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February 28, 2014

FOI Request Reveals Animal Suffering and Biosecurity Breaches During Pilot Badger Cull

Humane Society International/UK


Stuart Matthews/HSI

LONDON—A set of ‘Compliance Reports’ from Natural England’s badger cull monitors provides disturbing insight into last year’s pilot culls in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire. The documents passed to Humane Society International/UK show that, contrary to DEFRA statements at the time, some badgers were shot in the wrong body area including the head, or were wounded and had to be shot a second time. Monitors also found that biosecurity was frequently ignored with shooters failing to wear gloves or facemasks or use disinfectant.

Mark Jones, veterinarian and executive director of HSI/UK said:

“It is deeply worrying that whilst DEFRA was publicly declaring the pilot badger culls to have been humane, badgers were being shot in the head, neck and shoulder against best practice, some requiring more than one shot and most likely suffering substantially as a result. While the level of observation of controlled shoots was clearly inadequate, if the proportion of poor shot placement and wounding observed is in any way representative of the shooting as a whole, we could potentially be looking at hundreds of badgers enduring pain and distress.

Indeed if wounding, incorrect kill shots and biosecurity breaches were recorded when the shooters were being monitored and arguably on their best behaviour, it is quite possible that even more unprofessional conduct and animal suffering could have occurred when no-one was watching. DEFRA’s myth of a humane and professional cull has been exposed. It would be a travesty to allow this unjustified slaughter of badgers to continue. We’ve always suspected that the cull was inhumane, now we have evidence to show it. It’s time to kill the cull.”

The reports cover a total of 41 visits by Natural England’s monitoring personnel, and two telephone assessments, carried out during the initial six-week pilot cull and subsequent extensions. Whilst the reports represent only a snapshot of the cull—additional monitoring during the initial six week periods was conducted by the AHVLA—the Natural England monitors documented a series of worrying deviations from best practice including at least two instances where considerable animal suffering was most likely caused.  

Key Facts

  • Monitoring of the cull was woefully inadequate—in 41 visits, the N.E monitors only witnessed nine badgers killed by ‘controlled shooting’. However, the fact that so many worrying breaches were observed even in this small sample suggests that the overall level of animal suffering, wounding, biosecurity breaches and more could be high.
  • In one-third of these instances, badgers were shot incorrectly (in the wrong body area, including through the neck, head, chest and one bullet exiting the leg).
  • Two badgers were wounded, chased and had to be shot a second time. In one case, five to 10 minutes elapsed between the first and second shot.


Media contact

Wendy Higgins: +44 (0)7989 972 423, whiggins@hsi.org 


  • In one incident in West Gloucestershire on 10 Sept., a badger was shot from 60 metres and hit (incorrectly) in the shoulder, wounding the animal. The bullet exited through its hind leg. The badger ran towards the sett with a limp. When it stopped it was shot a second time, this time hitting the badger’s neck/shoulder area. Both shots diverged from Defra Best Practice Guidance, which specifies the heart/lung area as the target for a humane kill. 
  • In another incident in West Gloucestershire on 29 Oct a badger was shot “too high and too far back”. The badger was wounded, dropped, got back up, ran to the hedge where the contractor chased it before shooting it a second time in the head to kill it some 5 – 10 minutes after it was wounded. This animal will have suffered significantly.
  • In West Somerset there are three separate observations of shot badgers twitching and shaking for a short period of time after being shot. There is no way to know for certain whether this was just post mortem muscle spasm or a still conscious badger in the final throws.

The Best Practice Guidance sets out requirements for humane shooting practices, including:
a)  that only trained marksman be employed (using Defra approved competency course);
b)  use of correct rifles (centre-fire, not rim-fire rifles) and correct ammunition and night sights;
c)  maximum distance for shooting—no more than 70 metres; 
d)  shot placement in heart/lung area on stationary animals;
e)  shots must be taken at least 30 metres away from the nearest sett, and away from dense vegetation.

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