Badger culling: three strikes and you’re out?
When the government launched its policy on culling badgers it contained three very strict rules. Details emerging today mean it is fair to say the policy has failed on all of them.
First farmers were required to kill at least 70 per cent of badgers in a cull zone. This was to prevent the possibility of a partially culled badger population breaking up and spreading TB further – something called the perturbation effect.
Second, the policy stated that badgers had to be killed within a six-week period. – again to prevent badgers from spreading the disease.
Third, the pilot culls were supposed to show that the culling method – shooting free-ranging badgers by marksman – was humane.
It was clear while the trial was going on that culling was failing on the first two points. In fact in both the Gloucestershire and Somerset zones the cull periods had to be extended by months.
But it now emerges that fewer than 50 per cent of animals living in both cull zones were successfully killed during those extended cull periods. There was some hope the Somerset cull had been more effective than that – but to know both culls failed on their basic objective is bad news for government and for farmers.
But it has also emerged the cull may have failed on humaneness as well. A person close to the Independent Expert Panel of scientists asked to review Defra’s badger cull policy has told Channel 4 News that the culls failed to ensure fewer than 5 per cent of culled badgers died within five minutes of being shot.
This arbitrary, and not exactly laudable target, was supposed to ensure that “free shooting” – a low-cost alternative to trapping and shooting badgers – would not cause unnecessary suffering of badgers.
Documents seen by Channel 4 News on Friday show that some badgers had to be shot twice – in one case five to 10 minutes elapsed between the first shot and the second fatal shot. The documents also revealed badgers were not always shot in the right part of their bodies.
In response to the revelations Defra says it is waiting for the full Independent Expert Panel report before commenting. However a spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “We knew there would be lessons to be learned from the pilot culls and that is why we commissioned this report.”
Based on the cull numbers, and estimates to the cost of the two culls, the policy may have cost in the region of £4,000 per dead badger. This will certainly raise questions about the long-term sustainability of the policy which farmers are supposed to be responsible for paying for.
The fact the policy failed on its own three key criteria will make very uncomfortable reading for Environment Secretary Owen Paterson. However, it could be difficult to back down.
The terms of the cull licences require farmers to continue culling for the next three years or risk further spreading TB around. If they are forced to abandon free shooting on humaneness grounds – other methods like trapping and shooting could prove much more costly.
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