The NFU county chairman in Gloucestershire is urging farmers in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and neighbouring counties to prepare for a wider rollout of the badger cull.
Andrew Guest, who is also a spokesman for Gloscon, the company behind the culling in Gloucestershire, dismissed suggestions from animal welfare groups that the second year of the pilot culls had ended in failure.
He insisted that marksmen had been very effective in removing badgers from the west Gloucestershire pilot cull zone and there were “very few badgers left on the ground”.
Mr Guest said he was “optimistic” that the government would give the green light to roll out the policy to other counties struggling with bovine TB.
“If we are going to roll out the cull to other counties in the South West and the Midlands, we need to start work in preparation now,” said Mr Guest.
“We are always optimistic that the culls will be rolled out to other counties to allow farmers to get on top of the disease. We have had no official word from the government that it’s going to happen, but it’s something we are continually pushing for.”
Last summer, the government shelved plans to widen the cull to at least 10 more counties after an independent report concluded that the policy of free shooting was “ineffective and inhumane”.
The second year of the pilot culls ended on Monday (20 October) amid reports that marksmen had only removed an estimated 41% of the badger population in Gloucestershire .
Meanwhile, it is understood in the second pilot in Somerset farmers have hit their target to remove at least 70% of the badger population.
Mr Guest dismissed suggestions that the cull had been a failure in the county.
“In areas where protesters were most active, we have not managed to remove many badgers, just one or two a night,” he said. “Marksmen were effective in some areas, but not across the piste.”
Mr Guest said vaccinating badgers would not eradicate the disease in wildlife in counties where TB is rife.
“The National Trust has been vaccinating badgers on their land for many years and this year five new herds went down with TB,” he said.
“At least we know that if we have shot the badgers, they are not going to infect the cattle.”
Shadow Defra secretary Maria Eagle said it was “appalling” that David Cameron’s government had allowed the culls to go ahead after they had already been described as an “epic failure” by the chief scientific adviser to Natural England.
She added: “The government must commit today to abandoning any attempt to seek an extension for these badger culls and work with scientists, wildlife groups and farmers to develop an alternative strategy to get the problem of bovine TB under control.
“Bovine TB is a serious problem that needs addressing, but these culls have been shown to be ineffective, inhumane and they may have made the problem worse.”