Badger culls to combat bovine tuberculosis will take place in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset, farm minister Jim Paice has confirmed.
Farmers from the areas can now apply for culling licences to tackle the devastating impact of bovine TB, he said.
Mr Paice made the announcement in a written ministerial statement on Thursday (19 January).
The two areas in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset had been selected as the most suitable to pilot controlled shooting of badgers, he said.
The measure formed part of a science-led and closely monitored policy to bring bovine TB under control.
“Bovine TB is a chronic and devastating disease,” said Mr Paice.
“It causes the slaughter of tens of thousands of cattle each year, and is taking a terrible toll on our farmers and rural communities.
“Nobody wants to cull badgers. But no country in the world where wildlife carries TB has eradicated the disease in cattle without tackling it in wildlife too.
Bovine TB had seen the slaughter of 25,000 cattle in 2010 alone and would cost taxpayers around £1 billion over the next decade unless it was dealt with.
“These two pilots are just part of a wide range of activity on bovine TB.
“We already have robust measures to control its spread amongst cattle, which we plan to strengthen further, and are continuing to work hard on the development of practical and usable vaccines.
The pilots aim to confirm that the controlled shooting of badgers can be carried out safely, humanely and effectively.
If successful, the policy will be rolled out into other areas.
Licence applications to cull badgers will be assessed by Natural England against a set of criteria.
The criteria include:
* Individuals must be able to demonstrate a high level of competence in marksmanship, and then successfully complete a government approved training course;
* All participating farmers must comply with all the government’s TB cattle controls;
* Biosecurity measures to minimise the spread of bovine TB between cattle, and minimise badgers interacting with cattle, must be implemented by participating farmers;
* There must be a high incidence of TB already present in cattle and the area must be at least 150km2 with access to at least 70% of it;
* Participants must take measures to mitigate the risk of badgers with TB relocating or spreading bovine TB to areas surrounding the culled area.
Measures to stop badgers spreading the disease include natural barriers that help stop the movement of badgers - like coastline, rivers and major roads.
Alternatively, badgers could be vaccinated in surrounding areas before culling goes ahead.
A panel of experts will monitor and evaluate the culls.
The monitoring team will be lead by Professor Christopher Wathes, currently chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC). Other panel members will be appointed shortly.
For more of the badger cull - including how it might work and the history of the decision see Farmers Weeky's dedicated badger cull page.