Badger cull in Dorset condemned by animal rights campaigners

Farming minister insists 'strong action' needed to eradicate TB


Animal rights campaigners have condemned a Government decision to extend badger culls to Dorset in a bid to control the spread of TB in cattle.

Farming minister George Eustice insisted "strong action" was needed to eradicate the disease as it was confirmed that much-criticised pilot schemes in Gloucester and Somerset will continue this year.

"England has the highest incidence of TB in Europe and that is why we are taking strong action to deliver our 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries," Mr Eustice said.

"This includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls, vaccinating badgers in the buffer zone around high-risk areas, and culling badgers where the disease is rife.

"Our approach of dealing with the disease in cattle and wildlife has worked overseas and is supported by leading vets."

As well as authorising the third of four years of culling in Gloucester and Somerset, Natural England has granted a four-year licence for Dorset.

Between 615 and 835 badgers are due to be killed in the area over a six-week period this year.

Rock musician Brian May has already threatened legal action to secure a judicial review of the policy if the culls continued.

Humane and effective?

Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer said the pilot schemes were meant to test whether shooting badgers was "humane and effective" but "on both counts they have comprehensively failed".

The second year of culling in Gloucestershire and in Somerset failed to reach the minimum numbers regarded as effective for limiting the spread of TB, he said.

"Defra's own data suggest that while 15% of badgers may test positive for bovine TB (bTB), just 1.6% of them are capable of passing on the disease," Mr Dyer said. "This means 98.4% pose no risk whatsoever to cattle and 85% are likely to be completely bTB free.

"Trying to control bTB in cattle by culling badgers that don't have bTB doesn't make any sense."

Dr Toni Shephard, head of policy and research at the League Against Cruel Sports, said: "This is a death knell for more than 2000 more badgers, the overwhelming majority of which will not have bovine TB (bTB).

"It's also a death knell for common sense, as all the current evidence heavily suggests that bTB is predominantly spread between cattle, not from badgers to cattle.

"This is a stubborn policy which will not help farmers, will cause unrest yet again in rural areas and will waste huge amounts of public money, for absolutely no good reason."

In the run-up to the general election, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss vowed to extend the cull to areas where tuberculosis was rife in cattle.

'Intimidation' by anti-cull campaigners

Last year just 274 badgers were culled in the second year of the pilot in Gloucestershire - falling far short of the minimum 615 estimated to be needed to deliver reductions in TB in livestock, and leading the chief vet to admit the benefits of the cull might not be realised there.

The Government claimed the low numbers in Gloucestershire reflected the "challenges of extensive unlawful protest and intimidation" by anti-cull campaigners.

In Somerset, a sufficient number of badgers were killed this year to lead to expected reductions in TB in cattle, with 341 culled, in a required range of 316 to 785.

In both of the pilot areas, a significant proportion were killed by the more expensive cage trapping and shooting method, rather than "controlled shooting" of free-running badgers.

Ministers and farmers insist culling is necessary to tackle TB, which can be spread from badgers to livestock, with more than 26,000 cattle slaughtered in England last year and multimillion-pound losses.

But opponents say badger-culling is inhumane and ineffective, and alternatives such as vaccination should be pursued.

An independent expert panel concluded that controlled shooting of badgers in the first year of the cull was not effective or humane.

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