Badger cull given the go ahead in two areas of England

A cull of badgers will go ahead in two areas of the country as part of the government's efforts to tackle bovine TB in cattle.

A cull of badgers will go ahead in two areas of the country as part of the government's efforts to tackle bovine TB in cattle.

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman told the Commons this week that the two, six-week trials next year will then be evaluated before a panel of experts decides whether the slaughter of badgers is rolled out more widely across England, with up to 10 licences to cull the animals being granted to farmers and landowners each year.

She wished there was an alternative but a vaccine for the disease would take too long to develop and was difficult to administer to wild badgers which needed to be trapped first.

The two areas have yet to be selected but it is expected that the culling will lead to a reduction of 16 per cent in bovine TB.

Mrs Spelman said: "I know there is great strength of feeling on this issue but I also know that we need to take action now before the TB situation deteriorates even further.

" I wish that there was a current satisfactory alternative but we can't escape the fact that the evidence supports the case for the controlled reduction of the badger population in the areas affected by bovine TB.

Mrs Spelman said the pilot scheme would look to confirm the Government's assumptions about the "effectiveness, humanness and safety of the controlled shooting" of badgers.

In worst afected areas in the west and south-west of England  up to 23 per cent of cattle farms were unable to move their livestock because of fear of infection.

Nearly 25,000 cattle were slaughtered in England last year because of bovine TB, with the cost to the taxpayer set to reach £1 billion over the next 10 years.

Testing and removal restrictions were the "foundation" of the Government's plans to tackle TB but it was now necessary to cull badgers to stop the spread of the disease.

An extra £250,000 would be made available each year for vaccinations but badgers needed to be trapped and caged before a vaccine could be administered by injection. An oral vaccine was "still years away".

A report by the Farm Crisis Network had found there were feelings of "panic, stress and emotional devastation" for farmers and their families as they repeatedly had to send cattle to slaughter, she told the Commons

"In the meantime we cannot just do nothing," Mrs Spelman added. "This terrible disease is getting worse and we have got to deal with the devastating impact it has on farmers and rural communities.

"I think we would all agree that we need to stop the disease spreading further, to bring it under control and ultimately eradicate it. Evidence tells us that unless we tackle the disease in badgers, we will never eradicate it in cattle.

Farmers and landowers will  carry out culling at their own expense having obtained a badger control licence from  Natural England under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992.

Applicants will have to meet strict conditions to ensure the culling is carried out safely and humanely, with each licence covering a minimum area of 150 sq km over at least four years.

The farming industry will be invited to come forward with a selection of two areas for the pilot and then they will be able to apply for a licence.

A legal challenge in anticpated and that is one of the reasons why it has taken so long tagree to the the cull.

"We have taken a precautionary approach and at every step of the way have tried to ensure we have a copper-bottomed, reasoned, analysis that is the basis of our judgment that we should proceed with this policy."

Farming organisations have bee swift to welcome the announcement.  The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers said they had  been waiting for for more than 15 years for this but it will take a very long time for England to return to its virtual TB free status of the 1960s.

Herefordshire based Harry Cotterell , president of the CLA , also welcomed the move to eradicate the 'appalling disease  which could cost England more than £1billion over the next decade if nothing is done'.

The Farmers' Union of Wales urged the Welsh Government to forge ahead with plans to tackle the disease in north Pembrokeshire.

FUW bovine TB spokesman Brian Walters said: “The English and Welsh proposals are very different and, given the hard work which has been put into the Welsh plan, it is essential we forge ahead with our own programme rather than procrastinate."

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