OPPONENTS of the controversial badger cull in parts of West Somerset and Taunton Deane have branded the reasons behind plans to extend it as “ludicrous”.

It was announced this week that the cull could be extended by three weeks as the number of badgers shot was just over 40% of the initial target.

Environment Minister Owen Paterson confirmed in the House of Commons yesterday that just 850 badgers had been shot in the area over the initial six-week culling period, which ended on Sunday.

The initial target was to shoot 2,081 and now DEFRA sources say population estimates taken in 2012 are inaccurate.

They now estimate that there are 1,450 badgers living in West Somerset and that 1,015 badgers would need to be killed in total to meet the 70% target.

A spokesman for Stop the Cull told the County Gazette that reasons given for the decline in the number of badgers living in West Somerset were “stupid”.

He said: “It has come as a shock there are plans to extend the cull and the idea that the badger population has decreased by 50% is ludicrous.

“They used hair traps to get their information on badger numbers but Stop the Cull has been removing them so there wouldn’t have been a proper indication.

“One of the reasons they gave for the decline is flooding but we aren’t aware of any and if you ask residents I’m sure they will tell you the same.”

In his ministerial statement, Mr Paterson said he believed that the badger control pilot operations were carried out safely, effectively and humanely.

He said a decision was yet to be taken, believed to be by the end of this week, on the application to extend the licence in Somerset.

NFU president Peter Kendall told the Gazette: “I understand that the company carrying out the cull in Somerset has applied to Natural England to extend the culling period to enhance its disease control.

“Our absolute focus, and that of everyone involved, is disease control.

“More than 38,000 cattle were slaughtered in Great Britain in 2012 because of bovine TB.

“These badger cull pilots are a very important first step in what is a 25-year strategy to eradicate this terrible and infectious disease.”

No date for the possible three week extension has been proposed yet.