Badger culls in the two pilot counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire have been authorised to continue this autumn, Natural England has confirmed.

The government agency, which is in charge of issuing badger control licences, said it had sent letter to the culling companies to give them the go ahead to resume culling in the two counties.

Under the licensing criteria, at least 615 badgers in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset must be removed.

However marksmen must not remove more than 1,091 badgers in Gloucestershire and 785 in Somerset “to safeguard the local populations”.

Culling operations in both these counties, where TB is rife, will be carried out under the existing four-year licences, which allow six weeks of culling to take place every year between 1 June and 31 January.

Start dates for culling activity will be decided by the licensed companies.

See also: Read more on Bovine TB and the badger cull

Last year’s culls came under fire from animal welfare groups after marksmen failed to meet their targets to cull at least 70% of the badger population.

Natural England said it had responded to the recommendations in the independent expert panel’s report on the first year of culling to develop a “more robust monitoring regime for this year’s culls”.

A government-approved training programme has been put in place to improve shooting accuracy.

Natural England will monitor controlled shooting through field observations to record accuracy in 60 cases.

And vets from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) will carry out postmortem examinations on at least 60 randomly selected badgers from each cull area to assess accuracy of controlled shooting.

“These measures have been put in place to implement the recommendations made by the independent expert panel following last year’s pilots,” said Natural England in a statement.

Last Thursday (21 August) the Badger Trust, which is strongly opposed to culling, was in court to challenge the government’s culling policy.

Lawyers acting on behalf of the trust were challenging the government’s decision to dispense of independent monitoring.

A judge reserved judgment on the challenge, but a Defra spokesman said the outcome would not affect the government’s decision to continue culling for a second year.