Environment Secretary Owen Paterson today announced a delay until Summer 2013 for the start of the pilot culls in Gloucestershire and West Somerset. This latest announcement comes after a series of challenges in the Courts succeeded in delaying, but not stopping, the pilot cull.
Opponents of the cull noted a Natural England survey last week suggesting there are 7,900 badgers in the pilot cull areas. To reach the 70% target under the cull criteria, this means killing 5,530 badgers, far more than the 1,800 originally estimated.
In his statement to Parliament today, Mr Paterson said, “Today I received a letter from the president of the NFU on behalf of the companies coordinating the pilot culls, explaining why they do not feel they can go ahead this year”. Mr Paterson explained that the late start of the cull, coupled with the increased number of badgers now believed to reside in the area, meant it would not be possible to comply with the cull criteria (to kill 70% of the badgers before the breeding season in Spring). Mr Paterson explained that “By starting the pilots next summer we can build on the work that has already been done and ensure that the cull will conform to the scientific criteria and evidence base. I know that this will be very disappointing for many, particularly those farmers in the two pilot areas, but I fully support the decision of the NFU to delay the start of culling operations.”
The statement also confirmed that there is no change of government policy, but added “We must ensure that we work with the NFU to get the delivery right. We also remain committed to our wider TB eradication programme and to continuing to strengthen it, so that we can move towards our goal of a TB-free England. Vaccination is another tool and one that we would all like to be able to deploy more widely. Unfortunately we’re not there yet in terms of its development or practicality. If we had a viable and legal cattle vaccine, we would be using it. It will, however, be some years before this is the case and neither we nor the industry can afford to wait that long. It is for this reason that we must look at all the options.”