Farmers across England must wait until next year at the earliest for a badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis in cattle, the government has admitted.

Although an announcement was likely next month, farm minister Jim Paice said it would be 2012 until a cull could be implemented. “If we do allow it to go ahead it would probably be from spring next year.”

The government was close to resolving potential legal issues raised by a badger cull. But a public consultation, which concluded in December, had raised some serious issues, sparking myriad negotiations behind the scenes.

“There is no doubt we would be faced with a judicial review if we do go ahead [with a cull] and we’d have to withstand that review,” said Mr Paice.

“The main issue is how we ensure that a cull, once started, actually completes; all the evidence we have is that it’s got to run for at least four years if it’s going to have an effect.”

If approved, the government was proposing to license professional marksmen to carry out the cull through controlled shooting. Any judicial review was likely to be raised on the point of whether such a decision was reasonable, he added.

“We have to accept that the science is disputed. The critical thing is whether we have properly examined every issue. I believe a cull is part of the answer, but we have to tackle this disease from all angles.

“If we do allow it to go ahead it would probably be from spring next year. It can’t happen overnight, and that’s not allowing time for a judicial review. But we think it would still be completed in time.”

The delay will disappoint farmers who have long campaigned for a badger cull to combat bovine TB. Helpline calls relating to the disease have doubled within a year, according to the latest figures from the Farm Crisis Network.

“All our volunteers are well equipped to support those affected by bovine TB,” said network chief executive Charles Smith. “FCN is well prepared to support farmers who are at risk or are suffering from the impact of this terrible disease.”

The Farm Crisis Network helpline number is 0845 367 9990.