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The badger cull will continue this year despite the coronavirus crisis, the Government has vowed.
Campaigners had called for the controversial killing scheme to be scrapped for 2020 because of the risk marksmen could fuel the spread of Covid-19 as they hunted the animals.
But, in a letter seen by the Mirror, Environment Minister Lord Gardiner confirmed the cull would go-ahead this autumn. He told Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer the pandemic was no time to axe the project, which supporters claim helps curb the transmission of bovine TB:.
The Tory peer said: “Tackling bovine TB (bTB) remains a top priority in this period of crisis. “Our efforts to combat this disease are key to ensure the productivity of the food chain. “That is why we are seeking to maintain all aspects of our long-term bTB eradication strategy.
“Culling of badgers remains a necessary and important part of this.”
Tens of thousands of the creatures are slaughtered each year as the Tories bid to halt the transmission of bovine TB in cows.
Some 102,188 badgers have been killed since the controversial programme began in 2013, with 35,034 dying in last year’s scheme, which operated in 40 areas of England from Cornwall to Cumbria.
The cull will begin to be phased out in the next few years, with vaccination of badgers being ramped up instead.
But animal welfare campaigners fear tens of thousands of the creatures are still doomed to die before the cull is completely stopped.
This year’s shooting and trapping programme could begin on June 1, though officials have yet to reveal the areas in which it will take place.
The Mirror exclusively revealed this week how activists wanted this year’s cull shelved as the country battles the worst crisis since the Second World War.
But, confirming it would go ahead, Lord Gardiner said: “Cull companies are not businesses which have been mandated to close … Government guidance is clear that travel for work which cannot be done from home is permitted, and routine business and disease management activities respecting hygiene and social distancing, can continue.”
He insisted the “ability to deliver safe, effective and humane culling operations is paramount”.
Mr Dyer said tonight: “Despite facing the biggest public health and economic crisis since the Second World War with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government is pushing ahead with the biggest destruction of a protected species in living memory.
“In the next six months this could result in over 50,000 badgers being shot across England from Cornwall to Cumbria, pushing the species to the verge of local extinction in areas which they have inhabited since the Ice Age.
“The Government has recently stated that it intends to phase out badger culling and move to badger and cattle vaccination to lower bovine TB in cattle.
“Rather than delay this process any further, it should bring an immediate halt to the badger cull during the Covid-19 pandemic and plan a rapid exit strategy from this cruel, costly and ineffective wildlife killing policy into 2021.”
This article was first published by The Mirror on 1 May 2020.
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