Shropshire farmers told to unite on badger cull
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has told farmers across north Shropshire to work together if they wish to see a badger cull introduced next year.
Mr Paterson said he believes Shropshire, and in particular his north Shropshire constituency, is an "extremely appropriate" place for a cull as he seeks to eradicate Bovine TB from the UK within 25 years.
A trial cull of 5,000 badgers began in Somerset and Gloucestershire on Monday with farmers across the county keenly awaiting the outcome.
Farmers and the Government insist culling of badgers, which can spread TB to cattle, is needed to stop spiralling rates of the disease in herds.
But opponents say culling the protected animal will have only a small effect on infection rates in cattle and will lead to badgers suffering. They want the emphasis to be on vaccines and tighter on-farm and cattle movement measures.
Mr Paterson said if the culls are successful he expects north Shropshire farmers to draw up boundaries so a cull could start in the area as early as June next year.
He said: "I do think my constituency is an extremely appropriate site.
"One of my neighbours was speaking to me recently and told me he found a very sick badger in his field and he was pleading with me to remove it.
"That is what this is all about. What we are trying to do is establish healthy badgers and healthy cattle. Providing the trial culls prove to be safe, humane and efficient we are looking for a further 10 areas to start culls next year.
"We know there is a serious problem in parts of north Shropshire particularly in areas around Ellesmere and Market Drayton."
Mr Paterson said he has spoken to many farmers across north Shropshire who have expressed an interest in starting a cull.
He said: "I have spoken to farmers in my constituency and when I went to the Shropshire County Show and I have had a very positive response to what we are trying to do. For the first time in 15 years we are addressing the need to eradicate this disease in both in cattle and in wildlife.
"Bovine TB has already cost the country a billion pounds. If we don't do anything we're going to be spend another billion pounds dealing with the consequences.
"Farmers have had such a terrible time because we have not addressed the disease in wildlife. "
John Mercer, NFU West Midlands regional director, said: "Any future decision about further cull areas will be made by the Government as it is their policy, however, it can't be denied that the disease is rife in large parts of Shropshire, including the north of the county.
"If there is a future Shropshire badger cull then obviously boundaries will have to be looked at but at this stage no decision has been made and the focus is very much on the two pilot areas."
He added: "What is clear though is the spread of bovine TB across the country has to be stopped and farmers recognise this is a regrettable but necessary Government decision based on the latest available science."
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