Badger cull pilots aimed at reducing bovine tuberculosis could be moved to different counties, the NFU has said.

Culling licences issued by Natural England remain in place for the two chosen areas – west Gloucestershire and west Somerset.

But NFU president Peter Kendall said alternative regions were being considered to ensure the cull had the best chances of success.

Derbyshire, parts of Cornwall and Devon are other areas under consideration if plans for culling are withdrawn in either or both of the two original counties.

“We are talking to other areas about their strengths. If something went wrong in one of the original areas we want to ensure that we have got really strong alternative regions ready to go,” said Mr Kendall.

“We don’t know yet whether someone will drop out, so we are making sure that we have got the best possible areas ready to go at the best possible times.”

Mr Kendall said farmers in other regions had contacted the NFU suggesting that their areas would be suitable for culling.

“For this year, the target is to choose the two best areas,” he added. “We know that Gloucestershire is very tight on areas of sign-up.

“We are looking to take Gloucestershire further and get more of the land area signed up. We are happy with the sign-up in Somerset, but if Gloucestershire drops out at least we would have other areas.”

The earliest that the delayed cull can begin is 1 June this year. This is because a closed season for culling, designed to prevent distress to badgers or their dependent offspring, is currently being observed.

However, Mr Kendall suggested that the pilot culls would not begin in early summer as previously anticipated.

“I doubt it will be the beginning of June. I think it will be later in the year, purely so that we can get enough access to land, ” he said.

In November, DEFRA agreed to an NFU request to postpone the badger culls until summer 2013 to allow farmers to “continue their preparations and have the best possible chances of carrying out a cull effectively”.

The cull was postponed at the 11th hour after a survey of the badger population found that numbers were twice as high as expected in the two pilot areas.

As a result, the NFU said it could be certain that trained marksmen would be able to remove the required minimum of 70% of badgers in each cull zone to ensure the cull was successful.

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