Somerset badger cull numbers quizzed in Commons

Image caption About 2,000 badgers are meant be killed in Somerset

The government is being asked to investigate reports the badger cull in Somerset is falling short of proposed targets.

Ministers have ordered the killing of 2,000 badgers in the county to halt the spread of tuberculosis in cattle.

Shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh was responding to claims only 100 have been shot so far, a fortnight into the six-week-long pilot cull.

The government says it will not comment on how many badgers have been shot.

The initial claim that 100 badgers had been killed over two weeks was made by a Somerset dairy farmer and property developer, Derek Mead, in the Western Morning News.

The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) minister was not in the Commons to respond to Ms Creagh who said the newspaper reports were "worrying".

'Bad for farmers'

"Ministers have failed to answer my questions on how many badgers have been shot," she told the Commons on Thursday.

"Scientists have warned that a botched cull could spread bovine TB in cull areas, making things worse not better.

"Out-of-touch ministers should stop, listen to the scientists, and drop this cull which is bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife."

The Commons speaker acknowledged the request and said he hoped the information would be provided soon to MPs.

Mr Mead told the BBC he thought those in charge of the cull were "way off target".

Licensed marksmen would need to shoot about 800 badgers a week to meet the cull target, he said.

Growing population

Jamie Foster, from Clarke Willmott Solicitors in Taunton is in contact with those involved in the cull.

He said: "As I understand it, there should have very little difficulty doing that at all [reaching the target] mainly because there's such an extraordinarily large population of badgers now.

"Ever since they've been protected in the 90s, we've been allowing that population to grow completely unchecked and that's the basis of the problem."

Cull supporters say the only way to eradicate the spread of bovine TB to livestock is to cull badgers.

The two pilots taking place in Somerset and Gloucestershire are to test whether the cull targets can be reached in a humane, effective way.

The overall target is to kill some 5,000 badgers across both counties during the pilot culls, which equates to about 70 percent of the local badger populations.

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