Another 140,000 badgers face being culled before the controversial scheme is halted, campaigners have warned the Government.
A three-month public consultation paving the way to end the programme closed this week, with ministers and officials now studying responses.
The Badger Trust, which has always opposed the cull, fears tens of thousands more of the creatures will be killed before it finally finishes.
Its 17-page submission to the consultation, seen by the Mirror, says: “Over 140,000 badgers have already paid with their lives to cover for the appalling failures in Government policy and farming practice, and we believe current proposals will see a further 140,000 added to that total.
“We urge the Government to take this opportunity to change tack now, for the benefit of both badgers and cattle.”
Some 140,830 badgers have been culled since 2013 in a bid to curb the spread of tuberculosis in cows.
A total of 38,642 badgers were killed last autumn in the programme.
Badger Trust acting chief executive Dawn Varley said: “Whilst Badger Trust welcomes any suggestion of an end to badger cull licences, in the short term this proposal actually represents a continuation and expansion of culling in coming years.
“We estimate that the total kill figure since the start of culling in 2013 may reach around 280,000.
“This means the Government is only halfway through killing badgers.
“This figure represents almost 60% of an estimated badger population of 485,000.
“That is not, and will never be, acceptable to us. The killing needs to stop.”
Supporters of the policy believe killing badgers helps stop the spread of bovine TB in cattle, with badgers blamed for carrying the disease around the countryside, infecting cows.
But opponents believe the shooting programme is ineffective.
In January, the Government signalled the scheme would start to be wound down from 2022.
But the Mirror revealed this month how more badgers face being shot this autumn after a dozen new applications were made for cull licences.
Ms Varley said: “We are appalled that the Government is ignoring the welfare and suffering of tens of thousands of this protected species.
“It is not considering the devastating consequences for the national badger population, and associated ecosystems, in the decision making process.
“The outcome could be catastrophic for the species.”
Unveiling the consultation in January, Environment Secretary George Eustice said it “sets out proposals for Natural England to stop issuing the current intensive cull licences for new areas post-2022 and enable new licences issued to be cut short if the Chief Veterinary Officer considers this acceptable”.
He added: “Furthermore, I am proposing to restrict any new supplementary cull licences to two years and cease re-issuing such licences in any areas in which supplementary culling has previously been licensed.”
This article was first published by The Mirror on 26 March 2021. Lead Image: In January, the Government signalled the scheme would start to be wound down from 2022 (Image: Surrey Mirror – Grahame Larter).
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