Badger culls are set to begin again in Gloucestershire and Somerset in the second part of the government's pilot programme to stop the spread of bTB in cattle. Protesters have been setting up camp near rumoured shooting sites in response.
This year the target number of badgers to be killed are 615 in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset. The four-year pilot cull aims to kill 70% of the initial population to test how effective, humane and safe a cull can be. Last year 921 and 940 badgers were killed in Gloucestershire and Somerset respectively.
The cull was introduced after a previous culling trial – The Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT, 1998-2007) found evidence that badgers transmit bTB to cattle and that culling 70% of the badgers in a given region could reduce bTB infection by up to 16%.
There is strong support at the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and among farmers for culling badgers as the most effective method of restricting the spread of bTB. However, an independent expert panel (IEP) employed by Defra found last year's cull to be 'ineffective and inhumane'.
Farming minister George Eustice told BBC Radio 4 that: “the advice we had from the IEP was that we needed to improve the efficiency of the marksmen, so we’ve done a lot more training this year. We are making sure they have all got the right equipment and night vision so they can carry out this cull more effectively.”
There are strong concerns from protestors and animal welfare groups that this year's cull will not be monitored by an independent body.
Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust and Policy Adviser to Care for the Wild, said: "This is a triumph of politics, pride and persecution over common sense and science. These culls are ill-conceived and incompetently managed, and will contribute nothing to reducing bTB in cattle. It is wrong, and a complete and utter disaster for the farming industry, tax payer and the protection of our native wildlife."
Farmer's Weekly reported on Monday that the Labour Party has confirmed it will bring an immediate halt to all badger culling should it form a government. Instead, it pledges to implement a strategy for bovine TB reduction based on the Welsh model, which has reduced new incidents of the disease by 48% in the past five years by implementing cattle-based measures instead of badger culling.
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