No need to monitor badger culls ‘real time’, says chief vet

Outgoing chief vet Nigel Gibbens has suggested there is no need to monitor the humaneness of the badger cull in “real time”.

Defra has come under fire from animal rights groups for abandoning an independent expert panel that oversaw the “safety, effectiveness (in terms of badger removal) and humaneness” of the culls.

The panel had raised concerns about the humaneness of shooting badgers. It estimated that nearly one-quarter of badgers that were shot – or at least shot at – took more than five minutes to die.

See also: Analysis – Is the badger cull in England working?

However, based on the evidence from culling in 21 areas over the past five years, Mr Gibbens said the likelihood of suffering in badgers culled by controlled shooting “is comparable to other culling activities currently accepted by society, such as deer shooting”. 

Therefore, he suggested that his replacement, Christine Middlemiss, the current chief vet in New South Wales, Australia, will “no longer need to scrutinise the badger culls in real time”.

Controlled shooting observations

During this autumn’s culls, staff from Natural England observed 74 badgers being shot using controlled shooting – of which eight appeared to have been missed and one appeared to have been hit but not retrieved.

The non-retrieval rate was 12.2%, which was similar to that observed during the culls in the past four years.

Mr Gibbens said this level of accuracy compares favourably with a published study of controlled shooting of rabbits in Australia, which is the only other study to have assessed the accuracy of controlled shooting.

In that study, 21% of rabbits shot at were not retrieved, of which 10% were “misses” and 11% were considered not to have been hit.

As with 2016, no post-mortem examinations of badgers culled by controlled shooting were carried out.

Safety of the operations

Mr Gibbens said no significant incidents affecting public safety were reported. And contractors continued to show “high levels of discipline and adherence to best practice”.

From 2018 onwards, he anticipates that Natural England, as the licensing authority, will report on the outcome of the cull.

The chief vet will be called on only “to advise in any situations where culling is not delivering effectively and where the delivery of expected disease control benefits is threatened”.

The Humane Society International (HSI) UK accused the government of behaving “like Jekyll and Hyde” on animal welfare – one day announcing a new Animal Welfare Bill and pledging to enhance animal welfare post-Brexit, then “massacring” 20,000 badgers.

Claire Bass, executive director of HSI UK, said: “It’s likely that thousands suffered lingering painful deaths from botched gunshot wounds. Several carcasses have been found with appalling injuries.”

Bovine TB in England costs taxpayers over £100m a year. In 2016, it led to the slaughter of more than 29,000 cattle, causing devastation and distress for rural communities.