Natural England has issued a badger culling licence to control bovine tuberculosis in cattle in the west Somerset pilot area.

A statement by Natural England said an application for a licence was made by a specially formed company representing farming and land management interests.

The licence authorises culling during a continuous six-week period each year for the next four years. It covers approximately 250sq km and allows the company to reduce badger populations in the pilot area by at least 70%. Maximum numbers of badgers culled have also been specified to prevent the risk of local extinction.

The licence is the second to be issued – last month approval was given for the west Gloucestershire pilot area.

A start date for culling has been pencilled in.

An NFU spokesman said “Everything is on track. The money is there, the industry is ready and we are confident culling will begin this autumn.

“Farmers are nervous about the whole thing, but we are trying to build confidence to see there are no leaks,” added the spokesman.

Animal rights activists are continuing their campaign of intimidation and harassment of those connected to the cull.

Last weekend, several national newspapers published stories about farmers pulling out of the cull in west Gloucestershire after receiving threats from animal rights groups.

But the NFU rubbished the reports and said the bullying tactics were “not working”.

“Some people are concerned about the protesters, but in our view, it’s a lot of noise from a few people,” said the NFU spokesman.

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