The beleaguered Gloucestershire badger cull has been called off after marksmen fell so far below their target that it was deemed pointless to carry on.
Last month Natural England, which issues licences for the cull, granted an eight-week extension to the original six-week trial after marksmen failed to kill enough badgers. The extension was due to run until 18 December but progress had become so slow Natural England decided to abandon it as of noon today.
“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,” said a spokesman.
The trial was supposed to kill 70 per cent of the local badger population, the mark that scientists had hoped would stamp out the bovine tuberculosis that badgers help to spread between cattle.
However, when just 30 per cent of Gloucestershire’s population were killed in the original period, an extension was granted with a revised target to wipe out 58 per cent of local badgers. However, it quickly became clear that even this reduced target would not be met. The Government is due to announce on Monday the final number killed in the Gloucestershire culling zone.
A similar cull pilot in Somerset ended last month after it also failed to meet its target, even after a three-week extension. Despite this, Farming minister George Eustice insisted that the extension to the Somerset cull had been “worthwhile”, saying it had “removed a significant number of badgers which will make a difference to disease control”.
Many scientists have questioned the effectiveness of the culls, which risk making the bovine TB situation worse if not completed quickly and efficiently. This is because the longer a cull continues, the greater the number of diseased badgers flee to new areas and the larger the number of animals from elsewhere that will colonise the gap left behind.
Mark Jones, from Humane Society International (HIS) 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…”
The policy has suffered a string of embarrassments culminating in Owen Paterson, the Environment Secretary, blaming the animal for “moving the goalposts” in October.
Mr Paterson’s accusation came after his department admitted it had not hit the original 70 per cent target, in part because it turned out there were far fewer badgers in the area than thought – in fact the target exceeded the number of badgers actually living in the zone, making the target impossible to hit.
The Government will now assess all of the trial data before deciding how to proceed.
Brian May, a leading activist, said: “Now that the failure of this whole shameful badger cull shambles can be so clearly seen… it must be time to abandon the concept, and get on with the only strategy which can succeed in eradication of bovine TB – vaccination of badgers and other wildlife, and prioritisation of work to licence the vaccine for cattle.”