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Badger culls were ‘ineffective and failed humaneness test’

An independent scientific assessment of last year’s pilot badger culls in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset has concluded that they were not effective.

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Analysis commissioned by the government found the number of badgers killed fell well short of the target deemed necessary, the BBC understands.

And up to 18% of culled badgers took longer than five minutes to die, failing the test for humaneness.

The pilot culls were intended to limit the spread of TB in cattle.

They were carried out to demonstrate the ability to combat bovine TB though a controlled reduction in the population of local badgers.

“We have always stated that if the pilots were to fail on humaneness then BVA could not support the wider roll out of the method of controlled shooting”

Robin Hargreaves, President, British Veterinary Association

Contracted marksmen, paid for by farming groups, were employed to shoot the animals at night.

The Independent Expert Panel was appointed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to help ministers evaluate the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of the Gloucestershire and Somerset pilots.

Prof Rosie Woodroffe, a scientist at the Zoological Society of London, said that the panel’s “findings show unequivocally that the culls were not effective and that they failed to meet the humaneness criteria.

“I hope this will lead to the Secretary of State (Owen Paterson) to focus on other ways of eradicating TB in cattle,” she told BBC News.

Robin Hargreaves, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said it was the BVA that had taken a lead in calling for the controlled shooting to be tested and critically evaluated before it was rolled out.

“We are unable to comment in detail on the findings of the IEP until we have seen the report,” he told the BBC. “But if these figures are true then they would certainly raise concerns about both the humaneness and efficacy of controlled shooting.

“We have always stated that if the pilots were to fail on humaneness then BVA could not support the wider roll out of the method of controlled shooting.”

The pilots were authorised by Defra and licensed by Natural England.

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Gloucestershire badger cull to end as targets missed

The badger cull in Gloucestershire is being called off because not enough animals have been killed to meet targets.

The licence has been revoked by Natural England and the cull will end at 12:00 GMT on Saturday, a spokesman said.

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An eight-week extension to the original six-week trial was due to end on 18 December.

It is not yet known how many badgers have been killed during the extension period.

During the original six-week period of the original licence, 708 badgers were killed in the county, 942 fewer than the target of 1,650.

A spokesman for Natural England, said: “There is no realistic prospect of the cull removing the number of badgers required by the licence, it has been discussed and agreed by Natural England that the cull will end at 12 noon tomorrow.”

In October, Natural England granted an eight-week extension to the cull after fewer animals than the original target were killed during the initial six-week period.

Cull ‘fiasco’

Government ministers and the NFU say culling badgers will curb TB in cattle, but protesters assert it has little effect.

A similar cull pilot in Somerset ended last month after it also failed to meet its target even after a three-week extension.

In that area there was an estimated 65% reduction in the badger population – the target was 70%.

Mark Jones from Humane Society International (HSI) UK said he was “relieved” that “at long last some common sense is being applied and the government’s badger cull fiasco will finally be over for the timebeing at least”.

“In the face of what has been the dismal failure of this policy, we commend Natural England for making the sensible decision to revoke the cull licence,” he added.

“They should have acted sooner and it is deeply regrettable that hundreds of badgers in Gloucestershire and Somerset have already paid for this ill-conceived policy with their lives.”

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Badger vaccination ‘would be cheaper to implement than cull’ (Guardian)

Expert analysis shows the high cost of policing the expected protests means the expense of the cull now exceeds vaccination
Badgers can carry bovine tuberculosis

Vaccinating badgers to curb the rise of tuberculosis in cattle would cost less than culling them, according to a new analysis of the government’s own data.

Ministers have insisted that trapping and innoculating badgers is too expensive to pursue. But the high cost of policing the expected protests against the night-time shoots – due to begin at any time this summer – means the expense of the cull now exceeds vaccination, according to the UK’s top badger expert, Prof Rosie Woodroffe.

“Vaccination does not prompt protest, so it is cheaper to implement than culling,” said Prof Woodroffe, who was a key member of the team that spent 10 years and £50m testing badger culling before concluding that culling could “make no meaningful contribution” to reducing bovine tuberculosis (TB). “There is good reason to expect badger vaccination to reduce transmission to cattle,” she said.

Woodroffe’s analysis used the government’s own cost estimates of badger vaccination – £2,250 per square kilometre per year – and the proposed culling – £1,000/sq km/year. When government estimates of policing costs for the cull – £1,429/sq km/year – are added, vaccination becomes the cheaper option.

Bovine TB is rising in England: more than 37,000 infected cattle were slaughtered in 2012 at a cost to taxpayers of £100m. Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, argues that badger culling is an essential part of controlling the disease, alongside tougher restrictions on cattle movements. But many scientists say that culling risks making TB worse as badgers will flee cull zones. Two pilot culls, targeting 5,000 badgers, are due to begin at any time in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

MPs will vote on a Labour motion opposing the cull on Wednesday. The only previous vote, a backbench debate prompted by a 150,000-strong public petition, ended in defeat for the government policy but was not legally binding.

“The injectable badger vaccine has no effect on infected badgers and there is little evidence of its effectiveness,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. “Research shows that culling will reduce TB infection in the badger population more quickly than vaccination.”

But Prof Woodroffe disagreed: “Vaccination is often dismissed as a management option because it has no direct effect on infected badgers. But this is based on misinterpretation of the available evidence: culling does not prompt a rapid reduction in the numbers of infected badgers.”

Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, said: “This incompetent government cancelled five of Labour’s six badger vaccine trials which would have given detailed information on the effectiveness of badger vaccines in the field. Despite this, these new figures show that vaccinating badgers is a cost-effective and humane way of reducing the number of infected badgers. That’s why Labour have called Wednesday’s vote to try to stop this futile, divisive and ideologically driven cull.”

Tom Hind, a director at the National Farmers Union which backs the cull, said: “Policing costs are a matter for the government, but are bound to reflect the threats made by some anti-cull protestors to disrupt a lawful licenced activity. There is no science to demonstrate that the vaccine will have any impact in reducing levels of TB in areas where the disease is rife.”

“The general public does not object to vaccination and there is likely to be no protest whatsoever,” said Woodroffe, adding that the Welsh assembly has chosen badger vaccination over culling as its TB control policy and seen no protests. Badger vaccination trials are also being undertaken in England by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the National Trust in Devon.

Andrew George, Lib Dem MP for West Cornwall who opposes the cull, is working to harness strong public concern into a volunteer-led vaccination programme that would reduce costs even further. “I can’t wait around for the government to pursue a culling policy which I think is destined to fail,” he said, adding that unlike culling, there was no chance of vaccination making TB in cattle worse.

Woodroffe said her analysis did not include the additional costs incurred by culling as a result of having to perform expensive surveys to measure badger populations. The cull must kill at least 70% of badgers to ensure escaping animals do not spread TB further but must not kill them all, as local extinctions are illegal.

“We know vaccinating badgers reduces transmission of bovine TB to other badgers, so there is good reason to expect it also to reduce transmission to cattle,” she said. “Vaccination is also expected to reduce the proportion of infected badgers, rather than increasing it as culling does, so it may have greater long-term prospects for TB eradication.” The Badger Trust has sent pre-action legal letters to the cull’s licensing body demanding a new cost-benefit analysis.

Anne Brummer, chief executive of Brian May’s Save Me campaign, said: “This ill-advised politically led policy is unscientific, unethical and is now a total financial disaster. When will this government listen to the experts they employ to advise them and offer a science led policy to solving bovine TB in our herd that is sustainable, cost-effective and actually works?”

The government’s cost-benefit analysis predicts a 16% reduction in TB in cattle after nine years as a result of culling, but found the cost of the cull exceeded the cost of the TB infections avoided. The scientist who set up the 10-year trials, Lord John Krebs, has described the cull as “mindless.”

Campaigners have also raised concerns about how the pilot culls will meet their objective of measuring the humaneness of the culling. A recently disclosed document revealing that observing the noises made by dying badgers “is the only method available to determine the degree of pain that may be experienced”.

On Saturday, an estimated 1,500-2,000 people marched on Downing Street in London to protest against the cull.

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Badger campaigners issue more death threats against top Cabinet minister than terrorists in Northern Ireland

“Cabinet minister Owen Paterson has revealed he has received more death threats over ordering a cull of badgers than he ever did from Irish terrorists.

He vowed to take on ‘dangerous armed groups… who want to destroy what’s been achieved and drag Northern Ireland back to a bloody past’ during two and a half years as Northern Ireland Secretary.

But in a startling confession he claimed animal rights campaigners had issued more warnings that he will be killed in just four months as Environment Secretary.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson insisted he would not be diverted from the policy of culling badgers by threats against his lifeEnvironment Secretary Owen Paterson insisted he would not be diverted from the policy of culling badgers by threats against his life.

The 56-year-old insisted his willingness to defy threats against his own life demonstrated his commitment to plough ahead with a cull of thousands of badgers in an attempt to curb the spread of tuberculosis among cattle.

Weeks after being moved to head farming policy in September’s reshuffle, Mr Paterson was forced to announce two pilot badger culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire would be delayed until summer 2013.

Up to 5,500 badgers are due to be shot in the two areas, under plans to cull at least 70 per cent of the badger population.

 Opponents of the policy hailed it is a minor victory and hoped to force the government to abandon it altogether.

But Mr Paterson told an audience of farmers he was completely committee to the cull, even if it meant more death threats.

‘I have had more death threats since I took over at DEFRA than I did when I was Secretary for Northern Ireland,’ he said during an event with farmers in Devon.

‘But these animals die a horrible death from this disease – and it is not sensible to let any population get over-preponderous.’

Mr Paterson was Norther Ireland Secretary at a time of angry clashes between police and loyalist rioters in Belfast, which left dozens of officers injuredMr Paterson was Norther Ireland Secretary at a time of angry clashes between police and loyalist rioters in Belfast, which left dozens of officers injured.

Photographs of Mr Paterson’s home were published online, along with addresses and personal telephone numbers by animal rights activists.

A website also printed the names, addresses and phone numbers of senior civil servants, board members of Natural England, which is licensing the cull, and officials at the National Farmers Union.

Mr Paterson’s aides said his decision to go public about the number of death threats was fueled by a desire to demonstrate to farmers his ‘commitment’ to his policy. ‘He is very serious and this cull will go ahead.’

Officials refused to give details of the number of death threats made against Mr Paterson, citing security concerns.

However, there have been several high profile cases of supporters of the cull being threatened with violence.

Protestors against the badger cull have held a series of rallies, but some hardline opponents have threatened ministers and farmers Protestors against the badger cull have held a series of rallies, but some hardline opponents have threatened ministers and farmers.

Compensation to farmers whose herds are depleted by TB costs the taxpayer up to £100m a year.

Famous faces including Queen guitarist Brian May and Sir David Attenborough have voiced opposition to the cull, and called for peaceful protest against the plan.

But the campaign has been hijacked in some areas by animal rights extremists threatening abuse, violence and even firebombings against supporters of the cull.

Farmers in pilot areas have been warned their land, buildings and homes would be targeted if they signed up to a cull.

And two years ago Countryfile presenter Adam Henson said his family had been threatened after fronting reports on the spread of bovine TB.

Mr Henson, a dairy farmer in Gloucestershire, said: ‘There are some very nasty extremists about. I have had some serious hate letters from them – things like: “We are going to burn your children.”’

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