DEFRA could be edging closer to approving a badger cull in areas heavily affected by bovine tuberculosis, industry sources believe.

The Independent Scientific Group on bovine tuberculosis is due to publish its final report on the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, and the potential contribution culling could make in controlling the disease, in June. FWi has been told that the group is expected to say that removing badgers can play a positive role in tackling the disease.

DEFRA officials are understood to have privately admitted to senior industry figures that following the publication of the ISG’s report it would struggle to justify continuing its moratorium on the issuing of culling licences to farmers.

Such a move is likely to require approval from the top of government and need significant organisation by DEFRA. A major concern remains over the possible negative effects at the culling boundaries due to increased roaming of the remaining badgers – an effect known as perturbation.

Heavily co-ordinated

Jan Rowe, NFU TB spokesman, said a cull would need to be heavily co-ordinated, thorough and sustained to be effective. He also raised farmers’ fears of attacks by animal rights extremists, saying there would be a need to protect the identity of those given approval.

“DEFRA is the only body privy to the information necessary to ensure an effective cull. Despite its best efforts to distance itself from the issue it would need to take the lead,” he said.

“If DEFRA persists with its refusal to issue licences then the compensation must be more reflective of the losses incurred. The current compensation regime combined with the increasing prevalence of the disease means cattle farming across large parts of the south west will cease to exist within a few years.”

However, the Badger Trust and other interested parties are likely to mount strong objections to government.

“I’d be amazed if such a policy change came about,” said the Badger Trust’s Trevor Lawson, who also refused to rule out seeking a judicial review if necessary.

He added: “The identity of those receiving permission will have to be made public simply to inform those on the periphery of the culling area that they are of greater risk of contracting TB.”