An impossible task was dealt to farmers hoping to start the badger cull this autumn, claim cull organisers.

“We were defeated by the increased badger numbers that we had to sign up to,” said Jan Rowe, one of the directors of Gloscon, the company organising the cull in Gloucestershire.

“Firstly, we were uncertain that the new badger numbers were genuine,” he added. “Secondly, they came in so late and were going to be put on the culling licence. We had no option other than to say, ‘We cannot agree to this – we cannot commit to culling that number of badgers’.”

Mr Rowe criticised government agencies for not completing the badger survey work earlier.

“Why wasn’t this detailed work done three months ago? Natural England has always said our target had a comfortable margin in it. Suddenly they changed their mind with 10 days to go.

“They got these figures from the Food and Environment Research Agency. It was against our capacity to deal with these numbers.

“I cannot see any excuse why that work could not have been done earlier. Natural England should have done the work a lot earlier.”

Farmers who had signed up to the cull were “within a hair’s breadth of starting” but the delay had devastated them, Mr Rowe said.

“They are absolutely cheesed off. They still face this perennial problem of bTB cases in their herds and no sign of anything that might bring some relief.

“They have put in a hell of a lot of work and they are just going to carry on suffering losses from this terrible disease.”

But despite the big setback, Mr Rowe remained upbeat about the chances of culling starting next summer.

“Hopefully, we will get the pilot culls rolled out next year,” he said, “But there has to be an element of latitude on the numbers game.”

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