Farmers will be “bitterly disappointed” over the government’s decision not to roll out badger culls to other areas this year, says the NFU.

The NFU was responding to the publication of the Independent Expert Panel’s (IEP’s) report into the pilot badger culls on Thursday (3 April).

NFU president Meurig Raymond thanked those who helped manage and deliver the important badger cull pilots in the face of intimidation from protesters.

See also: Owen Paterson shelves badger cull rollout for now

“As pilots, there was always going to be the potential to make improvements as a result of knowledge gained. After all that is what pilots are for,” he added.

“They have helped to gain a greater understanding of how we can tackle the wildlife element of this terrible disease cycle.

Importantly, Mr Raymond said the independent report found that the method of culling badgers by controlled shooting can be safe with best practice followed, even with the presence of protesters.

“We do have to remember that some of these protesters carried out a sustained campaign of intimidation and harassment and were, in some cases, aggressive and completely irresponsible,” he added.

Mr Raymond said he did not agree with all the assumptions made in the IEP report.

And he expressed concerns that it painted a picture that was “not recognised by those on the ground”.

He said the NFU would need to examine the report in more detail, but added that the panel had made “some useful recommendations” to improve the delivery of culling to implement in Gloucestershire and west Somerset in subsequent years.

“TB remains a terrible disease for cattle and cattle farmers where it is persistent and high,” said Mr Raymond.

“Statistics released by DEFRA show there were 4,815 new herds infected with TB in 2013 in Great Britain, with 32,620 cattle slaughtered in an attempt to control the disease.”

He added: “As today’s strategy sets out, it is hugely important that any cattle controls go hand in hand with measures to tackle the disease in badgers. And culling must play a part in that where TB is rife.

“Members are our priority. For our beef and dairy farmers, TB remains a terrible disease which is having a huge impact on their cattle and their farm business.”

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) responded to the report saying the country will only be able to eradicate bovine TB “if we tackle the disease in the wildlife reservoir as well as cattle”.

But BVA president Robin Hargreaves stressed that the association would only support culling badgers “if the method used is humane, safe and effective”.

“Bovine TB is a devastating disease and we know that we need a comprehensive package of measures to tackle the disease in cattle and wildlife if we are to stop the advancing spread of TB northwards and eastwards,” he added.