Bovine TB

Environment Food and Rural Affairs written statement – made on 17th October 2013.

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Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This Government are committed to ensuring we have a comprehensive package of measures to tackle bovine TB (bTB), including a carefully managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high incidence of TB in cattle.

I am updating the House following the completion of the six-week control pilot in Gloucestershire on 15 October. This is further to my statement of 9 October, in which I informed the House that Natural England was considering, and has since granted, a short extension to the pilot in Somerset to improve the disease benefits already achieved.

As previously announced, the badger population in Gloucestershire immediately before the pilot began was estimated to have fallen to 2,350 compared with an estimated population of 3,400 last summer. In the six weeks of the pilot 708 badgers have been removed from this population. This represents just over 30% of the local badger population.

In view of this, the chief veterinary officer (CVO) has advised that the period of culling this year should be extended to achieve the earliest and greatest possible impact on bTB in Gloucestershire. Natural England is therefore considering an application for an extension from the cull company in Gloucestershire.

The pilots held this year are the first stage in a planned four-year cull. Three of the areas of the randomised badger culling trial also had a slow start. These areas saw an increase in the numbers of badgers removed in subsequent years and went on to contribute to overall disease benefits.

I have always been clear that both the Somerset and Gloucestershire culls are pilots. This has enabled us to test the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of controlled shooting as a means of reducing badger numbers and so reduce significantly disease in cattle. Having the two separate pilot areas has similarly enabled us to see how different environmental factors, field and other conditions affect the practical delivery of our objectives. Experience gained on the ground has been invaluable. I would like to pay tribute to the local farmers and landowners who are undertaking the cull, often in difficult terrain and weather, and often in the face of intimidation by a small minority who are determined to stop this disease control policy.

After the independent panel of experts has reported, we will consider all the information these pilots have generated and decide on next steps. The early indications are that, as in Somerset, the pilot in Gloucestershire has been safe and humane. Nevertheless, the Gloucestershire pilot has again demonstrated that the cull period may need to be longer than six weeks in future, enabling teams to adapt their approaches to suit local circumstances.

These pilots are another step towards halting the spread of bTB. We continue to make good progress on all aspects of our draft strategy to eradicate the disease in England within 25 years, including the development of workable badger and cattle vaccines and better biosecurity on farms. Collectively, we are putting in place the necessary measures for the successful long-term eradication of bTB in the UK.