Badger cull condemned as 'failure'
The Government's badger cull is a "complete failure" and must be halted, animal rights campaigners and Labour demanded after shooting trials failed again to meet targets despite being extended.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson played down the below-par results, insisting sufficient animals were "removed" to suggest a four-year scheme would have "clear benefits" in tackling bovine TB (bTB).
But he faced claims that in fact the trails could have increased the risk to livestock.
Extra time was allowed in two regions of Somerset and Gloucestershire in an effort to eradicate 70% of the badger population after the initial six-week period proved insufficient to hit the target.
Another 90 were killed in Somerset in the period which ended on Friday, Mr Paterson said, taking the total to 940 - an overall fall of only 65%.
An eight-week extension is continuing in Gloucestershire, where 708 of an estimated 2,350 badgers - about 30% of the total - were killed in the first shootings.
The failure to meet the targets is despite the estimates of the pre-cull badger numbers being twice revised significantly downwards, The Wildlife Trusts pointed out.
Paul Wilkinson, head of living landscape at the charity which is campaigning against the cull, said: "This Government continues to ignore the scientific facts.
"Culling badgers over such a prolonged period and failing to meet the required targets is likely to have worsened the bTB situation at a cost of millions of pounds, whilst putting the local badger populations at significant risk.
"The pilot culls have departed completely from their original purpose of testing the method of free shooting, which was abandoned in favour of cage trapping.
"They no longer bear any resemblance to the RBCT (Randomised Badger Culling Trial) and so cannot be expected to deliver comparable disease benefits, which were modest at best."
Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle joined warnings that the prolonged disturbance of badger populations may spread the disease further.
Mocking Mr Paterson's previous claim that culling targets were missed because "the badgers have moved the goalposts", she said: "Scientists have warned all along that a botched cull is worse than no cull at all.
"By repeatedly moving the goalposts on his own policy, Owen Paterson has risked the further spread of TB due to prolonged disturbance of local badger populations."
"David Cameron should stop the unscientific mass culling of badgers now that Owen Paterson's misguided policy has clearly failed.
"Even after revising downwards the estimated badger population and then extending the cull contrary to the original scientific advice, he has not succeeded in reducing the population by his own stated goal."
In a written statement to MPs giving the latest figures, Mr Paterson said: "Before the extension was licensed by Natural England, the advice of the chief veterinary officer was that a further increase in the number of badgers culled after the initial six-week period would improve the disease control benefits achieved even further and enable them to accrue earlier.
"With the further removal of badgers seen, the extension has been successful in meeting this aim."
"The independent panel of experts will consider the information collected during the pilots on the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting.
"This will be made available to Parliament and the public after the culls have concluded and inform my decision on the wider roll-out of badger control in those parts of England most severely affected by this disease.
"Achieving our aim of ridding England of bTB within 25 years will require long-term solutions and considerable national resolve. This Government is committed to tackling the disease in all reservoirs and by all available means."
Initial indications, pending the findings of an independent expert panel, were that the pilot was "safe and humane", he said.
And he praised farmers and landowners for carrying out the cull "in the face of intimidation by a small minority who are determined to stop this disease control policy".