Six-week culls in both areas were licenced by Natural England on 26 August 2014. On 9 September, amid much prevarication and secrecy, the new Secretary of State for Environment, Elizabeth Truss announced that the culls in both zones had begun on 8 September.
The written Ministerial Statement also assured the public that the shooters had received additional training this year. But barely a few days into the cull, a badger now known as Badger 41, was recovered from the Somerset cull zone with horrific injuries. These showed she had been shot in the abdomen well short of the target area (page 7) identified in the government’s Best Practice Guidelines for controlled shooting of badgers, which were reissued in August 2014.
Badger 41 had probably tried to flee back to her sett after being wounded. The fact that the shooters had not recovered her body suggests she have travelled a considerable distance despite extensive injuries. Veterinary examinations showed she was actually disembowelled whilst still alive – either by a bullet or by bullet fragments from a shot that missed and ricocheted.
The National Farmers Union denies that the badger was killed as part of the cull. However, they have yet to provide any proof to support this statement. Meanwhile, George Eustice, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Farming, Food and the Marine Environment, has claimed that contractors would be better prepared this year and therefore better able to achieve this year’s badger cull targets. However, reports in the Guardian based on a leaked document suggest that the cull company in Gloucestershire has struggled to meet its target numbers in the first two weeks of the cull, blaming both the moonlit nights (which finished within the first three or four nights) and the protestors.
As soon as the Government released the target numbers of badgers to be killed this year along with their calculations, independent scientists raised serious questions about the validity of the both the government’s methodology and the lack of an Independent Expert Panel to assess the results of the 2014 culls – something the Conservative Party had pledged to do before rolling out the badger cull nationwide to other bTB hotspot areas.
In an interview on 10 September on BBC Radio 4, the new Secretary of State (SoS) for the Environment appeared to be as keen on moving the goalposts as the earlier SoS, justifying the continuation of the cull on the grounds that if 70% of the badgers within the cull zones could be culled within the four year cull period, then this would still be beneficial for TB reduction in cattle. However, the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, estimated that at least 70% of the badger population should be removed in the first year of culling and the population kept low in subsequent years in order to achieve a mere 12–16% reduction in the new cases of TB in cattle, that too after nine years.
The target of removing at least 70% of the badger population was missed in both Gloucestershire and Somerset by a very large margin in the first round of badger culls in 2013, leading to Natural England’s Chief Scientific Advisor Professor David Macdonald’s description of the badger culls as an ‘epic failure’.
Given the spectacular failure of the badger culls in 2013, and the abandonment of independent monitoring and evaluation in 2014, the Government has lost any remaining shred of scientific credibility in its industry-led badger cull. We wonder when they might start to show real political leadership, and embrace and learn from the Welsh experienceof an evidence-led approach to TB control that does not involve any badger culls.