Badger culls to continue this year
Pilot badger culls will continue this year as part of efforts to tackle tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, but the controversial scheme will not be rolled out to other areas, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has announced.
An independent report on the culls found they could be conducted safely and the majority of badgers were killed humanely but the pilots did not kill as many badgers as hoped, Mr Paterson told the House of Commons.
The second year of the two pilots, in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, will go ahead with changes made in light of the report to improve the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of culling.
The changes will be monitored to assess their impact before decisions are made on whether to extend the programme to other areas next year.
The independent report, published in the wake of Mr Paterson's statement, found that "controlled shooting" - shooting of free-running badgers - could not deliver the level of culling needed to bring about a reduction in TB in cattle.
The study found that less than 48% of the badger cull population in the Somerset area were killed, and less than 39% in Gloucestershire, compared to the 70% which scientific research says is needed to cut TB in livestock.
It also found that a number of badgers took more than five minutes to die, others were hit but not retrieved and some were possibly missed altogether.
The independent expert group said the number of badgers who were not shot and killed quickly should be less than 5% but this was not achieved in the pilots, where somewhere between 7% and 23% of badgers took longer than five minutes to die.
But it found that controlled shooting could be carried out safely even if protesters were in the vicinity.
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.
"Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease which is devastating our cattle and dairy industries and causing misery for many people in rural communities.
"We need to do everything we can, as set out in our strategy, to make England TB free."
The pilots would continue this year with changes in line with the report's recommendations, he said, as he set out measures to tackle TB in livestock in England, including tough cattle movement controls and a grant-funded scheme for badger vaccination projects in areas around the edge of disease hotspots.
The Government and farmers insist culling is necessary to tackle the disease which saw more than 26,000 cattle slaughtered in England last year, but opponents say it is inhumane and ineffective and alternatives such as vaccination should be pursued.
Opponents of the cull were quick to criticise the Environment Secretary for his failure to abandon the existing pilots altogether.
MP Tracey Crouch, a prominent Tory opponent of the cull, said: "I am disappointed that the Secretary of State has not paid attention to the outcomes of the pilot culls, which were a cruel, indiscriminate and ineffective means of culling badgers.
"The culls were an expensive failure and as a consequence bovine TB could in fact spread to areas that are currently free of the disease".
Queen guitarist and prominent campaigner against the cull, Brian May, said: "The Government's shambolic reaction to the bovine TB problem limped on today, as Paterson announced that the random killing of badgers in Gloucester and Somerset will repeated this Summer, while plans for the 'roll-out' to other counties is shelved.
"I personally find myself disgusted that (Prime Minister David) Cameron and Paterson insult us all by continuing this spectacular failure, which can only get more and more embarrassing for them."
"It's almost impossible to conceive how a Government can put an independent expert panel in place, and tell the public that their next decision will be based on its report, and then, receiving the panel's decision that the cull is both inhumane and ineffective, still carry on the killing."
RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: "We are delighted the Environment Department (Defra) have started to listen to the strong feelings of the public, their MPs and the scientific evidence that the culls were ineffective and inhumane. But there is so much more that still needs to be done.
"The Secretary of State Owen Paterson must now listen to the voice of Parliament and the public and discard the culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
"More than 1,800 badgers were culled last year as part of the Government's misguided policy in these two counties and to continue with them would be both irrational and pointless.
"The RSPCA, alongside many other organisations, has always maintained the methods used in the cull would not be humane and that culling is not the answer to effectively controlling bovine TB.
"We firmly believe that the use of vaccination along with improved biosecurity will lead to a decrease in new cases of bovine TB, and both farmers and wildlife campaigners can move forward in tackling this disease together."
Brian May added: "Of course, Paterson's assertion that 'we have learned lessons from this' is quite laughable, since there is there is every indication that things will get worse rather than better the second time around.
"And so the Government's senseless face-saving limps on. Of course, to them, it's not senseless, because it keeps up the appearance of pandering to the NFU, keeping their part of the deal that was evidently struck long before they came to power, a deal which will ultimately lose them the rest of the electorate.
"Bring it on, guys. Let's see how really unpopular you can make yourselves.
"Meanwhile we will watch as the innocent and mainly perfectly healthy badgers limp away, wounded and dying.
"Until vaccination becomes priority, the disgusting disease called bovine TB is the only winner."
The British Veterinary Association, which supported the cull pilots, criticised Mr Paterson for failing to consult it and other interested parties.
President Robin Hargreaves said it would examine the "concerns about the humaneness and efficacy" raised by the report before deciding its response.
"Clearly the headlines from the IEP report raise a number of concerns about the humaneness and efficacy of controlled shooting of badgers," he said.
"It is regrettable that the Secretary of State has announced his decision on the way forward without consulting key stakeholders, including BVA. We are unable to comment further on the announcement until we have had time to fully consider the report in consultation with our members.
"To date BVA has supported the use of targeted, humane badger culling in carefully selected areas as part of a comprehensive approach to tackling bovine TB.
"But we have made it clear that we can only support badger culling if the method used is humane, safe and effective. That is why BVA called for controlled shooting to be tested and critically evaluated against these criteria by an independent group of experts.
"Bovine TB is a devastating disease and we know that we need a comprehensive package of measures to tackle the disease in cattle and wildlife if we are to stop the advancing spread of TB northwards and eastwards.
"We broadly supported the draft bovine TB strategy when it was published in August last year, particularly the targeted measures in high incidence and edge areas.
"Regardless of our future response to the findings of the IEP, we will only be able to eradicate bovine TB if we tackle the disease in the wildlife reservoir as well as cattle."
National Farmers Union president Meurig Raymond told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "Obviously there is bitter disappointment within the farming community that we are not extending the roll-out of the culling strategy at this time."
Mr Raymond said expressions of interest to extend the culling had been received from 30 areas around the country.
He warned:"I have to point out the effect this disease is having on the farming community, on farming livelihoods, the human misery that's being caused.
"We killed over 32,000 cattle across England and Wales last year. We do have to eradicate this disease within the cattle herd or otherwise we could end up destroying the cattle industry, particularly on the western side of the country."
Mr Raymond added: "These were pilots and there's lessons to be learnt and let us hope we can put those lessons to good use. These are four-year pilots, so let's see how things develop in the next 12 months.
"If you speak to the people on the ground, there's a lot less badger activity than there was so they are fairly confident they've done the job exceedingly well.
"Let's see what happens next year."
Mr Raymond said: "As pilots, there was always going to be the potential to make improvements as a result of knowledge gained. After all that is what pilots are for.
"They have helped to gain a greater understanding of how we can tackle the wildlife element of this terrible disease cycle.
"Importantly, the Independent Expert Panel has found this method of culling badgers by controlled shooting can be safe with best practice followed, even with the presence of protesters.
"And we do have to remember that some of these protesters carried out a sustained campaign of intimidation and harassment and were, in some cases, aggressive and completely irresponsible."
He said the NFU did not agree with all the assumptions in the report. But he said: "The panel does make some useful recommendations to improve the delivery of culling which will be implemented in Gloucestershire and West Somerset in subsequent years."
And he said: "As today's strategy sets out, it is hugely important that any cattle controls go hand in hand with measures to tackle the disease in badgers.
"And culling must play a part in that where TB is rife. For our beef and dairy farmers, TB remains a terrible disease which is having a huge impact on their cattle and their farm business."
Mark Jones, executive director of Humane Society International UK, compared the Environment Secretary to the "Pied Piper" leading farmers in Gloucestershire and Somerset "down a failed path".
Mr Jones, a vet, said: "Whilst the abandonment of the planned badger cull roll out this year is a welcome U-turn as well as a damning indictment on Defra's failed culling policy, it is nonetheless utterly indefensible that the Government is carrying on regardless with its discredited cull in Gloucestershire and Somerset."
"In the face of overwhelming scientific consensus that culling badgers can make no meaningful contribution to tackling bovine TB, damning evidence from post mortems, Natural England observations and the independent expert panel report that the pilot culls were inhumane and caused unacceptable badger suffering, and considerable political and public opposition to further badger persecution, it is unacceptable for Defra to condemn hundreds more badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset to a senseless slaughter.
"This decision will lead to further chaos, cruelty and community division in these areas for absolutely no benefit whatsoever.
"Defra is doing farmers no favours by continuing to push this futile badger slaughter.
"The Government's own figures show that we were already getting TB under control before a single badger was shot last year, just as Professor John Bourne of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial science panel predicted we would.
"As we did in the 1950s and 60s, by increasing cattle testing intensity, improving farm biosecurity and controlling cattle movements, we have achieved a significant decrease in cattle TB incidence.
"In Wales, the numbers of cattle slaughtered through bovine TB has been halved over the past four years, without any badgers being killed, and progress is also being made in England.
"Culling badgers risks unravelling all that good work. Farmers in Gloucestershire and Somerset are being led down a failed path and Owen Paterson is leading the way like the Pied Piper."
Joe Duckworth, chief executive of the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "It is a terrible day for badgers, cattle, farmers, science and MPs.
"It does not take forward the strategy to stop bovine TB and will lead to further inhumane suffering for badgers.
"It's also a terrible day for science. The Government has cherry picked science to fit its own interests.
"For example they said bovine TB will not be stopped without killing badgers, yet TB in Wales has been reduced without a single badger killed.
"The minister has refused to release all the scientific advice he has received. Why did he refuse? What is being hidden?
"On such a controversial issue, the Government should give all MPs the opportunity to vote on this proposal before it is taken forward."