There are new fears over the extinction of badgers in some parts of the country following the Government’s latest cull of the animals. A total of 33,687 were killed last autumn through shooting and cage trapping – triggering fury among animal welfare campaigners.
The Mirror reports that figure takes to 174,517 the total number of the creatures killed since the cull began in 2013 – prompting warnings the species could struggle to survive in parts of the country. The Badger Trust said the death toll over the past nine culling seasons represented “over a third of the entire UK badger population”.
Executive director Peter Hambly described the latest statistics, revealed by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, as “nauseating”, adding: “The figures are appalling; the attack on badgers intensifies. With scant evidence that badgers spread bTB (bovine tuberculosis) to cattle, this assault on a much-loved wild animal is reaching catastrophic proportions and needs to stop now.”
However, chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “I anticipate that intensive culls, if they continue to be effective, will continue to see similar benefits of reduced disease incidence in cattle over their licence periods.”
Natural England licensed “badger disease control operations” across southern and middle England, including in Avon, Berkshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Wiltshire, and Worcestershire. The killing took place between August 31 and November 2.
Natural England’s chief scientist Dr Tim Hill said: “Contractors continued to show high levels of discipline and compliance with the best practice guide. The level of accuracy of controlled shooting compares favourably with previous years and with other wildlife control activities.”
Experts blame badgers for spreading bTB around the countryside. More than 27,000 cattle in England were slaughtered in 2020 to tackle the disease.
Defra hopes to have a jab for cows by 2025, and eradicate bTB by 2035. And last July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson fuelled hopes the cull would be wound down.
He told MPs: “We do think that the badger cull has led to a reduction in the disease. Nobody wants to continue with the cull of a protected species, beautiful mammals, indefinitely.”
Mr Hambly warned: “The sickening total will continue to rise. We estimate the number of badgers killed will exceed 230,000 by the end of 2023, with further years of culling already locked into current expansion plans and four-year licences still to run.”
Shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon said the “impact of bovine TB is devastating”. He added: “Our approach to reducing bovine TB must be science-led, through improved cattle testing and accelerating the cattle vaccination programme, vaccinating badgers and better controls on the movement of herds.”
A Defra spokesman said: “Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that the livestock sector in England faces today. Our bovine TB eradication strategy has led to a significant reduction in this insidious disease.”
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Badgers have friends, and those friends have votes !! – this culling will cost the government dearly; promise !