Farmer fury as Defra blocks badger cull in two TB hotspots

Defra rejected applications to cull badgers in two counties where bovine TB is rife, Farmers Weekly can reveal.

Backed by the NFU, groups of farmers in Devon and Herefordshire submitted applications to Natural England to cull badgers as part of efforts to tackle TB.

Natural England, the government agency in charge of issuing badger control licences, approved an application to extend the cull to a third zone, Dorset, this autumn, following two years of pilots in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

See also: Badger cull to be extended to Dorset this year

But it has refused to explain why it turned down the applications from farmers’ groups in Devon and Herefordshire.

Defra proposals to tackle bovine TB

These proposals were announced alongside the cull plan details:

  • Compulsory testing for all cattle entering low-risk areas, such as the north and east of England, to reduce the risk of new TB cases in these regions
  • Changes to the criteria for future badger control licences such as reducing the minimum area for a licence – an approach based on the latest scientific evidence and supported by the chief vet
  • A call for views on controlling TB in non-bovine animals such as pigs, goats and deer

A Natural England spokeswoman said: “We do not comment on prospective licence applications.”

According to Defra, last year 32,859 cattle were slaughtered in the UK due to TB, devastating farm livelihoods and costing the taxpayer more than £100m in compensation.

Farm leaders accused the government of failing to honour its election pledges by dismissing the applications.

Devon beef farmer Bill Harper said farmers were feeling “gutted” and in “total disbelief”.

Farmer groups had spent many hours signing up landowners to allow badgers to be culled on their land, he added.

But Natural England had offered “no encouragement” about how to improve the likelihood of a successful application.

He questioned whether Defra ministers Liz Truss and George Eustice were committed to widening the cull in TB hotspots, despite their repeated assertions.

“We trusted this government to fulfil their election promises. But if we cannot meet their requirements, we cannot go forward and make progress on tackling this dreadful disease,” he added.

Mr Harper, who is also south-west chairman of the National Beef Association, described the sign-up process as “challenging” because National Trust – one of Britain’s biggest landowners – still refuses to allow cullers on to its land. This made it harder to sign up the 70% of land required for culling to go ahead.

UK map of TB hotspots

An NFU source said: “Our hands are tied and we are getting nowhere. It is very frustrating.

“In my opinion, the government is treating farmers with contempt. It is almost draconian. Nobody is listening.

“We had a meeting with vets and not once did they mention the wildlife.

“They are still talking about biosecurity and telling farmers how they can manage it.

“Although biosecurity and testing has been increased, the edge area [of disease] is moving. It has been increased to no benefit.”

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “This is much slower progress than we wanted. The government has repeatedly given a clear commitment to tackling the disease in badgers as part of its 25-year strategy.

“We expect that commitment to tackle this disease to be backed up with further rollout of culling to other areas where TB is endemic next year and in the coming years. We will continue to press for that as a matter of urgency.”

Defra announced a raft of further measures (see box above) aimed at tackling TB in England on Friday (28 August).