Farmers have applied to Natural England for supplementary licences to cull badgers in up to nine areas as part of efforts to fight bovine TB in England, Farmers Weekly can exclusively reveal.
If the applications are successful, the culling licences will be issued to cull zones that have reached the end of their four-year period and cover an additional five years.
However, Natural England would need to authorise culling activity on an annual basis.
An industry source said 98% of farmers who had initially allowed access to trained shooters to remove badgers on their land for the four-year culls were supporting the applications.
“Without some way of keeping the badger population down, we will be throwing away all the hard work that has been done by farmers,” said the source.
“The objective is to maintain the badger population to one badger/sq km or below to reduce the possibility of badger to cattle TB transmission.”
It is understood that Defra will announce its decision whether or not to grant the additional culling licences in early April.
Preparations under way
Meanwhile, preparations are under way for the start of this year’s culling season, which includes refresher training of marksmen and planning.
The timeframe is 1 June to 2020 to 31 January 2021, although the culls have traditionally started in the early autumn in previous years.
Last year, badger culling took place in 41 zones in 2019 from Cornwall to Cumbria.
This week, Defra published its long-awaited response to the Godfray independent review of its 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine TB.
The document outlines plans to increase badger vaccination and gradually phase out culling over the next decade.
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.
“That is why we are pursuing a range of interventions to eradicate the disease by 2038, which includes badger culling, tighter cattle movement controls, regular testing and vaccinations.”