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Bovine TB

Volume 568: debated on Wednesday 9 October 2013

The two badger cull pilots, in Somerset and Gloucestershire, were designed to test that controlled shooting is a safe, humane and effective means of reducing badger numbers. Successfully tackling bovine TB (bTB) in the badger population is a key element in our strategy to rid England of bTB within 25 years.

Today I am announcing to the House that the six-week period of the Somerset TB control pilot cull was completed on 6 October. Current indications suggest that the pilot has been safe, humane and effective in delivering a reduction in the badger population of just under 60%. We set ourselves a challenging target of aiming to ensure that 70% of the badger population was removed during the pilot. The chief veterinary officer (CVO) has advised that the 60% reduction this year will deliver clear disease benefits as part of a four-year cull. However, Natural England are considering an application from Somerset for a short extension of the culling period, as provided for under the agreement with the company. The advice of the CVO is that further increasing the number of badgers culled would improve those benefits even further and enable them to accrue earlier.

The targets for this cull were set at the outset on the basis of population estimates carried out in September 2012. This was repeated in August 2013 immediately before the culls started.

The results of this latest exercise show that the estimated number of badgers is significantly fewer in both areas compared to last summer. In Somerset the latest population estimate is 1,450 compared to 2,400 last year, and in Gloucestershire 2,350 compared to 3,400.

In the six weeks of the cull, 850 badgers have been removed in Somerset.

One of the lessons we have learned already from this pilot is that in order to ensure high levels of safety and humaneness, the cull period may need to be longer than six weeks in future. The independent panel of experts will consider all the information which has been collated during the culls and it will be made publicly available after the culls have finished.

The cull in Gloucestershire is still ongoing and I will make a further statement when the six weeks is completed. I understand that this morning Gloucestershire is also submitting an application for an extension to Natural England.

To achieve our aim of ridding England of bTB within 25 years will require long-term solutions and considerable national resolve. This Government are committed to tackling the disease in all reservoirs and by all available means. Our cattle industry and the countryside deserve no less.