Two pilot badger culls to tackle the spread of bovine TB will go ahead this summer in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson confirmed today.
Speaking at the National Farmers Union (NFU) annual conference, Mr Paterson announced that authorisation letters have been issued by Natural England confirming the culls can proceed this summer.
Mr Paterson also announced a reserve pilot will also be prepared in Dorset in the event that unforeseen circumstances prevent one of the cull areas from being used. This is part of the ongoing planning to ensure there are no delays to the cull proceeding this year.
Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary, said:
Bovine TB is spreading at an alarming rate and causing real devastation to our beef and dairy industry. The authorisation letters issued today confirming culling can proceed this summer in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset is an important step towards taking the action we need to tackle the spread of this disease in wildlife.
I am determined that there are no further delays this year. 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 Gloucestershire.
These pilot culls are just one part of our approach to control and eradicate this dreadful disease. We are using everything at our disposal to get to grips with TB including new tougher controls on moving cattle, increased herd testing and working to get effective vaccines ready as soon as possible.
The experience of countries such as the Republic of Ireland, the United States, Australia and New Zealand shows that TB in cattle cannot be controlled without also tackling the disease in the surrounding wildlife. In New Zealand, the number of infected cattle and deer herds has been reduced from 1,700 in the mid 1990s to fewer than 100 in 2011. This is as a result of rigorous bio-security measures, strict cattle movement controls and proactive wildlife management.
The authorisation letters issued by Natural England mean that culling will be able to proceed at any point from 1 June. The pilot culls will last for 6 weeks and will be repeated annually for four years.
The pilots are being carried out to test the chosen method of culling through free shooting. The pilots will be independently assessed to check the method is both effective in removing enough badgers and humane.
The reserve pilot in Dorset will be prepared in the same way as the two licensed areas so that it is ready to proceed if necessary in the summer.