Gloucestershire farmers have urged the NFU not to abandon the county as one of the locations for badger cull trials aimed at tackling bovine tuberculosis.
One Tewkesbury dairy farmer, who did not want to be named, said farmers within the Gloucestershire cull zone felt “betrayed” by the NFU’s suggestion that the pilot culls could be moved to another county.
“I cannot see the point in trying to switch the cull zone to a different area where bovine TB is less of a problem, especially considering all the hard work that has been done on the ground in Gloucestershire,” added the farmer.
Gloucestershire beef farmer David Barton, who runs Manor Farm, in Middle Duntisbourne, which is not located in the cull zone, said 48 of his cattle have had to be slaughtered since February after they tested positive for TB.
“I imagine that farmers in the Gloucestershire cull area who have worked incredibly hard to get to where they are must find it very frustrating to hear that Peter Kendall is looking at other areas,” he added.
“Tewkesbury has done so much to get to where it is – it’s basically ready to go. They just need the help and support to get if off the ground.”
But Mr Barton is confident that DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson will fulfil his commitment to farmers and allow the badger cull to start this year.
“I do believe the badger cull trials will start this year. The farmers that are in those areas will need all our support,” he said.
Last week, NFU president Peter Kendall revealed the union was looking at a starting the trials in a reserve county, either Derbyshire, Cornwall or Devon, if anything goes wrong in one of the original two counties.
The main aim was to start the pilot culls in the “two best areas at the right time”, he said.
Mr Kendall also suggested the trials could be delayed until around September, after the busy wheat summer harvest, which has also disappointed farmers.
However, Gloucestershire dairy farmer and NFU TB spokesman Jan Rowe insisted that the union was “fully behind” the pilots beginning in Gloucestershire and was only looking at other areas “in the case of any hiccups”.
“I cannot see the point in trying to switch the cull zone to a different area where bovine TB is less of a problem, especially considering all the hard work that has been done on the ground in Gloucestershire.”
Tewkesbury dairy farmer
“We have got 70% of total land tied up, including more than 90% of farmland, but [Gloucestershire has] slightly more of an urban population,” said Mr Rowe.
“It is most likely that the two original zones will be chosen. Apart from a few details, everything is still in place. We were ready to go (last year). It is purely the higher badger numbers that stopped us. We have sorted that out and looked at the reasons behind it.”
The pilot badger culls were scheduled to begin last summer in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset after Natural England agreed provisional culling licences for both areas, which remain in place.
But DEFRA agreed to a late NFU request to postpone the culls until this year after a survey of the badger population revealed more that numbers were twice as high as expected.
The farming union had been concerned that trained marksmen would be unable to remove 70% of the badger population in the each zone – the minimum target required by the government to make the trials a success.
The pilot culls will test whether the controlled shooting of badgers is “safe, humane and effective” if the pilots are deemed successful, the policy could be rolled out nationwide.
Last year bovine TB led to the slaughter of 26,000 cattle in England, costing the taxpayer nearly £100m, according to DEFRA. If the disease is left unchecked, this figure could rise to £1bn over the next 10 years.