Second cull misses target by even bigger margin than first
A cull of badgers in Gloucestershire could be extended by up to eight weeks to halt the spread of tuberculosis in cows after falling well short of its target.
Just 30% of animals were shot dead by marksmen in the area during a six-week pilot scheme – less than half the 70% they were aiming for.
It follows a second cull in Somerset killing just 59% of the badgers in the zone, again short of the target.
Animal welfare groups labelled the Government policy "farcical" and "in tatters".
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson argued the culls – which are testing the effectiveness of shooting free-running badgers – was "safe and humane", but they had demonstrated that "the cull period may need to be longer than six weeks in future".
The success or otherwise of the two "pilot" culls will determine whether up to 40 culling zones are sanctioned under a 25-year strategy.
Bovine TB, said to be carried by badgers, is rampant in the South West, where 20,000 cattle were slaughtered last year because of the disease.
Government quango Natural England has approved a three-week extension in Somerset. But, notably, the culling company in Gloucestershire is asking for eight weeks more after just 708 badgers were removed – roughly 30% of the revised local badger population of 2,350. As with Somerset, this was despite the target having been lowered after a fresh assessment of the local badger population.
Mr Paterson denied the low figure was "bad news", adding: "I think we must all remember that these are pilots. This has not been done before and we are learning from each area."
The Government's chief veterinary officer, Nigel Gibbens, said he recommended the extension. He pointed out that three areas in randomised badger culling trials in 1997 experienced slow starts, but added that they "picked up in the subsequent years and contributed to disease control benefits seen overall".
He added: "Extending the licence should place us in good stead for the next three years."
But critics lined up to condemn the policy, which will see the two pilots run for four years.
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said: "The situation was a farce before – but these new revelations about how off-target the Gloucestershire cull has been are even worse. The Government is making a mockery of scientific opinion and their own targets by continuing with this cull – it is a complete shambles.
"An immediate stop must be put to this fiasco before more animal lives are lost and the spread of this devastating disease made worse."
Mark Jones, an executive director of UK charity Humane Society International, said: "Instead of lurching towards an extension to prolong this pointless waste of resources, time and animals' lives, Defra must surely now admit that its badger cull policy is in tatters and must be abandoned in favour of a more science-led, humane and acceptable approach to controlling bTB."
Labour's Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle said: "Instead of rigging the results of the trials, Owen Paterson should abandon this misguided approach."