Defra confirms badger culls 'now under way' in pilot areas

media captionMinisters want 2,000 badgers killed, but protesters say they will attempt to disrupt the cull

Badger culls in Dorset, Somerset and Gloucestershire have got under way, the government has confirmed.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) has not said exactly when the culls began in the three counties.

Dorset is a new area for the pilot cull, but it is the third year for Somerset and Gloucestershire.

The Wounded Badger Patrol in Gloucestershire has reported night-time shooting and seeing trapped badgers.

'Going clear'

Protesters in Dorset said they had set up a camp for those attempting to stop the cull.

Natural England has issued Dorset's pilot cull licence to run from 28 August 2015 to November 2018 but has stated this may be extended further.

Dorset police said they had "established a positive dialogue" with the organisers.

Somerset and Gloucestershire are now in the third year of a five-year pilot cull.

Ministers and farmers insist culling is necessary to tackle the spread of bovine TB, which results in thousands of cattle being slaughtered every year.

David George, from the south-west branch of the National Farmers Union, said farmers have seen the number of herds with TB "going down".

"It's fair to say at this stage all the evidence about whether the culls are successful or failing are anecdotal on both sides."

He added that other measures were also being put in place by Defra to reduce the cycle of re-infection.

'Pointless failure'

Wendy Higgins, from Humane Society International, said: "The point of the culls was to find out if the culls were feasible, safe and humane to shoot a specific number of badgers over a particular period of time.

"The culls of year one and year two have shown a spectacular failure... We don't need to carry on pointlessly shooting badgers in order to prove what we have already seen which is that culling badgers is a pointless failure."

The pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset aimed to find out whether badgers could be killed safely, effectively and humanely.

After the first year of the badger cull, an independent panel of experts found shooting badgers was not humane.

The panel also found controlled shooting could not deliver the level of culling needed to bring about a reduction of TB in cattle.

In 2014, Gloucestershire failed to reach its minimum target of 675, instead culling 274. Somerset surpassed its minimum target of 316, with 341 culled in total.

Badger cull targets

Dorset: Minimum 615, maximum 835

Gloucestershire: Minimum 265, maximum 679

Somerset: Minimum 55, maximum 524

Source: Natural England

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