The Government’s badger cull policy has been dealt a further blow by the failure of another trial to kill sufficient animals.
Shooting is being halted in Gloucestershire three weeks before schedule after it became clear even a reduced target would not be met.
The pilot scheme was extended by eight weeks after marksmen exterminated only around 30 per cent of the local badger population – well short of a 70 per cent target. Natural England said it had pulled the plug as the cull was set to miss a revised level of 58 per cent.
Designed to reduce the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, the policy is backed by farmers and vets’ groups but strongly opposed by animal rights campaigners.
One leading activist – rock legend Brian May – had launched a High Court challenge to the Gloucestershire cull.
An extension to a trial in Somerset also failed to meet its target. Another 90 were killed there in the extra time, taking the total to 940 – an overall reduction of only 65 per cent.
The shortfalls come despite the estimates of the pre-cull badger numbers being twice revised significantly downwards.
Announcing the extension earlier this month, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson insisted sufficient animals had been “removed” to suggest a wider four-year scheme would have “clear benefits” in tackling bovine TB (bTB).
He has previously suggested the results were poor because “the badgers moved the goalposts”.
Natural England said the licence for the cull had been ended “based on the decreasing number of badgers seen by contractors over recent weeks which makes achieving a further significant reduction in the coming weeks unlikely”.
“Following discussions with the NFU, the cull company and Natural England, the licence for the extension of this year’s pilot cull will stop with effect from noon on Saturday,” it said in a short statement.
It said Defra Ministers would explain the decision to Parliament on Monday.
Queen guitarist May’s environmental group, Save Me, issued the legal challenge over claims the extension went against the recommendation of Government adviser Prof David MacDonald.