Cull figures still uncertain as the shooting progresses
David Heath, Minister of State at Defra, is adamant, in an interview with the Western Morning News today, that the badger cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire will reach its target. The minister was speaking in the wake of reports to the WMN, from a very well-placed source, that nearly half way through the cull the numbers of badgers so far accounted for is falling far short of the 50 to 60 a night that must be removed to meet the stated aim of taking out at least 70% of the population.
Using the same phrase trotted out by everyone at Defra since we published our report, Mr Heath said he "didn't recognise" the WMN's figures. Defra is clearly determined to keep the details of how the cull is going extremely close until the six weeks is up. It will be early October before any true assessment of the effectiveness of shooting free-running badgers can be made. Ministers must decide by the end of the year if culling with rifles and shotguns works, both as a means of significantly reducing the badger population in a given area and doing so humanely. If they conclude that it is then a further 40 culls at the rate of ten a year will take place across the country.
One issue that will be of concern to the farmers is how the general public view the badger cull once the six-week pilots are complete. There were grave fears, when the cull was first approved by the Government, that British farmers could pay a heavy price because the public's opposition to killing such an iconic British mammal as the badger would reflect badly upon them, the work they do and the food they produce.
Four weeks into the cull and we are not so sure the public as a whole views this issue quite so negatively as many feared. Yes, the most vehement protesters and their high profile spokesmen and woman are making a lot of noise. And yes, most people if asked a direct question, would say they don't like the idea of shooting badgers. But the public is not daft. Deer are iconic animals and are culled by shooting; rabbits are celebrated in literature yet thousands are shot every year; the fox has its fans, yet is vigorously controlled. Mr Heath and his colleagues at Defra will be assessing the figures soon. We remained concerned they may fall well short. British farming will be attempting to judge the public's mood. Our guess is that won't be half as bad as was predicted.
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