Results from the extended pilot badger cull in Somerset - out today - confirm a complete failure to meet required targets and should lead the Government to abandon its culling policy.
The Wildlife Trusts continue to call on the Government to drop badger culling from its proposed strategy to tackle bovine TB in England.
In the first six weeks of the pilot cull in Somerset 850 badgers were killed, representing just over 58 per cent of the revised estimated local badger population of 1,450. The original population estimate in Somerset was 2,490 in autumn 2012.
A further 90 badgers were shot during the three week extension, falling far short of the required minimum of 165, and representing a total reduction of 65 per cent of the badger population. The Government’s pilot culls had aimed to remove at least 70 per cent. Estimates of the badger population in each pilot area have been significantly reduced twice and still the pilot culls have failed to meet the conditions set out in Defra’s guidance to Natural England.
Paul Wilkinson, Head of Living Landscape for The Wildlife Trusts, said: “The pilot culls have departed completely from their original purpose of testing the method of free shooting, which was abandoned in favour of cage trapping. They no longer bear any resemblance to the RBCT and so cannot be expected to deliver comparable disease benefits, which were modest at best. This Government continues to ignore the scientific facts. Culling badgers over such a prolonged period and failing to meet the required targets is likely to have worsened the bTB situation at a cost of millions of pounds, whilst putting the local badger populations at significant risk.”
The pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire have failed to meet the key test of ‘effectiveness’. In both areas, the removal of at least 70% of the estimated badger population in the six-week licence period has not been achieved. It is possible for the bovine TB problem to have been made worse, due to the ‘perturbation effect’.
The Wildlife Trusts strongly oppose the pilot badger culls and any proposals for rolling out culls beyond this year. This scale of culling of a native mammal, which is a valuable part of the ecosystem, is simply not justified by the small potential reduction in bovine TB incidence in cattle.
The pilot badger culls
The two pilot badger culls have failed to meet one of the primary conditions set out in Defra’s guidance to Natural England as follows:
“In the first year of culling, a minimum number of badgers must be removed during an intensive cull which must be carried out throughout the land to which there is access, over a period of not more than six consecutive weeks. This minimum number should be set at a level that in Natural England’s judgement should reduce the estimated badger population of the application area by at least 70%” - Guidance to Natural England, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 14 December 2011, p.5
The pilot cull in Gloucestershire
In the six weeks of the pilot cull Gloucestershire, 708 badgers were killed, representing just over 30 per cent of the estimated local badger population of 2,350. The Government’s pilot culls had aimed to remove at least 70% of the population. Estimates of the badger population in each pilot area have been significantly reduced twice and still the pilot culls have failed to meet the conditions set out in Defra’s guidance to Natural England. The original population estimate in Glos was 3,644 in autumn 2012.
The most important scientific evidence comes from the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), which ran from 1998 to 2005. It was funded by the Government and compared the effects of proactive, reactive and no culling across ten sets of sites in England. Lord Krebs, who designed the RBCT, concluded that that “culling is not a viable policy option”.
The Wildlife Trusts
There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK. All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. The Wildlife Trusts manage around 2,300 nature reserves and, every year, advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. For more information about The Wildlife Trusts’ views and activities to control bovine TB, including our vaccination programmes, visit www.wildlifetrusts.org/appeals/badgers and keep up-to-date on this, and other issues, through @wildlifetrusts on twitter.