Press release

Badger cull to proceed next year

The National Farmers Union (NFU) have written to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to request that the pilot badger culls in West Somerset…

The National Farmers Union (NFU) have written to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to request that the pilot badger culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire go ahead in 2013.

The request follows new survey results which revealed higher than anticipated badger numbers in the two pilot areas.

Following a thorough assessment of their current capability, the NFU this morning informed Defra that in light of these new figures they could not be confident of removing the required minimum 70 per cent of the badgers in the two pilot areas this autumn.

Defra has agreed to postpone the pilot culls until summer 2013 to allow farmers to continue their preparations and have the best possible chance of carrying out the cull effectively.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said:

“Despite a greatly increased effort over the last few days and weeks, the farmers delivering this policy have concluded that they cannot be confident that it will be possible to remove enough badgers based on these higher numbers and considering the lateness of the season.  It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations. Today I have received a letter from the President of the NFU, on behalf of the companies coordinating the culls, explaining why they do not feel they can go ahead this year and requesting that they be postponed until next summer. In these circumstances, it is the right thing to do and, as the people who have to deliver this policy on the ground and work within the science, I respect their decision.

“The Government is determined to tackle bovine TB by all the means available to us.  Now, in the next few months, we will ensure that the pilot culls can be implemented effectively, in the best possible conditions, with the right resources. Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do, and indeed the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action.  I remain fully committed to working with the farming industry to ensure that the pilot culls can be delivered effectively, safely and humanely next summer.”

The recent survey results revealed that the estimated badger populations of 4,300 in West Somerset and 3,600 in West Gloucestershire were far higher than previous data suggested. The criteria for the two pilots included the need to successfully remove a minimum of 70 per cent of the local population, which the scientific evidence has shown is required in order to have a positive effect in reducing TB.

The Government and NFU will now continue to plan so that the pilots can go ahead in Summer 2013.

Full Text of the Oral Statement to the House of Commons

Bovine TB is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK.  The importance of the epidemic for our cattle farmers, their families and their communities cannot be over emphasised.

This was once a disease isolated to small pockets of the country.  It has now spread extensively through the West of England and Wales.  The number of new cases has doubled every nine years. Last year TB led to the slaughter of 26,000 cattle in England at a cost of nearly £100 million. In the last ten years bovine TB has cost the taxpayer £500 million.  It is estimated that this will rise to £1 billion over the next decade if the disease is left unchecked. 

The task of managing bovine TB and bringing it under control is difficult and complex.  The Government is committed to using all of the tools at its disposal and continuing to develop new ones as a package of measures to tackle the disease. In high-risk areas herds are tested annually and any cattle that test positive are slaughtered.  Restrictions on cattle movements have been further strengthened to reduce the chance of disease spreading from cattle to cattle.  Only last week, we announced plans for a new surveillance testing regime and stricter cattle movement controls. We also continue to look at ways to improve the testing of cattle for TB.

Research in this country over the past fifteen years has demonstrated that cattle and badgers can transmit the disease to each other; culling badgers can lead to a reduction of the disease in cattle if it is carried out over a large enough area and for a sufficient length of time.  That is why we believe that based on the best available evidence, culling badgers to control TB can make a significant contribution.

It is crucial we get this right. The National Farmers Union has taken the lead on behalf of the farming industry to plan and organise the pilot culls.  They have been working tirelessly over the last few months, signing up farmers and landowners in the pilot areas and ensuring contractors are properly trained.   I have been immensely impressed by the effort, commitment and determination that have been demonstrated by farmers in the two pilot areas.  I am also grateful to the police for their support.   

The exceptionally bad weather this summer has put a number of pressures on our farmers and caused significant problems. Protracted legal proceedings and the request of the police to delay the start until after the Olympics and Paralympics, have also meant that we have moved beyond the optimal time for delivering an effective cull.  We should have begun in the summer.

In addition to these problems, the most recent fieldwork, has revealed that badger numbers in the two areas are significantly higher than previously thought.  This only highlights the scale of the problem we are dealing with.

Evidence suggests that at least 70% of the badgers in the areas must be removed. This is based on the results of the Randomised Badger Culling Trial so that we can be confident that culling will reduce TB in cattle.  Despite a greatly increased effort over the last few days and weeks, the farmers delivering this policy have concluded that they cannot be confident that it will be possible to remove enough badgers based on these higher numbers and considering the lateness of the season.  It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations.

Today I have received a letter from the President of the NFU, on behalf of the companies coordinating the culls, explaining why they do not feel they can go ahead this year and requesting that they be postponed until next summer. In these circumstances, it is the right thing to do and, as the people who have to deliver this policy on the ground and work within the science, I respect their decision. I have placed a copy of the letter in the library of both Houses.

By starting the pilots next summer we can build on the work that has already been done and ensure that the cull will conform to the scientific criteria and evidence base.  I know that this will be very disappointing for many, particularly those farmers in the two pilot areas, but I fully support the decision of the NFU to delay the start of culling operations. 

I must emphasise that there is no change to the Government’s policy.  We remain absolutely committed to it but we must ensure that we work with the NFU to get the delivery right. 

We also remain committed to our wider TB eradication programme and to continuing to strengthen it, so that we can move towards our goal of a TB-free England.  Vaccination is another tool and one that we would all like to be able to deploy more widely. Unfortunately we’re not there yet in terms of its development or practicality. If we had a viable and legal cattle vaccine, we would be using it.  It will, however, be some years before this is the case and neither we nor the industry can afford to wait that long.  It is for this reason that we must look at all the options.

The Government is determined to tackle bovine TB by all the means available to us.  Now, in the next few months, we will ensure that the pilot culls can be implemented effectively, in the best possible conditions, with the right resources. Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do, and indeed the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action.  I remain fully committed to working with the farming industry to ensure that the pilot culls can be delivered effectively, safely and humanely next summer.

Help us improve GOV.UK

Please don't include any personal or financial information, for example your National Insurance or credit card numbers.