Gloucestershire badger cull removes less than half animals expected
A cull of badgers in Gloucestershire to halt the spread of tuberculosis has fallen short of its target, ministers have confirmed.
Just 30% of animals were shot dead by trained marksmen in the area during a six week "pilot", less than half the 70% the culling company was aiming for.
It follows the second "pilot" in west Somerset killing just 59% of the badgers in the culling zone, again short of the target but more successful – it has now emerged – than in Gloucestershire.
Government quango Natural England is currently considering the application to extend the licence in Gloucestershire and a decision is expected shortly. It has already granted a three-week extension in Somerset.
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During the six weeks, 708 badgers were removed in Gloucestershire – roughly 30% of the revised local badger population of 2,350.
Announcing the figures in a written statement to Parliament, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the chief veterinary officer had advised that the period of culling should be extended this year in Gloucestershire, and an application is being considered by Natural England.
The controversial pilot projects have been launched in Gloucestershire and neighbouring Somerset, in the face of widespread protests, in an effort to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis which is carried by badgers.
Mr Paterson told the House of Commons that early indications showed the culls in both counties were carried out in a "safe and humane" way, but had demonstrated that "the cull period may need to be longer than six weeks in future, enabling teams to adapt their approaches to suit local circumstances".
Mr Paterson denied that the low cull figure was "bad news", telling the BBC News Channel: "These two pilots in Somerset and Gloucestershire were set up to see whether this new method of controlled shooting by a skilled marksman was safe, humane and effective.
"After six weeks, I think it is clear to me that this method is safe. And similarly on humaneness, all the reports coming back to me are that this method has removed diseased badgers in a clean and humane manner.
"On effectiveness, it is clear that they have got off to a slow start in Gloucestershire and I think that is quite sensible. The local operators are in discussion with Natural England to apply for an extension, which was always part of the licensing scheme. We saw last week in Somerset that a further three weeks was granted there.
"I think we must all remember that these are pilots. This has not been done before and we are learning from each area."
Mr Paterson confirmed that the authorities are considering whether to try gassing badgers, but said "we will not deploy any method of removing wildlife which is not safe, humane and effective".
He added: "I have to remind people that up to the end of July a further 20,000 perfectly healthy cattle have been hauled off to slaughter at horrendous expense to the taxpayer because we've lost control of TB. We've lost 305,000 cattle over the last 10 years.
"It's not acceptable to me to allow this disease to go on when we know that other countries – Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the Republic of Ireland – where they've borne down on the disease in cattle and they've borne down on the disease in wildlife."