‘The badgers have moved the goalposts’: Why Owen Paterson must wish he could join them, six feet underground

Targeted animals wreak havoc on the Evironment Secretary’s key programme – but he still calls six-week cull ‘a success’ 

A A A

It’s foxes rather than badgers that are best known for their cunning. The Environment Secretary may feel the dictionary of English idioms needs to be updated, however, after Owen Paterson said the sneaky black and white creatures had “moved the goalposts” and undermined a pilot cull of the animals.

While the phrase is common in political parlance when searching for excuses or scapegoats, using it to accuse a furry opponent of causing problems for a key Government policy appears to be a first.

Mr Paterson made the comment after he declared the six-week cull in Somerset a success – despite marksmen killing only 850, or 40 per cent, of the 2,100 badgers originally targeted and asking for a three-week extension to complete the job.

His attempts to describe the results as an achievement led to an interviewer suggesting that he had “moving the goalposts on all fronts”.

“No, that’s not right at all, the badgers have moved the goalposts,” Mr Paterson told the BBC in reply. “You’re dealing with wild animals. It is a wild animal subject to the vagaries of the weather, disease and breeding patterns.”

If Mr Paterson’s claims are correct, however, the badgers’ victory over Whitehall would be a pyrrhic one. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs argues that the reason why fewer of the animals have been shot than expected is because so many of them have already died – due to a combination of bovine tuberculosis and the cold winter weather reducing the availability of food, significantly curbing the badger population over the past year,

Mr Paterson said that because the badger population was so much smaller than previously thought, the cull had actually succeeded in killing 59 per cent of the animals in the zone.

However, Professor Sir Patrick Bateson, president of the Zoological Society of London, said: “The government really is moving the goalposts... It is absolutely a mess and it’s interesting that Defra is changing the rules.”

This would not be the first time that badgers have wreaked havoc for Mr Paterson’s plans – and some wags might suggest they have been more successful than his political or envionrmental opponents. His claim that the badger population was much smaller than previously thought comes just a year after he postponed the badger cull by around nine months to this summer after finding badger numbers were higher than expected.

He said at the time that it would be wrong to embark upon a badger cull at that point because the bigger-than-expected population would make it difficult to hit the 70 per cent target before the start of the winter.

Although the delayed cull fell short of that aim nevertheless, Mr Paterson seemed quite pleased, pointing out that the government’s chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, “has advised that the 60 per cent reduction this year will deliver clear disease benefits as part of a 4-year cull”.

Still, hitting the original target would be even better, Mr Paterson mused. “The advice of the CVO [chief veterinary officer] is that further increasing the number of badgers culled would improve those benefits even further and enable them to accrue earlier,” he said.

Given his knowledge of the fluctuations in badger populations, some experts expressed surprise that Mr Paterson proceeded with the badger cull on 1 September. This was before he knew the results of the latest population estimate, which were only finalised last week, just days before the cull was due to end.

A Defra spokesman said the independent panel of experts convened to advise the government on the cull had recommended that they take the latest badger census as close to the start of the cull as possible to ensure the most up-to-date figures.

The Defra spokesman added that it would not have been possible to wipe out the entire local badger population by a mistake because the cull was carried out on only 70 per cent of the culling zone.

News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence