In Depth

Rising cost of badger cull fuels rumours of another U-turn

Now it’s an 'omnivoreshambles’ as West Country farmers fight shy of higher-than-expected costs

CONTROVERSIAL badger cull trials in the west of England could be postponed or abandoned because of rising costs, according to a government source. The news comes amid accusations of yet another coalition 'omnishambles’ after Environment Secretary Owen Paterson twice cancelled an interview with ITV News yesterday, in which he was expected to announce a reprieve for the badgers.

According to The Guardian, "the best estimate" for the badger population in the two trial areas is 3,600 in west Gloucestershire and 4,300 in west Somerset. This is far higher than the previous estimate by Defra (the Department for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs), which said there were 2,000-3,000 badgers in cull zones of that size.

This means costs might have doubled, because farmers have to commit to killing 70 per cent of the badgers in their area to meet the conditions of their cull licence – and they have to pay a 'bounty' for each animal shot.

Farmers have to deposit enough money to cover all four years of the cull before they can begin shooting badgers. Natural England, which issued the cull licences, says it has not yet received all the money. 

The Whitehall source said that "everyone in the department is scrambling with increasing desperation to make an unworkable policy work", in an effort to ensure Paterson doesn't end up looking as big a flop in the eyes of David Cameron and Nick Clegg as his predecessor, Caroline Spelman.

Their efforts might be in vain, given the events of yesterday. ITV News journalist Alex Forrest posted a blog in which she revealed her interview with Paterson had been cancelled before being rescheduled and then cancelled again. She said that before the interview was called off, a "government source" had told her 'the badger cull was about to be killed off - well, at least delayed for a year".

Defra later told her that "wasn't completely accurate but neither was it completely wrong. It was a question of timing." That was followed by an assurance from the same department that there would be no delay and the culls would go ahead "as soon as is practical".

Forrest isn’t the only journalist to have been stood up by Defra in the past 24 hours. Environment minister David Heath cancelled an interview with The Daily Telegraph. The paper’s environment correspondent Louise Gray tweeted to Defra: 'Badger cull 'still going ahead’, so why won't you talk about it?"

Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman linked the governmental confusion over badgers to David Cameron’s vanishing energy policy yesterday and the fiasco over the Budget earlier this year, tweeting: "From omnishambles to combishambles to omnivoreshambles."

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