Science & Environment

Somerset badger cull given extension

badger
Image caption The number of badgers killed by marksmen has been revised significantly downwards

A licence has been granted to extend the badger cull in Somerset until 1 November.

The planned six-week trial came to an end on Monday, but the firm behind it asked for more time after its marksmen fell short of killing the target of 70% of the badger population.

A similar trial in Gloucestershire is due to end next week, with an application made to extend it also.

Ministers and the NFU say badger culling is needed to control cattle TB.

Around 28,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2012 at a cost of £100m to taxpayers.

However, animal welfare groups say scientific evidence does not support the policy of shooting badgers in an attempt to control the disease.

The government agency Natural England said on Friday that "criteria have been met to allow control of badgers to continue under licence in west Somerset for the purpose of preventing the spread of bovine tuberculosis".

"The new licence authorises a three-week control operation to be carried out this autumn and supplements that authorised under the original four-year licence granted in October last year," it said on its website.

It said the new licence allowed culling to continue and specified a minimum number of 165 badgers and a maximum number of 282 badgers "to deliver disease control benefits while reducing the risk of local extinction".

An application to extend culling in Gloucestershire had also been received, said Natural England, and would be processed in due course.

The Badger Trust said it had received a message from solicitors at Defra that a licence had been issued allowing the cull to start immediately and continue until midday on 1 November.

The original plan was to kill 70% of badgers in the areas of west Somerset and Gloucestershire by free shooting.

Across both regions this meant around 5,000 badgers were to be killed in total.

But Defra said these targets were based on population estimates from 2012 that had turned out to be highly inaccurate.

In west Somerset, the population, which had been estimated at 2,400, has now been revised downwards to 1,450. In Gloucestershire, the numbers have been lowered from 3,400 to 2,350.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told the House of Commons that 850 badgers had been shot in Somerset during the six-week trial, just over 40% of an initial target of 2,081.

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