28 Feb 2014

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.

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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.”

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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.

FactCheck: the badger cull

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4 reader comments

  1. Clued-Up says:

    What the report says is that up to 18.6% badgers took more than 5 minutes to die. Some individual badgers were wounded twice before they were killed on the third shot.

    The Wounded Badger Patrols heard and video-taped many episodes of cullers’ shots followed immediately by badgers screaming in pain for long minutes. They gave this evidence to Natural England (the cull licencing body) so they could investigate the cruelty and stop the cull immediately, before any more animals were put through the hell of being shot repeatedly while they ran away. Natural England refused to do its duty and allowed the cullers to continue breaching their licencing conditions. WHY?

  2. dm says:

    The question then is what method of culling badgers should be used.

    Dry ice will kill them in the sett quickly by suffocation and if the method fails the badger just comes to and lives another day.

    However the animal charity lobby cannot have it both ways if they force landowners to kill top predators by shooting them and then complain when this method fails in miserable style – who is to blame. The animal charities which extrude money from people by acting on their emotions have culpability. They are not being honest anything will be done apparently to take money from the unsuspecting.

    For example the RSPCA shot sheep at Ramsgate in the most brutal manner with arterial blood spray everywhere but the RSPCA then showed these pictures at their own fund raiser. Whats going on. Nobody would ever put down a sheep that was only lame. If a vet had killed an animal with such an unprofessional way that vet would have been reported to the RCVS.

    And so on it goes

    Compassion in World Farming tells us about cruel ritualistic slaughter in every other country but NEVER bothers to address the situation in their own country again it is about getting money off the general public – they go after the easy option something overseas, something they can make money out of. What it is not about is being honest with the public.

    Meanwhile badgers live in overpopulated setts and are disease ridden. T.B. a category 3 communicable disease runs riot through willife. It can easily be transmitted to humans with devestating consequences.

    When will these so called animal welfare or animal rights charities be bought to account. Failure to do so may see some very cynical people leading others, sometimes easily suggestible or vulnerable people up the garden path relieving them of their hard earned life savings.

  3. Peter Breuer says:

    If shot badgers die a lingering death, why insist on shooting foxes?
    At least foxes do not spread TB.
    Badgers are a pest. So are rat. The thing to do with rats is to poison them.the thing to do with badgers is to poison them. At least a poisoning badgers will not lead to the death of barn owls. Are you beginning to get confused ?

  4. Mary says:

    They tried culling first in west Cornwall. It didn’t work. Maybe if farmers cleaned up their farms and let their cattle live as cleanly as badgers TB wouldn’t be a problem? If humans were kept in the same conditions as cattle there would be a public outcry.

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