A scientific expert who oversaw badger culling in the 1990s has labelled the Government’s controversial pilot culls a “complete fiasco” and “even crazier” than anticipated.
Lord Krebs, who instigated the ten-year Randomised Badger Culling Trials, told peers there is “no point doing something if it’s the wrong thing” after the schemes in Somerset and Gloucestershire missed their targets.
But in response, a Government minister warned tuberculosis in cattle will be “endemic through the whole of England” without culling wildlife.
The two pilots, which were testing the shooting of free-running badgers before possible widespread expansion of culling next year, fell short of the 70% target for badgers to be culled.
In Gloucestershire, only 40% of the local badger population was shot dead by trained marksmen, despite an extension of more than five weeks, which itself was abandoned three weeks early.
The Somerset cull was marginally more successful, getting closer at 65%. But the total number of animals that needed to be shot at both locations were revised down after an updated head count discovered fewer badgers living in the areas. But Lord Krebs, who is pressing for greater cattle control, said in a House of Lords debate in grand committee: “We now know the pilots have been a complete fiasco. There has been confusion about the number of badgers in each area, as well as the target proportion to be shot, and farmers completely failed to meet the target number in the allotted time.”
The independent crossbencher made three references to comments by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who blamed the failed cull targets on the animals themselves saying: “The badgers have moved the goalposts.”
Lord Krebs said: “We know the Secretary of State accused badgers of moving the goalposts. But there is another possible interpretation: it might just be Defra did not have a clue about how many badgers there were in the areas.”
A rollout could mean culling in neighbouring Devon and even into Cornwall – both considered bovine TB hotspots.
The disease, said to be spread by badgers, led to the slaughter of 28,000 animals last year – more than 20,000 in the South West – at a cost of £100 million to the taxpayer.
Lord Krebs said while the disease needed to be tackled, there is “no point doing something if it’s the wrong thing”. He told peers: “I was quoted months ago in the Press saying that the pilot cull was a crazy scheme. It seems to me it has got even crazier.”
He went on to say there are “more effective and cheaper ways of controlling TB in cattle”, arguing: “We have already heard about the idea of vaccination, but in the short-term before vaccines become effective, putting in place rigorous measures to prevent transmission of the disease between badgers and cattle, and among cattle, would be a more effective policy in achieving a 16% reduction that trying to kill badgers.
“If Defra were to turn its attention to this solution, farmers, scientists and conservationists would all be relieved, and the badgers would take a rest from the task of moving the goalposts.”
In response, Defra minister Lord de Mauley confirmed for the first time a decision on rolling out the cull would be made by the end of February.
He added: “Unless we tackle bovine TB in badgers, I fear that not only will we never eradicate it in cattle and free our livestock farmers of a huge burden but we will see the disease in cattle and the accompanying burden continue to grow and to spread until the disease is endemic through the whole of England.”