News and background on bovine TB and the badger cull