Dairy farmers last night resigned themselves to more costly bovine TB misery as the Government’s trial badger cull policy unravelled.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson insisted the controversial cull will still go ahead in the West next summer – but the force of protests against it must raise doubt about it ever happening.
Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger, in an interview with the Western Daily Press, described his own Government’s decision as ‘pathetic’.
But campaigners opposed to the trial cull were delighted at the postponement, which they hope is the first step towards stopping the policy completely.
After days of Government confusion and dithering, Mr Paterson was forced to admit to Parliament that the scheme will not take place in Gloucestershire and Somerset this year.
West farmers reacted with some anger to the news, but the mood was largely one of resignation.
Andrew Cozens, who farms in Eastington, Gloucestershire, said: “It’s not the news I wanted to hear.
“I’m disappointed that having got the impetus up and ready to go forward the brakes have been put on.”
David Barton, a beef farmer who farms near Cirencester, lost 34 cattle from a herd of 147 to TB last week.
Last night he said: “The decision to postpone the cull is obviously disappointing, but it is being delayed rather than cancelled.”
National Farmers’ Union Somerset branch chairman James Small, who farms on Mendip, said he and fellow members were surprised by the revised official figures for badger numbers in West Somerset which arrived last weekend and which were 60 per cent above the previous figure.
Of the decision to delay he said: “We would almost certainly not have been able to meet the conditions of the cull licence now for a number of reasons, including the wet weather. It would be better to wait until next year.”
Mr Paterson also claimed this summer’s “exceptionally bad weather” had put pressure on farmers and caused significant problems.
“Protracted legal proceedings and the request of the police to delay the start until after the Olympics and Paralympics, have also meant that we have moved beyond the optimal time for delivering an effective cull.”
He told the Commons the National Farmers’ Union had written to ask him to postpone the cull.
As the Daily Press reported last week, the Government has just discovered that badger numbers are much higher than had been thought in the two pilot cull zones, especially Somerset. Because at least 70 per cent of the animals must be killed, the farmers delivering the policy could not be confident of removing enough badgers, given the lateness of the season.
Mr Paterson said: “I must emphasise that there is no change to the Government’s policy. We remain absolutely committed to it, but we must ensure that we work with the NFU to get the delivery right."
He declined to reveal how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on the delayed cull, but pledged Gloucestershire and Avon & Somerset police would not be left out of pocket.
Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh accused him of another U-turn, and said he had been “yanked back” from a trip to Paris to promote British food by the Prime Minister “who told him it was game over” for the cull.
NFU President Peter Kendall said the news would be a devastating blow to farmers desperate for a solution to the crisis,
North Wiltshire Tory MP James Gray said farmers across the country would be disappointed by the delay, but would understand it.
But Mark Jones of Humane Society International said: “We have a vital time window to turn this temporary reprieve into a permanent policy but for now at least the badgers are safe.”
Queen guitarist Brian May, who has been campaigning against the cull, said: “Killing badgers will not solve the farmers’ problems, not now, not in the spring, not ever.”
Scientist Lord Krebs, who first instigated the culling trial, urged Ministers to “rethink the Government’s strategy altogether, starting from square one”.
He warned culling would make the problem worse in the short-term, and have only a limited effect after that.
BADGER CULL DELAY - REACTION