The NFU says it remains committed to the wider roll-out of the badger cull in areas where bovine TB is rife.

Marksmen failed to meet their target of removing 70% of badgers in the pilot areas of Somerset and Gloucestershire, prompting further calls from animal welfare groups, such as the Badger Trust, RSPCA and Humane Society International (HSI) UK, to stop the cull.

But NFU director general Andy Robertson said the knowledge gained from the first year of culling would help with the delivery of the pilots for the next three years.

“This has been the first year of the pilot culls and we had always expected to gain knowledge from the first year to implement in subsequent years,” he added.

“The pilots were designed to test safety, humaneness and effectiveness. I want to praise those managing the culls and the contractors on the ground.

“The current record of safety and humaneness is testament to their professionalism and hard work and has been achieved despite a sustained attempt by those against the cull to harass and intimidate people, including those with young children.”

Mr Robertson described bovine TB as the “greatest threat facing our beef and dairy farmers”, and insisted it was “vital we do everything we can to control and eradicate it”.

He said: “Chief vet Nigel Gibbens has said badger culling over a four-year period in both pilot areas will help to reduce TB in cattle.

“Farm minister George Eustice said on Friday the extension in Gloucestershire had been ‘worthwhile’ and had removed a significant number of badgers which will make a difference to disease control in the area.”

Mr Robertson said the NFU was looking forward to receiving the report on the pilot culls by the independent panel of experts early next year.

“The NFU remains committed to supporting wider roll-out to help prevent the spread of this terrible disease,” he added.

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