Pilot badger culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire approved

Badger Opponents say the cull is inhumane.

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Badger culls are set to go ahead later this year after final licence conditions were met, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has said.

The pilot culls, in Gloucestershire and West Somerset, were postponed amid fears they could not be carried out effectively last autumn.

Ministers want to hold a pilot badger cull to halt the spread of tuberculosis to cattle.

The RSPCA, which opposes the cull, said it wanted to help fund vaccination.

Mr Paterson confirmed the cull at the National Farmers Union (NFU) annual conference.

He also announced a reserve pilot will also be prepared in Dorset.

Under the plans, badgers will be shot in the open without first being trapped in cages, which is current practice.

'£1bn' cost

"I am determined that there are no further delays this year," Mr Paterson said.

"That is why we have taken the sensible step with the farming industry to elect a reserve area that can be called upon should anything happen to prevent culling in Somerset or Gloucester."

Analysis

By Helen Briggs, BBC News

Badger culls in England were postponed at the last minute in the autumn, when it came to light that the number of badgers in the pilot areas had been vastly underestimated.

Targets have now been set - farmers are allowed to shoot up to 5,094 badgers in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset over a six-week period starting as early as the summer.

Ministers have also announced a reserve area - Dorset - in case of unforeseen problems. They have commissioned a new national survey of badger numbers - the first for more than a decade - which is due to report in July or August.

Greater certainty over the number of badgers that can be killed without the threat of removing the local population - and the issuing of full licenses to farmers - clear some of the obstacles that led to last year's delays.

However, there are still many potential conflicts. The policy of free shooting badgers has not proved popular with either the public or the majority of independent scientists.

Opponents of the badger cull have promised to continue their action, with new protests already under way.

Mr Paterson added that tackling the spread of bovine TB had cost £500m in the past 10 years and that figure could rise to £1bn if action was not taken.

The authorisation from Natural England states that culling can take place from 1 June and will last for six weeks. It will be repeated annually for four years.

The pilot will be independently checked to ensure it is removing enough badgers in a humane way, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.

Labour's shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, said scientists had branded the cull an "untested and risky approach" while more than 150,000 members of the public had signed a petition opposing it.

She said: "As incompetent Defra ministers stagger from one crisis to the next, the policing costs, paid by the taxpayer, will balloon to £4m while bovine TB will increase in the next two years as the shooting displaces badgers.

'Scandalous waste'

"Ministers should listen to the public and the scientists and drop this cull before any more public money is wasted."

But a Defra spokesman said a cull "carried out in the right way can make a meaningful contribution" to controlling TB.

NFU president Peter Kendall also backed the cull and called for a full roll-out in 2014.

He described the 35,000 cattle that had to be slaughtered because of the disease as a "scandalous waste".

Protesters at the ICC - Pic Gloucestershire Against Badger Shooting Protesters gathered outside the ICC after the announcement

But Gavin Grant, the RSPCA chief executive, claimed studies into a cull found it would not have a major impact on the spread of TB.

"We obviously need to do something but we have to do the right thing, the cull is wrong. So if not culling, then what? The answer is vaccination," he said.

"The RSPCA, working with others has put together a costed, practical, working programme to vaccinate the badgers of the two pilot cull zones.

"We're ready to put our effort behind a funded programme if the government will match it. We'll also try and put the people on the ground to make sure it goes ahead."

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