Animal welfare campaigners have claimed there is “no justification” for the “misguided” badger cull to continue, as they urged supporters to oppose extending the killing to new areas.
Two pilot culls have already been carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire as part of the Government’s strategy to combat rising rates of bovine TB, which can be spread from badgers to cattle. But the policy has met with huge opposition with campaigners claiming culling is ineffective and inhumane and that efforts should focus on vaccination and farm measures to tackle the disease.
Devon and Cornwall are among nine counties regarded as hotspots for the disease, which resulted in 28,000 cattle being slaughtered in 2012.
The RSPCA said the “farcical and costly badger cull could very soon be extended across the country” and urged its supporters to lobby Prime Minister David Cameron.
David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of public affairs and campaigns, said: “There is no justification to continue with these misguided plans, let alone extend them. We care about both cattle and badgers, but science has shown the cull is not the answer to bovine TB in cattle, and the pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire last year were a catalogue of errors from start to finish.
“In total, 1,861 badgers have already been needlessly killed since August. We would urge anyone who does not want more such deaths to contact their MP, vote against the expansion of the cull and urge their councillors to stop local authority land from being used in any cull.”
Last month, Natural England, which has to authorise the culls, asked potential applicants for new licences to begin preparing their cases.
Opponents believe the Government is seeking an “escape plan” after the pilots proved costly and failed to hit kill targets, despite extensions to the time period.
Farmers, who paid for the actual culling itself, are
estimated to have spent £1.49 million, with a further £2.66 million spent on policing.
Just over £3 million was attributed to costs at Natural England, the Food and Environment Research Agency and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Anti-cull protesters also believe their case has been strengthened after it emerged the number of herds of cattle infected with TB had been significantly overestimated after a computer error. Revised figures show the number of herds under restriction last September was 3,417 – almost a third lower than the previous figure of 4,778 herds.
An announcement on possible new cull areas, as well
as governance and funding of the bovine TB strategy, is expected from environment secretary Owen Paterson this spring. His decision is pending a report on the list of culls from a panel of independent experts.
Andy Robertson, NFU director general, said: “TB is devastating farming family businesses across large parts of the country and it is vital it is controlled and eradicated.
“Controlling the spread of disease in wildlife is an absolutely essential part of this and we know farmers in many areas will be keen to see this process rolled out in parts of the country where TB is endemic and where there is a clear reservoir of disease in badgers.
“The decision on any future areas where badger controls will be carried out will be made by the government subject to the findings of the pilot areas. Badger culls will only ever be carried out in areas where TB is a major problem for cattle producers.”