The highly controversial UK badger cull trials have finally been called off after months of protests across Great Britain. Originally organized for the counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset, the cull was meant to stop the spread of bovine tuberculosis in local cattle. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson intended to do trial runs in these two counties before implementing kill-zones in other parts of the UK, but the poor results of the trials do not bode well for his plans. Badgers are seen as one of the primary sources of b-TB in farmed cattle, although opponents to the cull have maintained that better farming practices and badger vaccinations are the more logical and humane answer to the problem.
Paterson’s original plan, set this October, was meant to last for six weeks. Volunteer shooters, mostly farmers, were to hunt at night and kill 70 percent of badgers in the cull zones – they only managed to kill about 30 percent. The low kill numbers are blamed on many different factors: mainly, the gross over-estimation of the number of badgers in each area; secondly, the interference of protesters, Badger Patrol and the Wounded Badger Patrol. Environmentalists, animal rights activists and other and anti-badger cull individuals have made it their mission over these past weeks to both hinder the hunters and help the badgers. Many of the animals have been found injured and dying as a result of hunting techniques.
Paterson called for an extension to the cull and even reduced the target kill rate to 58 percent; the number of badgers being killed has remained so low, however, that the Gloucestershire cull has been completely called off even before its extended deadline in December. The Somerset trial badger cull was ended earlier this month, with an estimated 60 percent of badgers killed in the area following a three-week extension.
Owen Paterson will soon be called upon to present the results of his badger cull trials to a panel of independent experts who will have to decide whether or not the culls were humane and productive. According to the Guardian UK, this panel will only be considering results from the first six weeks of cull trials in both Gloucestershire and Somerset, and disregarding the numbers of badgers killed in the extended weeks.
If the badger culls had been successful – which they are not generally considered to have been – the next cull zones would have been East Sussex and possibly Cornwall. In defense of their badgers, people in both of these regions have spent this last month protesting the inhumanity of hunting badgers and gone so far as to offer a solution to b-TB: wildlife vaccinations. Members of the East Sussex anti-cull protests have begun collecting funds for vaccinations, and West Cornwall is working on implementing a vaccination program that will be overseen by the Zoological Society of London.
The West Cornwall vaccination plan is a big win for protesters, who a decade ago made a similar cull nearly impossible for hunters. West Cornwall MP Andrew George said:
The Government’s pilot cull runs the very high risk of making the situation worse. In any case, it is highly unlikely that the Penwith area would ever succeed in securing government support for a cull, even if it were proven to be a success, because when the government-backed badger cull trial was undertaken in the Penwith area a decade ago, non-co-operation and disruption resulted in less than 50 per cent of the area being accessible for culling.
With the badger cull finally being called off, wildlife sanctuaries and animal conservationists across the UK are finally breathing a sigh of relief.
Look here for more history on the UK badger cull:
By Mandy Gardner