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Glos badger cull achieved 40 per cent reduction over 11 weeks

The Gloucestershire pilot badger cull achieved a reduction of nearly 40 per cent in badger numbers over more than 11 weeks of culling, Defra Secretary Owen Paterson has revealed.

The cull was halted on Saturday, five-and-a-half weeks into what was originally intended to be an eight-week extension to the initial six-week pilot.


During the additional 5 weeks and 3 days of culling, 213 badgers have been removed, giving an overall total of 921 over 11-and-a-half weeks, Mr Paterson said in a statement on Monday.


This represents a reduction of 39.19 per cent in the estimated badger population of 2,350 before culling began,l well short of the original target of a 70 per cent reduction in badger numbers, despite the fact that the pilot was almost doubled in length.


Natural England granted an 8-week extension to the six-week Gloucestershire pilot on October 23, setting a target for the company organising the cull of removing between 540 and 940 badgers.


The decision to extend the cull has been controversial, with the board of licensing body Natural England divided on whether it was the right thing to do.


Mr Paterson said 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’.


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


“In the Randomised Badger Culling Trial there was a range of culling effectiveness across the ten areas in the first year of the culls, but the trial still showed overall benefits at the end of sustained culling and these benefits have been maintained for at least a further seven years.


“The two pilots 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.”


Mr Paterson said the aim of the extension was to achieve ‘the earliest and greatest possible impact on bTB in the area’. This is in line with the Chief Veterinary Officer’s advice that ‘a further significant reduction of the badger population in the first year would increase the likelihood of disease benefits in cattle over the full four years of the cull’, he added.


Critics of the policy, including biologist Rosie Woodroffe, had argued that prolonged culling can make matters worse due to the perturbation effect. She claimed evidence from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) showed culling needed to be done ‘quickly and simultaneously’ to have a positive effect.


Prof Woodroffe said it was ‘very likely that so far this cull will have increased the TB risk for cattle inside the Gloucestershire cull zone rather than reducing it’.


She told the Guardian: “The current situation shows the risks of trying to control cattle TB by killing badgers. The 70% target has been revised down again and again, from at least 70%, to hopefully 70%, to 53%, and now we learn that only 39% was achieved.”


“Culling low numbers of badgers, over a prolonged period, during these winter months, are all associated with increased TB,”

Expert panel

Mr Paterson said the Independent Panel of Experts set up to monitor the cull would now consider the information collected during the pilots on the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting.


“This will inform my decision on the wider roll-out of badger control in those parts of England most severely affected by this disease. The Independent Panel of Experts report will be made available to Parliament and the general public at that time,” he said.


“While there are important lessons to learn, completing two pilots this year has been a significant achievement and is another major step towards halting the spread of bTB.”


The Defra Secretary paid tribute to the local farmers and landowners who have undertaken the pilots in both areas, ‘often in difficult terrain and weather, and often in the face of intimidation by a small minority who resorted to widespread criminality in their determination to stop this disease control policy’.


Mr Paterson said it was ‘unacceptable’ that more 305,000 cattle had been slaughtered because of bTB in the 10 years to 31 December 2012 and stressed that controlling the disease in wildlife ‘is and will remain a key part of our TB Strategy’.


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


Defra and the NFU announced on Friday that culling would end in Gloucestershire on Saturday, following agreement between Natural England and the company managing operations.


NFU president Peter Kendall said: “While the operation has continued to remove badgers on a daily basis, the numbers seen have been steadily reducing as the season has progressed.


“Therefore, as cage trapping has to cease on 30 November, the cull company has concluded that this is a sensible time to bring operations to a close for this year. The NFU is fully supportive of this decision.”


Shadow Defra Secretary Maria Eagle described the decision to end the cull early as a ‘humiliation’ for Mr Paterson.


Last week a judge rejected a request by Brian May’s Save Me campaign to fast track a judicial review into the decision to extend the Gloucestershire cull.


The parallel pilot cull in Somserset was more successfull, removing 65 per cent of the estimated badger population over nine weeks, including a three-week extension.


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