DEFRA ministers and farming officials claim the controversial cull of badgers in Cumbria this autumn appears to be paying off.

In a written statement to the Commons, farming minister, George Eustice revealed how the cull of badgers in the east of the county, coupled with more cattle measures, had given them the best opportunity to stamp out the disease in that area.

And figures released to The Cumberland News by the National Farmers’ Union reveal that in Cumbria new herd incidents fell from 34 to 30, the number of cattle slaughtered fell by one to 205, and the number of herds not officially bTB-free at the end of the period September of this year due to a bTB incident fell from 14 to six.

Mr Eustice’s comments come as a government report, published on Tuesday, into badger control operations from September to November of this year, revealed a total of 32,601 badgers culled in England as part of plans to eradicate bovineTB in cattle.

In his statement to the Commons, Mr Eustice said that licensed badger removal operations were completed in 11 new areas, including Cumbria, and 19 existing areas.

“The pace at which farmers and landowners came together to deliver an effective badger removal operation in Cumbria, alongside exhanced cattle measures, has given us the best opportunity to stamp out the disease in this hotspot,” said Mr Eustice.

Since badger culling began in 2013, some 67,154 badgers have been killed at an estimated cost of more than £50m to the taxpayer.

Commenting on the report, NFU vice-president Stuart Roberts said: “No one has ever said culling alone will eradicate bovineTB.

“To tackle this disease we must utilise a comprehensive strategy which uses all available options – cattle testing, cattle movement controls, on-farm biosecurity, vaccination of badgers in areas on the edge of disease spread, and control of badgers where their presence may contribute to the spread of disease.”

Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said: “This is the largest destruction of a protected species in living memory. By the end of 2018, the government will have spent over £50m of public funds killing more than 67,000 badgers [since 2013], which could push the species to the verge of local extinction in areas of England where it has lived since the ice age.

“The badger cull is a cruel, costly and ineffective policy.”