More than 35,000 badgers were killed during last year’s cull, according to long overdue figures slipped out by the government on Friday at the height of the coronavirus crisis.
The total has dismayed animal rights campaigners, who claim that for the first time since the cull was introduced in 2013, more badgers were shot last year than cattle were slaughtered because they have bovine-TB.
Dominic Dyer, the chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “The government licensed the killing of 35,034 badgers in 2019 in 40 culling zones stretching from Cornwall to Cumbria in the largest destruction of a protected species in living memory.”
More than 70% of the badgers (24,645) were killed as a result of controlled shooting.
“This is a method of killing which is condemned by the British Veterinary Association as inhumane as it can result in badgers taking more than five minutes to die from multiple bullet wounds, blood loss and organ failure,” Dyer said.
Only 149 (0.6%) of the total 35,034 badgers killed were monitored to establish that they were dispatched humanely.
The total number of badgers killed since the cull policy started now stands at 102,349. It has been estimated that the cull has cost the taxpayer more than £60m.
The figures were supposed to have been published months ago but were delayed as the efficacy of the government’s policy came in for criticism.
“Badgers are now being slaughtered at such a rate across England that they could face local extinction in areas of the country which they have inhabited since the Ice Age,” Dyer said.
“Despite this mass destruction of a protected species, the government has failed to produce any reliable evidence to prove that the culling of badgers is making any significant impact on lowering bovine-TB in cattle in or around the cull zones.”
In response to an independent review into its TB policy, the government recently acknowledged that the mass slaughter of badgers was not a long-term solution to reducing bovine-TB. Instead there is to be a new emphasis on vaccinating cattle against the disease.
But farmers insist a cull is necessary. The National Farmers Union has expressed frustration that culling and badger vaccination are being given a “false equivalence”. The NFU said vaccination had never been demonstrated to reduce bovine-TB with the same efficacy as culling.
Following the change in government policy, the NFU deputy president, Stuart Roberts, said: “In areas where TB in badgers is endemic, we must retain culling as a vital tool enabling industry to get on top of the disease quickly and reduce further transmission.”