UK & World News
Badgers 'Culled In Illegal Gassing Trials'
Sky News has uncovered evidence that farmers have been gassing dozens of badgers to death illegally to try to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis.
The development comes as the Government said culls in west Somerset and Gloucestershire could be extended by three weeks because marksmen have failed to reach the target of killing 70% of badgers in those areas.
Sky's Isabel Webster learned that unofficial trials of gassing using a hosepipe and vehicle engines have been carried out on 14 farms in the south west of England.
A farmer, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "We have done unofficial trials but we want to do official trials to prove that it does work and is humane."
Gassing wildlife is illegal and gassing a single badger - a protected species - carries a possible prison sentence and fine of up to £5,000.
Opponents of the cull have condemned gassing.
Dominic Dyer, of Care For The Wild, said there have been no prosecutions in recent years but the idea has been openly discussed in farmers' meetings.
"Farmers think they can act with impunity," he said.
The Government has been researching gassing as a culling method but Environment Secretary Owen Paterson condemned the illegal action.
He said: "It is most unfortunate. Random culling can lead to an extension of the disease. Culls should be legal, licensed and should use procedures that have been proved humane."
Around 5,000 badgers were expected to be killed by free shooting under the two pilot schemes.
But Defra said Natural England was considering extending the west Somerset cull to "maximise the disease control benefits".
According to reports, 850 badgers have been shot in west Somerset over the six-week trial - just over 40% of an initial target of 2,081.
A Defra spokesman said: "Early indications suggest that the Somerset cull has been safe, humane and enough badgers have already been killed to help reduce bovine TB.
"Natural England is currently considering an application from the cull company for a short extension of two to three weeks so as to maximise the disease control benefits achieved this year."
Farmers and the Government insist culling of badgers is needed to stop spiralling rates of TB in cattle herds.
But opponents say culling less than 70% of the protected animals could increase infection rates and will lead to badgers suffering.
They want the emphasis to be on vaccines and tighter on-farm and cattle movement measures.
Campaigners turned out in large numbers at the pilot sites in August to protest against what they call "inhumane" action.