Mr Paterson told the House of Commons today that culling in Somerset and Gloucestershire will continue this year with changes made, based on the advice of the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) set up to monitor last year’s pilots, to improve the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of the policy.
But he said there would be no further roll out until these changes had been implemented, dashing hopes of an extension to Dorset this year.
The Defra Secretary said the Government would ‘look to a further roll out’ once the technique of culling, using the IEP’s lessons, had been ‘perfected’
Mr Paterson also announced a proposed new badger vaccination policy in the edges of the infected areas, plus a strengthening of cattle TB and biosecurity measures, as he unveiled Defra’s 25-year TB eradication policy for England.
He said the vaccination policy would create a ‘buffer zone of immunity’ to help stop the disease spreading between the heavily infected and relatively clean areas, stressing that badger vaccination was of only limited benefit in areas where a high proportion of badgers were infected.
He added that Defra was investing £24.6m in developing effective TB vaccines and designing large scale field trials of a cattle vaccine.
The Defra Secretary’s plans to roll out the badger cull to new areas were effectively scuppered by by the findings of the IEP, also published today.
The IEP found that the pilots fell well short of their targets for both humaneness, with up to 23 per cent found to have taken longer than the five minute limit to die, and effectiveness, with less than 50 per cent of estimated badger numbers killed in both pilot areas.
“Current evidence suggests that culling badgers over a 6-week period by shooting, or by shooting and cage trapping, fails to meet the criteria of effectiveness set out by Defra,” the report concluded, adding that it was ‘concerned about the potential for suffering’ its date on humaneness implied.
Its core conclusion opened up the possibility of wider roll out but only subject to significant changes: “If culling is continued in the pilot areas, or in the event of roll-out to additional areas, standards of effectiveness and humaneness must be improved,” the report stated.
Mr Paterson said the pilots showed, ‘in the majority of cases, shooting was accurate and can be a humane control method with minimal times to death’ but the panel made recommendations ‘for improving the overall standards of accuracy and field craft of contractors, including training and assessment’.
On effectiveness, he acknowledged that the culls ‘did not make as much progress as we hoped’.
“The second year of culling in Gloucestershire and Somerset will start with the panel’s recommended improvements in place,” he said.
“We know that there are many farming communities in other parts of England that want badger culls to help combat TB. I hope they will understand that we need to put these changes into practice before we roll out the culling programme to other areas.”
Improvements to the pilot culls will include more extensive training for contractors carrying out the cull, better planning by the licensed companies to ensure culling is spread evenly across all land available and better data collection to assess progress.
The changes being introduced will help increase the effectiveness of the culls by removing more badgers in a safe and humane way, Mr Paterson said.
There will be a trial of a new service in Somerset and Gloucestershire to provide farmers with bespoke advice on how to better protect their farms from disease. This service will be available to all farmers within the licensed cull areas.
Mr Paterson said: “The four year culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire are pilots and we always expected to learn lessons from them.
“It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better.”
Later, he added: “There are clear lessons to be learned from the panel report, and clear lessons in practical terms that we learned from the cull companies, so sensibly we are continuing with the existing two pilots so we can perfect this system of removing diseased wildlife.
Once we are happy we have got that system perfected, we will look to a further roll-out.”
Mr Paterson said the strategy aimed to make England TB free by 2038 with ‘healthy cattle living alongside healthy badgers’. He said it contained all the tools needed to tackle the disease but would not work without addressing the spread in wildlife.
He again made it clear he sees badger culling a central element of any future strategy to control bovine TB in England, frequently pointing to the success of wildlife culling policies to tackle the disease in countries like Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and the US.
“Where there is a reservoir of disease in wildlife, tackling TB will require long-term solutions and considerable national resolve. We are clear that culling needs to be part of the answer as there is no other satisfactory solution available at the moment.
“I intend to pursue policies that will reverse the trend well before the end of this decade, so we need a control and eradication strategy with these clear aims at its heart. It must be dynamic, tailored to the sources of disease and the potential for eliminating it. It must adapt as new tools become available,” he said.
Defra’s TB Eradication Advisory Group began discussions on removing the grazing option on Approved Finishing Units.
There has also been growing political opposition to the roll out, as highlighted by a recent vote in the House of Commons. But more significantly, Mr Paterson has faced a battle to get Cabinet support for the plan.
While Prime Minister David Cameron has previously been supportive of the policy, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg is understood to be one of the senior figures in Government opposed to the policy.
While, more than 30 areas have submitted ‘expressions of interest’ to Natural England about becoming future cull areas, it emerged that, with time running out to license new areas this year, only a handful of areas where plans were already well in progress were in the running to become new areas this year.
This appeared to be narrowed down to just one possible area, Dorset, which was prepared as a reserve pilot cull area last year, but even that is now on hold, at least until 2015.
Mr Paterson insisted the strategy to eradicate TB in England by 2038, which follows the publication of a comprehensive draft document last summer, was about much more than badger culling.
Other key strands include:
As outlined in last year’s draft strategy, three bTB management regions known as the High Risk Area, Low Risk Area and the Edge area will be established. A range of measures will be applied to control the disease within each zone according to the risk.
Shadow Defra Secretary Maria Eagle taunted Mr Paterson OP over his ‘humiliating climb down’ over the badger cull roll out but said he should have gone further and ditched the ‘disastrous policy altogether.
Accusing Mr Paterson of ‘ignoring the will of the House’, She said: “Consistent with his inept handling of this shambles, he has put prejudice before science, secrecy before transparency, conflict before consensus and posturing before good policy.”
“What he’s announced now is simply open season on the badgers in the culling areas,” she said.
The IEP, chaired by Professor Ranald Monroe, was appointed to monitor the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of badger culling using controlled shooting in the two pilot areas. It monitored the operations in Somerset and Gloucestershire over the original six-week periods last autumn.
Key findings in the IEP report, published on Thursday, include: