Somerset badger cull fails to meet target, Defra admits

Image caption Defra said a total of 940 badgers were shot in west Somerset during the first year of the trial cull

One of the badger cull pilot schemes failed to meet its target - even after a three-week extension, the government has admitted.

The cull ended last week, with an estimated 65% reduction in the badger population in the west Somerset cull zone - the target was 70%.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said 940 badgers were shot in total.

A similar cull in Gloucestershire has been extended until 18 December.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson said the two badger control pilots were "designed to test that controlled shooting is a safe, humane and effective means of reducing badger numbers".

"I am announcing to the House that the three-week extension period in the Somerset control area concluded as planned on Friday 1st November," said Mr Paterson.

"During this period, a further 90 badgers have been removed, giving an overall total of 940 for the first year of the four-year cull.

"This will deliver clear disease benefits as part of a four-year cull in the area.

"While conclusions will need to await the findings of the Independent Panel of Experts, current indications also suggest the pilot has been safe and humane."

Ministers and the National Farmers' Union say badger culling is needed to control incidents of TB in cattle.

About 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 Wildlife Trusts said the cull was a "complete failure" and should be halted.

'Badgers moved goalposts'

"The failure to meet the targets is despite the estimates of the pre-cull badger numbers being twice revised significantly downwards," said Paul Wilkinson, from the charity.

"Culling badgers over such a prolonged period and failing to meet the required targets is likely to have worsened the Bovine TB situation at a cost of millions of pounds, whilst putting the local badger populations at significant risk.

"The pilot culls have departed completely from their original purpose of testing the method of free shooting, which was abandoned in favour of cage trapping."

Shadow environment secretary Maria Eagle mocked Mr Paterson's previous claim that culling targets were missed because "the badgers have moved the goalposts".

"By repeatedly moving the goalposts on his own policy, Owen Paterson has risked the further spread of TB due to prolonged disturbance of local badger populations," she said.

"David Cameron should stop the unscientific mass culling of badgers now that Owen Paterson's misguided policy has clearly failed."

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