New culls get green light

The government yesterday (26 August) gave the green light to a new cull of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset, despite continuing objections on scientific and humane grounds from not only anti-cull protesters but also eminent scientists.

Dr Chris Cheeseman, speaking on the Today programme on Radio 4 today, said that the government's Independent Expert Panel had concluded that the culls had failed on both efficacy and humane grounds, and that the chief adviser to Natural England had also declared the culls an “epic failure”. Dr Cheeseman reiterated the concerns about the effects of perturbation, which may well make the bTB situation in cattle worse.

He explained that the results of these culls could not possibly be compared with the RBCT – Randomised Badger Culling Trials, which ended in 2007 - because the procedures had been changed and so the outcome would not be the same. He said this time the culls were industry-led, they took place over six weeks rather than 12 days, and were carried out by shooting – all of which was very disruptive to badgers. Even then, the perceived improvement was of a reduction in bTB of between only 6% and 12% over nine years. The experts all say any short-term positive is likely to become a negative in the long term... “why would you want to do that?” he asked.

Andrew Guest, chairman of the NFU in Gloucestershire, said he did not consider the culls last year to be a failure, because more than 900 badgers were “removed” and “every sick badger removed” leads to a reduction in the risk of bTB in cattle. Mr Guest was not picked up on his implication that all the badgers “removed” were sick.

The announcement by Defra of the new culls was reported on the Natural England website, saying that “all the criteria have been met” to allow the second series of culls to take place. Operations will take place under the existing four-year licences that allow culling to take place every year between 1 June and 31 January. You can read their announcement here.

The Guardian also ran the story on its website yesterday, saying that the companies are obliged to kill a minimum number of badgers – 615 in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset. The maximum has been set at 1,091 in Glos and 785 in Somerset.

The authorisation letters have been issued before the high court has finished considering a challenge brought by the Badger Trust against the government's decision to dispense with monitoring of the cull by the IEP.

The Badger Trust has also issued a press release about the announcement, in which Dominic Dyer, chief executive, says that Natural England have “jumped the gun” by issuing the authorisation letters before the high court has made a judgment on the trust's challenge. Mr Dyer reiterated the statistics from Wales, which show that bTB has been reduced by 50% in five years, without a single bader being killed, through improved farming measures.