A group of more than 1500 West Country farmers could be the first in England to begin culling badgers.

The VLA 9 group – named after a strain of bovine TB – has 1575 members in an area of Devon and Cornwall that has suffered one of the highest concentrations of TB breakdowns in the UK. A thousand more farmers in Exmoor, West Cornwall and South Devon also want to take part.

The group has been drawn together by officials from the National Beef Association and NFU and is organised to carry out a cull should it become law.

Work began as long as three years ago, according to NBA member Bill Harper who told Farmers Weekly that the preparations had been triggered by the findings of the Krebs badger culling trial.

“The trial showed how severely the area was hit by TB and the Independent Scientific Group, set up to review the Krebs trial results, concluded that for a cull to work, a whole list of criteria had to be met,” Mr Harper said.

ISG Conclusions
• Over large areas
• Sustained for long periods of time
• Co-ordinated
• Carried out competently and efficiently
• Undertaken where there are natural boundaries to dispersal.

“We used the criteria to form the culling zone and established an independent committee comprising a vet, two scientists, two farmers and two DEFRA officials to oversee the practicalities,” he said.

“At 1400sq km our area is well in excess of the minimum requirement for a cull to be successful.

The area is surrounded by hard boundaries to limit the spread of the disease by infected badgers into previously clean areas.

The north Devon and Cornwall coast forms one boundary, the chain-linked fence along the A30 is another.

“The other boundaries are the Okement, Torridge and Camel rivers,” Mr Harper said.

Once the hard boundaries were agreed, meetings took place to organise support. Eight meetings were held with between 40 to 100 farmers present each time. Sub groups were organised into 63 parish units with a leader in each one.

The total number who signed exceeded 1500 which accounted for more than 70% of farmers covering 80% of the land within the area.

“The cull would be effective, cost-effective and co-ordinated. We will bear the cost and take the responsibility,” he said.

“We are ready to take ownership of a badger cull,” Mr Harper said.

“We are now going to hold an information campaign to show why the group it has been set up as it has. We need to get people to respond positively to the consultation document.

“We have to win the Judicial Review, which will undoubtedly be called by the Badger Trust, and the number of people who get behind the consultation will undoubtedly help in the judgement,” he added.