Following Jim Paice’s announcement of a proposed badger control policy, Farmers Weekly looks at how the plan would work in practice.

Groups of farmers will have to join together to draw up a plan and apply for a licence from Natural England. The licence, which will be free to farmers, will allow them to vaccinate or cull badgers, or carry out a combination of the two.

The area of land under licence must be a minimum of 150sq km and 70% of landowners within that area must have agreed to take part in the scheme – either through culling or vaccination.

Each year and for the next four years, those farmers covered by the licence must carry out an annual cull or vaccination programme.

DEFRA experts envisage between 800 and 1200 badgers would be killed in each cull zone over the four-year period. Scientific evidence says badger numbers have to be “radically reduced” to take control of TB, as the disease is not sustainable in low populations.

Natural England would monitor the areas granted a licence to ensure farmers are complying with the terms of the licence and are carrying out the cull and vaccine programmes annually.

The agency would also keep an eye on badger numbers to ensure populations are not completely eliminated from a cull zone.

DEFRA said it expected four or five areas would be granted a licence in the first year of the scheme, with endemic areas in the west and south west of England to get licences first.

The policy would be reviewed after four years, with the view that a cull could be scaled back once a cattle vaccine and an oral vaccination for badgers were developed – expected to be within the next five or six years.

Farm minister Jim Paice said badger culls would come to an end within 10 years, with the disease being completely eradicated after about 20 years following a “concerted campaign”.

The costs

• Bovine TB costs the government £63m each year – the majority of which goes towards compensating farmers and testing cattle.
• The costs of vaccinating and culling would be borne by farmers, but the licence would be granted free of charge by Natural England.
• Cage-trapping badgers would cost licensed group members £2500/sq km each year. Culling with free shooting would cost £200/sq km. A combination of the two result in a bill of £1000/sq km.
• It would cost the government a one-off £26,000 to issue a licence and administer compliance checks in each region.
• Planning, administering and managing the delivery of a cull or vaccine programme would also cost the government £20,000 a year for every 150sq km area.
• The government would also face a yearly £200/sq km bill to monitor culls on licensed land.

The figures

• The consultation is open until 8 December. Farm minister Jim Paice will make a decision in early 2011 and if a cull gets the go-ahead, the first one would begin in the spring.
• There are about 300,000 badgers in the whole of Britain. In a 150sq km cull zone between 800 and 1200 are expected to be killed.
• Four or five zones, the majority of which are expected to be in the south and south west of England, would be likely to be granted a licence within the first year
• A “concerted campaign” would take more than 20 years to eradicate TB, according to Mr Paice. Culls are unlikely to still be happening in 10 years, as vaccines will eventually replace the need to kill badgers.

• For more on the badger control policy click here, or to have your say on the plans click here for our forum.