A High Court challenge has failed to derail plans for a badger cull aimed at combating bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

The legal challenge by the Badger Trust sought to stop a pilot cull of badgers planned by DEFRA  in two areas of south-west England.

DEFRA said the cull would now go ahead as soon as possible.

“We are pleased with the judgement,” said a DEFRA spokesman.

“No one wants to cull badgers but last year bovine TB led to the slaughter of over 26,000 cattle and to help eradicate the disease it needs to be tackled in badgers.

“We will continue to work with the farming industry so badger control in two pilot areas can start as soon as is practical.”

The pilot culls aim to show that shooting badgers is safe, humane and effective. If successful, culling could be rolled out to other areas next year.

But the plan has been condemned by shadow DEFRA secretary Mary Creagh.

“Scientists who worked on previous badger culls are clear that culling makes little difference and risks increasing, rather than reducing, bovine TB,” she said.

“Worse still, the government’s approach of shooting free moving badgers has not been scientifically tested and their own analysis shows that it will cost farmers more than it saves them.

“Bovine TB will only be eradicated by better bio-security on farms and a large-scale vaccination programme for badgers.”

But the National Beef Association said it was thrilled by the High Court ruling.

Joanne Pugh, NBA assistant director, said: “We are absolutely delighted that the High Court has given the go-ahead for two pilot areas to operate this autumn.

“A lot of farmers have put in a lot of work to get to this point and it would have been heartbreaking if a further delay had been created.

The High Court had acknowledged that bovine TB could not be tackled with cattle measures alone. Everything was in place for the two pilot culls to go ahead later this year.

“We just hope the Badger Trust heeds the strength of this decision and decides against appealing.”

For more on the badger cull

Go to our bovine TB and badger cull pages