Controversial badger culling to tackle tuberculosis in cattle is set to go ahead this summer, after two pilot schemes were given the green light yesterday.
Pilot culls in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, which will see the killing of 70 per cent of badgers in each area, have been authorised by Government agency Natural England after final licence conditions were met, with a third scheme in Dorset being prepared as a reserve to prevent any further delays.
The two pilot culls were delayed last year in the face of bad weather and the discovery that there were more badgers in the areas than previously estimated.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told farmers at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham that he was committed to making sure the pilots went ahead.
He said tackling bovine TB had cost the taxpayer £500m in the past 10 years, and the bill could reach £1bn over the next decade if the disease was left unchecked.
He said research in the UK had shown that culling badgers, which can transmit TB to cattle, could reduce the levels of the disease in herds.
Mr Paterson said: “Bovine TB is spreading at an alarming rate and causing real devastation to our beef and dairy industry. I am determined that there are no further delays this year.”
Up to 5,000 badgers will be killed across the two areas.
The move was welcomed by NFU president Peter Kendall who said it would have been easy for the Environment Secretary to let TB slip down the list of priorities.
But Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh said: “Ministers should listen to the public and the scientists and drop this cull before any more public money is wasted.”