Badgers will be intensely culled for 25 years to battle bovine TB and farmers will eventually be allowed to shoot them, according to DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson.
In a frank interview with The Sunday Times, Mr Paterson said if the two pilots culls this summer were successful, 40 more cull zones will be created over the next four years.
“We want to reduce the incidence of disease [bovine TB] to less than 0.2% of herds a year,” he said. “It will take 20-25 years of hard culling to get to that.
“If the two pilot culls this year are declared efficient, safe and humane, we will definitely be extending them. We will roll out 10 new cull zones next year, and 10 more in each of the three years after that.”
Six-week government pilots in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire to test the “safety, efficacy and humaneness” of culling badgers using a combination of free shooting and trapping and shooting could begin any time from 1 June.
In total, around 5,000 badgers will be culled in the pilots. If they are successful, more cull zones will be created in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall and other parts of the West Country, where bovine TB is spiraling out of control.
This could see the death of 100,000 badgers, which are a known reservoir of TB, in a bid to curb the disease.
The government is pressing ahead with plans for the culls, which were last week branded “crazy” by Lord Krebs, who led the nine-year Randomised Badger Culling Trials (RBCT) and once acted as a government scientific adviser.
Animal welfare organisations have reacted with fury to Mr Paterson’s comments and said the plans risked wiping out badgers, which is against the rules of the policy.
Philip Mansbridge, chief executive of wildlife charity Care for the Wild, said: “This is devastating, deeply disturbing and dangerous. Will he [Owen Paterson] not be happy until every last living creature outside of a farmyard is dead?
“Given the weight of public opinion against the cull, and the flawed science used to justify it, Mr Paterson’s announcement today that he wants to kill up to 100,000 badgers, massively extend the cull zones and commit to 25 years hard culling is at best arrogant and at worst foolhardy.
“If Mr Paterson really wants to get the incidence of disease down to 0.2%, he should focus his effort on vaccinations and better biosecurity, rather than pandering to the demands of the NFU and chasing some political ambition.”
Mr Mansbridge warned the government and the NFU against embarking on “one of the worst agricultural policies of the past 30 years”, which will lead to “senseless slaughter, chaos and disruption in the countryside, huge cost to the taxpayer and no meaningful reduction in the spread of bovine TB”.
He said: “It will drive a wedge between the public and the farming community and destroy the hard earned reputation of farmers as guardians and stewards of the countryside.”
Meanwhile, according to a report on the Stop the Cull website, animal rights activists are planning to shadow licensed marksmen in the two pilot cull zones with vuvuzelas and bright lights to scare badgers away.
A DEFRA spokesman said: “Those opposed to culling have the right to undertake peaceful protest. However, those licensed to cull badgers must also be allowed to undertake lawful activity without fear of harm or intimidation.”