Plans to extend a controversial badger cull have been dropped by the Government after an independent report into last year’s trials found they fell short on grounds of effectiveness and humaneness.
The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, had planned to extend the cull from the trial zones in Somerset and Gloucestershire to 40 new areas over the next four years, beginning with up to 10 this year.
However, he has put these plans on hold after the report found that the trials killed far fewer badgers than necessary for the cull to be effective and that hundreds of those that were slaughtered had died too slowly.
But Mr Paterson said the trial culls would continue and insisted that once the “techniques have been perfected” he would roll it out across the country as originally planned.
He accepted that “the culls did not make as much progress as we hoped”, but added: “We have always been clear that there would be lessons to be learnt from the first year of these four-year trials. Doing nothing is not an option.”
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) spokesman said that a “series of changes”, including better training for marksmen, would be made “to improve the effectiveness, humanness and safety of culling”.
Maria Eagle, the shadow environment secretary, said dropping the plan was a humiliating climbdown for Mr Paterson. “Consistent with his inept handling of this shambles he has put prejudice before science, secrecy before transparency, conflict before consensus and posturing before good policy,” she said.
Mr Paterson insisted the cull was essential to reduce the number of badgers who are known to help spread bovine tuberculosis. However, he pledged to keep working on other measures, such as a vaccination for cows and a contraceptive pill for badgers.
The independent report found that it was “extremely likely” that between 7.4 per cent and 22.8 per cent of shot badgers were still alive after five minutes – above the 5 per cent maximum allowed – and therefore at risk of “experiencing marked pain”.