'Unimpressive' cull results warning

Culling badgers will have "unimpressive" results in reducing tuberculosis in cattle and cost taxpayers more than it saves, experts have warned.

Two pilot culls have been given the go-ahead in Gloucestershire and Somerset, which will involve free-running badgers being shot over large areas over the next four years.

Farmers say the cull is necessary to stop badgers spreading TB to cattle, a growing problem which cost farmers and the Government an estimated £150 million last year.

But scientists, including experts who were behind a long-term trial which found that culling 70% of badgers in an area over four years could reduce the incidence of TB in cattle by 16%, raised a number of concerns about the policy.

Professor Robbie McDonald, of the University of Exeter, said none of the proposed methods for addressing the disease in wildlife - culling, vaccinating badgers or a combination - would have a major impact on reducing the incidence of TB in herds.

"The differences between the approaches are modest and the difference between these approaches and business as usual is not very large.

"Managing wildlife to control TB in cattle is likely to produce unimpressive results."

Prof John McInerney, emeritus professor of agricultural policy, University of Exeter, said estimates for the cost of the cull compared to how much it would save in having to deal with fewer TB incidents, showed it did not make economic sense.

Prof McInerney calculated that over 150 square kilometres, the costs of culling were around £1.5 million, with farmers paying for shooting the badgers and the Government footing the bill for costs such as licensing and policing. The benefits from reducing the number of herds where TB was found would be £970,000.

The Environment Department (Defra) estimates for how much a cull would cost over 350 square kilometres, an area larger than the two pilot schemes, was more than £3 million for taxpayers, of which £2 million would be policing costs.