A new row has broken out over the Government’s controversial badger cull after an independent study was said to have found two pilot schemes were ineffective and too many animals suffered.
Research commissioned by the Government found that the number of badgers killed in Somerset and Gloucestershire fell short of targets set to limit the spread of TB in cattle.
More than five per cent of badgers took longer than five minutes to die, failing the test for humaneness, according to the BBC.
Meanwhile, a freedom of information request has revealed that monitoring by Government agency Natural England had found some badgers were shot in ways that did not meet best practice and some took up to five to 10 minutes to die.
An independent expert panel was appointed by the Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) to evaluate whether “controlled shooting” – the shooting of free-running badgers – could be carried out effectively, humanely and safely.
The pilot culls were due to run for six weeks, with the aim of killing 70 per cent of badgers in each area, but both schemes were extended after initial figures suggested just 58 per cent of badgers were eradicated in Somerset and 30 per cent in Gloucestershire.
The independent panel’s review is reported to have found that less than half of badgers were killed in both areas during the first six weeks.
Defra also agreed that the standard for declaring the culls humane would be 95 per cent of the shot badgers dying within five minutes.
But the expert group has apparently concluded that between 6.4 and 18 per cent of animals exceeded that limit.
Defra said the report had not yet been submitted to ministers, and the Government was looking forward to the panel’s recommendations for improving how the cull was carried out.
But it has fuelled new calls from opponents of the cull to abandon the policy.
A Defra spokesman said: “We knew there’d be lessons to be learned from the first year of the pilot culls, which is why we’re looking forward to receiving the panel’s recommendations, because we need to do all we can to tackle this devastating disease.”
Farmers and the Government insist a cull of badgers, which can spread TB to cattle, is necessary as part of a package of measures to tackle the disease in livestock.
But opponents of the cull have claimed for years that it would be ineffective and inhumane and have called for tighter measures on farms and vaccination of both badgers and cattle to tackle TB.
Leading activist Brian May said the report showed the pilot culls were “very inhumane”.
“I don’t think people will stand for this. You’re talking about badgers taking five or 10 minutes to die. (Environment Secretary) Owen Paterson’s denied that but it’s obviously true.”
The guitarist with rock band Queen said he had “a lot of sympathy for farmers”, but added: “This is not the way to solve the problem. The way we believe we can solve it is by vaccinating the badgers, and also vaccinating the cows.”
May said badgers can be vaccinated for “about £120 a head”, and added that it has “just cost £4,200 per badger to kill the poor things”.
Robin Hargreaves, president of the British Veterinary Association, said: “We have always stated that if the pilots were to fail on humaneness, then BVA could not support the wider roll-out of the method of controlled shooting.”
Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, called on David Cameron to intervene to stop the cull, which he said had probably cost more than £10m so far.
Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle said it would be “outrageous” if Ministers pushed on with further culling regardless of the advice of their own independent expert panel. “These culls have been a disaster for taxpayers, farmers and wildlife,” she said.