The government has announced a final consultation before pressing ahead with plans for a badger cull to combat bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

The nine-week consultation will consider whether shooting badgers is an effective and humane culling method.

Once the consultation is complete a final decision this autumn is expected to see the green light given to a trial cull in two TB hotspot areas of England.

If culling in those pilot areas is shown to be effective, the strategy will be rolled out across other TB hotspot areas.

DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman outlined the strategy to MPs in the House of Commons on Tuesday (19 July).

“I am strongly minded to allow controlled culling, carried out by groups of farmers and landowners, as part of a science-led and carefully managed policy of badger control.”

Badger control licences would be issued by Natural England to allow farmers and landowners to reduce e badger popu8lations at their own risk.

Mrs Spelman said the consultation was necessary because the government has made a number of amendments to its original badger control proposal

Key stakeholders would now be further consulted on draft guidance, allowing the controlled shooting of badgers.

The guidance, to Natural England, sets out the criteria that applicants for a licence must meet to ensure any culling is carried out safely, effectively and humanely.

“Initially in the first year, the culling method would be piloted in two areas to confirm the effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting,” said Mrs Spelman.

“If this is found to be humane and effective by an independent panel of experts, then and only then, would this policy be rolled out more widely.”

Mrs Spelman said she could not say where the two pilot areas there location was largely a matter for the farming industry to decide.

NFU president Peter Kendall welcomed the government’s announcement.

“We could have easily seen this hoofed into the long grass.

“It has come as an enormous sigh of relief that at last we have made a start in the battle against bovine tuberculosis.”

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