Defra has given the go-ahead to extend the badger cull to 11 new areas in England as part of efforts to eradicate bovine TB.
The government is set to announce the expansion imminently, but it will not include approval for a cull in Derbyshire.
The areas where culling is now taking place encompass farmland across entire counties.
There are now 43 cull zones, spanning 10 counties, including parts of Devon, Cornwall, Gloucestershire and Cheshire.
See also: 5 ways to improve TB control in the UK
Farm leaders have slammed the government for rejecting a farmer-led application to cull badgers in Derbyshire, which is considered in the “edge area” for bovine TB.
NBA: ‘Political decision’
Bill Harper, National Beef Association TB committee chairman, said: “The application for Derbyshire was turned down at the last minute and we cannot understand why. It met with all the protocols and criteria.
“Natural England has not given us any explanation. We believe this decision was taken purely on political and not scientific grounds.
“I’m convinced that it is Derbyshire Wildlife Trust that has won the day. Their representatives include Chris Packham and Dominic Dyer, chief executive of the Badger Trust.
“It is almost like Boris Johnson is saying: ‘Oh right darling, we will not allow that one’.”
Mr Harper was referring to suggestions that the prime minister’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, an opponent of the badger cull, had convinced him not to extend the policy to Derbyshire.
“Nobody has ever got to this stage and been turned down,” he added. “There are no reasons why they should be turned down. They had done everything they had been asked to do. It stinks.
“The problem you have got is the signal it sends out to any other areas considering doing all the work. It was one of the best applications we have seen.”
Farmers ‘rightly angry’
The NFU said: “Farmers who have invested a lot of time and effort into preparing for a cull will be rightly angry that a decision like this has been taken at this late stage.”
Farm leaders have not ruled out appealing the decision.
Conversely, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust said it was “delighted” that it had fought off the application.
Dr Jo Smith, chief executive of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, said: “We will continue to expand our badger vaccination programme to ensure that Derbyshire’s badgers remain healthy and safe from the cull and we’ll use our findings to better inform the government’s strategy for managing bovine TB.
“We believe that the badger cull doesn’t work and is scientifically unsound. Badger vaccination and other measures, including regulations and restrictions on cattle movements, as well as the development of cattle vaccine, are the best approach for the farming industry and our wildlife.”
A Natural England spokesperson said: “We help to implement the badger culling policy under the direction of Defra and in line with decisions taken by ministers.
“We are in the process of reviewing the badger cull applications for 2019 made under that policy and will communicate decisions in due course.”
Defra insists badger culling working to combat bovine TB
Defra has hit back at national media reports, including in the BBC, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror, that culling is not working to tackle bovine TB.
In a blog on its website, the department highlighted an independent report by Professor Sir Charles Godfray, published last November, which found the badger cull has a “modest”, but significant, effect on managing bovine TB.
Data published in 2018 also shows a 58% reduction in the disease in Gloucestershire and 21% in Somerset after two years of culling, compared with areas without culling.
A Defra spokesperson said: “Bovine TB remains one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK, causing devastation for hard-working farmers and rural communities.
“There is no single measure that will provide an easy answer to beating the disease. That is why we are pursuing a range of interventions to eradicate the disease by 2038, including tighter cattle movement controls, regular testing and vaccinations.”