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Badger cull contractors better prepared this year - Eustice

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Farming Minister George Eustice has said the contractors hired to cull badgers will be better prepared this year, as culling is set to resume in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
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The second year of culling in the four-year pilot is expected to start again this week, possibly as early as Monday night.

 

Speaking on Farming Today, Mr Eustice said Defra and the cull companies had acted on the advice of the Independent Panel of Experts, which monitored the pilots last year.

 

“The advice that we had from the IEP was that we needed to do more to improve the proficiency of the operation,” he said.

 

“We have done a lot more training this year and we are making sure they have got the right equipment - and night vision equipment - so they can carry out this cull more effectively.”

 

The target numbers will be much lower in both pilot areas. In Gloucestershire the contractors will be required to remove between 615 and 1,091 badgers over the six-week period, while in Somerset the target is between 316 and 785 badgers.

 

Mr Eustice explained that the targets are lower than last year because there will be fewer badgers in the pilots areas after last year’s culls.

 

“In subsequent years (after year one), it is about holding that population in check,” he said.

 

The targets are based on the estimates of the badger populations in 2013 set out in the IEP’s report and new evidence the agency has of badger activity on the ground in 2014.

 

The licence conditions specify more flexibility in achieving the target numbers in light of the difficulties in estimating badger populations that undermined efforts to establish credible targets last year.

Policed properly

Gloucestershire farmer Rob Harrison said ‘lessons will have been learned’ from last year in Gloucestershire and Somerset, which should help ensure the cull is more successful than last year.

 

He made a special for strong policing in the pilot areas, particularly Gloucestershire, where activists had a great deal of success last year in disrupting culling operations.

 

“The only concern will be that the antis have learned from doing before as well and they will again be concentrated on two small areas, particularly Gloucestershire and they will do their best to try and disrupt it,” said Mr Harrison, the NFU’s dairy board chairman.

 

“The important thing is we have got to get on top of bovine TB. It needs to be a combination of measures and one of them is trying to reduce the disease in wildlife populations. If you can’t that you will get constant reinfection in cattle herds.

 

“It is really important to stress that what Gloscon and HNV are doing is legal. It is a Government project and it is about trying to control bovine TB in cattle. It is not anything more than that.

 

“If people are going to intimidate, trespass and vandalise, those kind of things need to be controlled by the police – sitting on the fence is not an option. They have got to make sure it is policed properly.”

Triumph of politics

Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust and Care for the Wild, said the continuation of the cull this year was ‘a triumph of politics, pride and persecution over common sense and science’.

 

“Potentially, almost 2,000 badgers could die – that’s more than last year – and for what? These culls are ill-conceived and incompetently managed, and will contribute nothing to reducing bTB in cattle.

 

“Here we have a government and the National Farmers’ Union pushing ahead with a policy simply because they don’t have the guts to admit that it is wrong, and a complete and utter disaster for the farming industry, tax payer and the protection of our native wildlife.”

Licence criteria

Natural England confirmed that all the criteria have been met to allow the second year of culling to start in the pilot areas at the end of August.

 

The companies organising the cull, Gloscon, in Gloucestershire and HNV Associates in Somerset, were ready to go last week. However, it is understood concerns over the availability of police resources in the counties because of the NATO summit in Cardiff were a factor in the start date being pushed back to this week.

 

In April, former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson announced there would be no further roll out of the badger cull to new areas in 2014. He said it would be necessary to gauge the impact of changes to the 2014 pilots recommended by the IEP before making a decision on roll out next year.

 

This was after the IEP concluded the 2013 pilots failed to meet their criteria on both effectiveness and humaneness.

 

There will be no equivalent of the IEP to monitor the culls this year. The pilots will be monitored by Natural England and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, who Mr Eustice has described as ‘independent’ in respect of this work.

 

A Judicial Review challenge by the Badger Trust on the need for independent monitoring of the cull operators failed and is now likely to go before the Court of Appeal.

 

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