The Welsh Assembly plans a limited cull of badgers as part of a three-year TB eradication programme.

The cull would be part of an intensive action programme in a yet to be selected area within a TB hotspot, rural affairs minister Elin Jones said.

“I have given due consideration to the divergence of scientific and political opinion on the complex animal health and welfare issues for badgers and cattle,” Ms Jones said.

Other measures taken in the pilot cull area would include more rapid removal of reactors, increased surveillance, tight cattle movement controls and enhanced biosecurity.

She believed the most effective way of tackling the disease was to remove all sources of infection and cross-infection. Monitoring what happened in the intensive action area would show if this was the case.

The pilot area would be chosen after the one-off tests, which would involve checks on 4657 herds in one year.

Ms Jones said 7905 reactor cattle had been slaughtered in 2007 compared with fewer than 700 in 1997. The compensation bill had soared from £1.8m to £15.2m and could exceed £30m by 2012.

“This acceleration is unsustainable. Managing the disease via the measures that are currently being applied would be irresponsible.”

She also announced that the compensation regime would be reformed to speed up the removal of reactors and to address National Audit Office concerns about abuse of the system.

The whole programme, for which £27m had been allocated, would be overseen by the newly-formed TB eradication board, the assembly’s technical advisory group and the animal health and welfare strategy steering committee.

She added: “What I want to see in Wales is healthy cattle and healthy wildlife. This programme is comprehensive, practical and proportionate – it will tackle the disease head on.”

Earlier Christianne Glossop, Wales’s chief vet, admitted bTB was out of control in Wales and urgent action was needed. Previous badger culls had not been part of such a comprehensive package of other measures as was planned in Wales.

Main proposals

  • One-off testing of all cattle and camelid herds within one year, and removal of diseased animals.
  • Improving bTB surveillance and controls with faster removal of reactors.
  • Targeted licensed cull of infected badgers in one bTB hotspot.
  • Focus on better husbandry and biosecurity.
  • Reform compensation regime.
  • Support development and trialling of vaccines for cattle and badgers.

Reaction to bTB plan

All Welsh farming organisations welcomed the announcement, the Farmers Union of Wales praising the minister for taking a proactive and holistic approach which, the union insisted, did not threaten the survival of badgers in Wales.

“Those who claim we are talking about eradicating badgers are attempting to mislead the general public,” claimed FUW vice-president Brian Walters, who recently lost 14 cattle to bTB.

His main concern was the lack of a timescale. He warned that it was critical that all measures be rolled out as soon as possible.

NFU Cymru president Dai Davies commended the minister and the coalition administration in Cardiff for having the courage to grasp the bovine TB nettle.

“We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the ever-increasing raft of scientific evidence that points to both cattle and badgers being involved with the transmission of bTB,” said Mr Davies.

The eradication plan was a classic example of the need to endure short term pain for long-term gain.

Badger Trust Cymru branded the announcement “a tragic day” for Welsh wildlife. “It is a cheap political quid pro quo for farming unions, who have been baying for badger blood for years,” a spokesman claimed.

John Avizienus, RSPCA deputy head of farm animal science, insisted culling badgers would be a colossal mistake, a waste of time, resources and badgers’ lives and was likely to make matters worse.