The badgers are moving the goalposts

Posted on the 9th October 2013

Today, Defra Minister Owen Paterson declared the trial badger cull in Somerset successful, but only because the official estimate of badger numbers was sharply reduced in the last few days.

The culling Licence demands that 70 per cent of badgers in each cull zone be killed, otherwise the rates of TB in cows is likely to rise due to the perturbation effect (under attack, stressed animals flee). Today, we learned that 850 of the initial target of 2,081 animals were shot – which is just over 40 per cent.

The only way this could be declared successful is if the number of badgers was drastically reduced, thereby increasing the percentage of those killed, or if the marksmen applied for an extension to make up the shortfall. Both of those things happened today.

Owen Paterson says there are around 1,000 fewer animals in both cull zones than they thought. When asked if he was moving the goalposts, he replied, ‘I am not moving anything – the badgers are moving the goalposts. You are dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of weather, disease and breeding patterns.’ However, Professor Rosie Woodroffe, the UK’s leading badger expert, said that such a drastic change in the badger population would be ‘very, very unusual’.

Even though neither cull has finished – and with the Gloucester marksmen also requesting an extension to the cull – Paterson has decreed the pilot successful. He wrote: ‘Current indications suggest that the pilot has been safe, humane and effective.’

Even hitting the 850 kill figure proved impossible using preferred free-shooting and was achieved only by cage-trapping badgers. With the animals caught, it would have been as simple to vaccinate them as to shoot them.

This government has forced through a cull that is unscientific, unworkable and unpopular. Moreover, it may have made TB transmission to cows far worse. The cull is a spectacular failure – as scientists and wildlife experts predicted – and 850 animals in Somerset have lost their lives needlessly.

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