PLANS to stop new mass badger cull licences after 2022 have received a cool reception from the Badger Trust.
The Environment Secretary George Eustice has launched a consultation on the next phase of the Government’s strategy to eradicate bovine TB (bTB) in England by 2038.
The drive will instead focus on vaccinating badgers and cattle.
Mr Eustice said: “bTB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that England faces today.”
A report on the Badger Trust’s website said: “The (Government’s) full statement is a real bag of mixed messages and the charity is not confident that it does signal the end of the badger cull. Neither does it mark the end of blame being placed primarily with badgers for the ongoing bovine TB (bTB) crisis in cattle.
“The Badger Trust also notes with dismay that on the same day the consultation is announced, figures on badgers killed in the 2020 cull were released – adding a further 38,642 badgers to the already horrific total of 102,349 killed since the start of the current cull in 2013.
“The Trust questions the motivations of releasing two very conflicting messages on the same day, with the perceived – yet questionable – ‘good news’ ahead of the ‘very bad news’.
“The Badger Trust will take time to review both the Government’s statement and the consultation before giving a full response, but at this time remains to be convinced of the sincerity of any commitment to bring the cull to an end.
“In truth, a further 38,000 or more badgers are likely to be culled this year, paying the ultimate price for a policy based on highly controversial science.”
Current policy enables four-year intensive cull licences in defined areas, with scope for a further five years of supplementary culling. The first cull zones were created in 2013 in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Eustice said last year more than 27,000 cattle in England were slaughtered causing ‘devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities.”
“Badger culling is one of the most contentious and divisive policies within our bTB eradication strategy, Mr Eustice said.
“The farming community has invested heavily in badger culling, which the evidence shows has played a critical role in helping to start turn the tide on this terrible disease.
“But we were clear that culling badgers indefinitely is not acceptable.
“My proposed approach will enable us to complete the objective we set out to achieve when we started the culls. It will also support our stated intention of phasing out culling over the next few years.”
The consultation sets out proposals for Natural England to stop issuing the current licences for new areas after 2022 and enable new licences to be cut short.
Mr Eustice added that “some form of culling” would be an option in “exceptional circumstances” to address any local disease flare-ups.
Last year, the government announced badger culling to tackle the spread of TB in livestock would be replaced with a cattle vaccine.
Mr Eustice said work on developing a cattle bTB vaccine continues and was “on track to be completed within the next five years” with trials scheduled to get underway in the coming months.