Police have been urged to maintain law and order as badger culling gets under way in south-west England.

DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has held top-level talks during the past week with the chief constables who will oversee policing in the two pilot areas, west Gloucestershire and west Somerset.

“I made it quite clear that I do not do operational policing – that is their responsibility. But I expect this policy to go through in the two trial areas,” said Mr Paterson.

“I expect them to maintain law and order – that is their job.”

DEFRA is expected to announce further cattle movement restrictions and new rules on TB surveillance to coincide with the start of culling.

As Farmers Weekly went to press on Wednesday (10 October), final preparations were being made on the ground ahead of the cull, which farming leaders said would begin “within the next couple of days”.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: “There has been a lot of work going on preparing the ground for some time. The finishing touches are being put in place to proceed as soon as it is actionable.”

Intense efforts have been going on behind the scenes by farming leaders to begin culling, which had to start by 20 October at the latest to ensure six clear weeks before the close season for cage-trapping starts on 1 December.

This is to reduce the risk of trapped badgers being exposed to severe weather or of leaving dependent cubs to starve underground. A mixture of cage-trapping and free shooting of badgers will be used, depending on site topography.

Mr Kendall said: “It is much more doable [this autumn] – we have made a lot of progress on all of the areas. There has been an awful lot of graft by a lot of people to try and make sure that this is becoming more deliverable.”

The licences allow farming groups to cull at least 70% of badgers within the two pilot zones in an effort to tackle bovine tuberculosis. Trained marksmen will carry out the controlled shooting of badgers in each county.

One West Country farmer, who asked not to be named, told Farmers Weekly: “This is the most delicate situation I have seen and my main concern is protecting people in the area.

“There has been a campaign against the farmers which they have withstood very well. The police are being proactive, which is good.

“But I think they [farmers] are ready. We just hope it can go ahead without too much fuss and the protests will be just talk and no action.”

A Natural England spokesman said: “We will not be commenting on a start date for the badger cull.”

The Badger Trust, which failed in a legal bid this summer to try and stop the cull, said it could not rule out taking further legal action.

“We can only challenge in the courts on points of law, not science. But our lawyers are looking at whatever arises that is actionable, or gives grounds for action,” said trust spokesman Jack Reedy.

Lobby group Stop the Cull vowed to disrupt the cull by pouring human urine on bait traps.

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