The Trust’s director-general, Dame Helen Ghosh, who was the permanent secretary at the environment department until 2010, requested assurances that “high standards of scientific rigour in the conduct and analysis of these pilot culls” were being upheld.
Also on Monday, rock musician and leading opponent of the cull Brian May issued a call for Paterson to resign, claiming he had failed to meet the public’s expectation of “honesty and transparency”.
The culls, aimed at curbing tuberculosis in cattle, have so far failed to kill the minimum number of badgers required in the six weeks allowed, despite the government reducing the initial estimated population. Natural England has already granted a three-week extension to the night-time shoots in the Somerset cull zone and is expected to rule on a proposed eight-week extension any day.
In her letter, Ghosh raised concerns over changes in the estimates of the badger population and the lengthening of the culls. “We are worried by uncertainties over and changes in the baseline badger population estimates. This dimension is fundamental,” she wrote.
Ghosh also expressed worry on “apparently now active discussion of other culling methods for any wider rollout, such as gassing and snaring: both have strong experimental evidence bases calling into question whether they can be humane.”
The National Trust’s preferred approach is vaccination and it has been testing badger vaccination at its own cost since 2011 on its Killerton Estate in Devon.
But the NT’s position until now has been that badger culling, conducted under very stringent criteria, could play a significant role in curbing the TB infections that saw 28,000 cattle slaughtered in 2012. NT’s executives have been preparing to defy a member’s resolution, being voted on at its annual general meeting on Saturday, that calls for a ban on badger culling on all 250,000 hectares of NT land.
Brian May has been an outspoken campaigner against the cull, and on Monday said questions remained unanswered about the changing badger population estimates.
May said: “The public has a right to expect honesty and transparency from its ministers. It appears that Mr Paterson, in his zeal to push ahead a highly questionable policy, has failed to meet these requirements. We believe that, if Owen Paterson cannot answer these questions of transparency, the prime minister must ask for his resignation.”