Badger cull put on hold

Environment secretary Owen Paterson has announced that the badger cull roll-out will be put on hold, after recommendations on the cull pilots from the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) were published.

Paterson today (3 April) unveiled a plan that aims to eradicate Bovine TB by 2038, and will concentrate on improvements to the badger cull pilots in Somerset and Gloucestershire, rather than taking the scheme nationwide.

The government will try to increase the effectiveness and humaneness of the current pilot, after the IEP report raised a number over concerns over the controlled badger shooting. Backbenchers also called the pilots a ‘catastrophic failure’ in a recent Commons debate.  

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.”

Around 90 cattle were slaughtered each day in 2013 due to bovine TB, and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) announced that many of its members will be “bitterly disappointed” by Paterson’s decision.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “TB remains a terrible disease for cattle and cattle farmers where it is persistent and high. Statistics released by Defra show there were 4,815 new herds infected with TB in 2013 in Great Britain, with 32,620 cattle slaughtered in an attempt to control the disease.

“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.”

However, the announcement will give hope to those who oppose the cull. Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Advisor to Care for the Wild, said the disease can be beaten without the cull. He pointed to Wales as an example, arguing that the number of cattle slaughtered there due to bovine TB had almost halved since 2009, using just science and good farming practices.

Responding to the government’s plan, Dyer said: “In one sense this announcement is great news, as the lives of thousands of badgers have just been saved. There has been a massive, peaceful, but determined opposition movement to this killing spree, shown by protest marches across the country, and this has clearly paid off.

“The government is clearly in full retreat. They had hoped to cull badgers in 12 counties this year, so to only be culling in two is a victory of sorts.”

The government said its strategy will also offer grant funding for private badger vaccination projects, strengthen cattle movement controls and testing, improve biosecurity, and invest in vaccines for both cattle and badgers.

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