The badger cull is set to resume in days, with the scheme expected to be widened to Devon and Cornwall.
The cull was extended to Dorset last summer after pilot schemes in Somerset and Gloucestershire.
Defra ministers have declared the culls a success, but opponents maintain that the method of “free shooting” of badgers is ineffective and inhumane and will do little to reduce TB in cattle.
The culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset are due to enter the final year of a four-year licence. The Dorset cull is set to enter the second year of a four-year licence.
Details of the new culling areas have not been released, but culls are expected to begin at least in Devon and Cornwall. It is unclear whether culling will be extended to other areas, including Herefordshire, Worcestershire and the Cotswolds.
Licensed marksmen will be employed to carry out the shooting.
Devon and Cornwall
Anti-cull campaigner Dominic Dyer told Farmers Weekly that culling would resume this Friday (26 August).
He said: “We expect the government to make the announcement on 26 August. That would be in line with how it has been done in previous years, before the bank holiday weekend.
“I still think Devon and Cornwall are the most likely new areas because farmers in these counties are being proactively asked to engage in the cull. We have not received much feedback from other counties.
“It could happen. But it looks like culling will be extended to a small number of counties.”
Mr Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust, said he also expected details of the costs of the culling operation in 2015 to be released this week.
He repeated his calls for culling to be abandoned and insisted that only cattle-based measures and vaccination will lower TB rates.
“I don’t think the culls add up scientifically – and they’re also very expensive for farmers and taxpayers,” said Mr Dyer.
“Defra said it would take six to eight years before any pattern emerges. But there is nothing there to suggest TB rates will come down.
“Both inside and around the culling zones we are still seeing the number of cattle destroyed by TB increasing.
“Also, Defra is not testing any culled badgers for TB, so we have no idea how prevalent the disease is [in badgers]. TB is prevalant in many other species, such as rats and deer, not just badgers.”
‘Reservoir of disease’
However, both Defra and the NFU have insisted that no country has ever eradicated TB without tackling the reservoir of disease in wildlife.
Natural England, the Defra agency that issues culling licences to marksmen, received more than 25 applications for or expressions of interest from farmer-led groups seeking licences to cull badgers.
A spokeswoman for Natural England said there was no set date and the agency would not be giving a running commentary on its licensing.
She added: “Natural England is currently considering applications for further badger control licences as part of the usual licencing process.”
A Defra spokeswoman said there was “no announcement to make at this stage”.
An NFU spokesman said: “The issuing of licences for badger control operations is a matter for Defra and Natural England, as the licensing authority.
“The decision on when to start operations is made by the individual companies. We will not be commenting on, or confirming, start dates.”