Badger cull set to be extended
A cull of badgers in Gloucestershire looks set to be extended after a six-week pilot project removed less than half the number expected.
A programme of controlled shooting killed 708 of an estimated 2,350 badgers in the county - around 30% of the total, rather than the planned 70%.
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."
The Humane Society International UK said the badger cull pilot in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset has been a "catalogue of failures" and urged the Government to admit the policy was now "in tatters".
Mark Jones, an executive director of the charity and a Gloucestershire resident, said: "Whilst I am relieved that marksmen failed to slaughter the number of badgers they intended to in Gloucestershire, it's clear that their inability to achieve their kill target in both cull zones represents the latest in what has become a catalogue of failures of these disastrous pilot culls to deliver against Defra's own criteria.
"Instead of lurching towards an extension to prolong this pointless waste of resources, time and animals' lives, Defra must surely now admit that its badger cull policy is in tatters and must be abandoned in favour of a more science-led, humane and acceptable approach to controlling bovine TB."
Last week Mr Paterson revealed that 850 badgers had been culled during the six-week pilot in west Somerset - 60% of the local population.
Anti-cull campaigners in Gloucestershire urged the Government to start vaccinating badgers instead of killing them.
Jeanne Berry, from Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting, said: "This announcement by Owen Paterson confirms that the Gloucestershire cull has been ill-thought-through.
"It is clear that the Government did not do the maths before the cull and now they are now clutching at straws by attempting to kill more badgers in three weeks than they did in six weeks.
"In the last six weeks they averaged 17 culled badgers per night and are now expecting to average 44 per night.
"Extending the cull will, as scientists have confirmed, increase the spread of bovine TB and of course increase further police costs, which are now over £1,400 a badger.
"We urge the Government to change course and take up badger vaccination instead."