Farm leaders have mapped 33 areas in readiness for a badger cull to be rolled out across TB hotspots in south-west England and the Midlands.
"We've been working on this for two years," said Kevin Pearce, NFU director of regions. "We knew ultimately if we were to make progress then the industry had to show it can deliver an efficient and effective cull."
Some of the 33 areas are more ready than others. In some, 60% of farmers have signed up and are prepared for a cull. In others, more progress needs to be made. "There's a long way to go on this," acknowledged Mr Pearce.
All of the areas cover at least the required 150km². Subject to a government consultation, a pilot cull will take place in two of these TB hotspots for six weeks next summer, although the location is yet to be decided.
If deemed successful, DEFRA will then grant culling licences for 10 areas each year for the next four years - enough to cover 40 designated TB hotspots. But it means some areas face having to wait until 2015 for culling to start.
DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman refused to be drawn when asked about the timetable for a cull. That would be decided by the panel of independent experts, who would assess culling in the two pilot areas, she said.
But Mr Pearce said he believed a cull could be up and running in the first 10 areas by autumn 2012. Culling in the pilot areas could begin next June, leaving plenty of time for the policy to be assessed and then rolled out to eight other areas, he said.
Culling will be monitored in each area over four years, during which time experts will assess the impact on cattle herd breakdowns within the areas culled, the humaneness of the culling methods and the remaining badger population.
In the event that culling was not carried out effectively during this time, the government would be able to intervene, assume responsibility for completing the culling operation and recover the costs from famers and landowners.
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