Farm industry leaders have hailed the announcement of two proposed pilot badger cull areas in England as a “major breakthrough” in the fight against bovine tuberculosis.
DEFRA announced on Thursday (19 January) that two pilot areas – in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset – have been invited to submit full applications to Natural England to begin culling badgers in the autumn.
Farmers Weekly understands that DEFRA ministers are working hard behind the scenes with key figures in the two areas and have been holding meetings this week to clarify plans for the cull on the ground.
An NFU source said both areas that had been identified had put forward the strongest cases.
“They were the best two areas that met the planning conditions in terms of size, area and farmer commitment,” said the source.
“But although the regions have been named, we will be doing our best to ensure both pilot areas can be kept as discreet as possible.”
The source said the NFU was confident the two groups matched the criteria. Both areas were between 150km sq and 400km sq, the source added.
“We are pleased about the policy and we will be working closely with these two areas who have submitted the applications in the coming months,” said the source.
“The hard work starts now in terms of preparation and there is a long way to go before any shooting begins.
“There is a lot of work we need to do on the ground before September – all the biosecurity-type training, contractor training, as well as vaccinating badgers to support the application.
“This is not a green light – all it is in an invitation for these two groups to submit an application.”
Bill Harper, TB committee chairman of the National Beef Association, said the announcement was “a major breakthrough on what will be a long journey”.
“We are still a long way off a badger cull taking place, but the attitude of all involved is very encouraging and we remain positive that licences will be granted and everything put in place for the two pilot areas to surge into action this autumn,” he said.
“We are confident the two pilot areas will achieve their objective – to prove that free shooting is a safe, humane and effective way to cull badgers – and then the gate will be open for 10 pilot areas to be licenced in 2013 and every year after that.”
Jilly Greed, Ladies in Beef co-founder and a beef farmer based near Exeter, said: “This is a major step forward. Those farmers and landowners involved in the two pilot areas deserve our wholehearted support – it’s a lot of hard work, courage and co-operation to meet the terms of the licence.
“But it’s a beginning to eradicate this crippling disease, and hope for hundreds of dairy and beef producers under the cosh of continuous TB testing.”
Harry Cotterell, president of the Country Land and Business Association, added: “We are pleased the government is making steady progress in tackling this appalling disease and will of course fully support the work being done by DEFRA, Natural England and the NFU to ensure these pilots are a success.”
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