Members of the public who live locally to the two proposed badger cull pilot areas are being given the chance to comment on the plans.
Local newspapers in west Somerset and west Gloucestershire – the two areas earmarked for the culls in England – are to publish notices from Natural England inviting comments on the plans.
A spokesman for Natural England said the adverts would be headed as “A Notification of an Application for the Licensing of a Pilot Badger Cull”.
The notices are being placed in local newspapers by the NFU on behalf of the applicants.
They will offer only businesses, organisations or people living locally to the two areas with the opportunity to comment, specifically if they will be “materially affected” by the pilot culls.
Only general details about the geography of the two proposed areas will be provided and there will be no specific details of the farms involved.
A spokesman for Natural England said: “The key messages for the farmers who have submitted the applications is that we will not compromise their confidentiality.
“The notices will give general details about locations, such as an area of the culls will be 300sq km in west Somerset, but they will not go into specifics such as margins or boundaries.”
Anyone in the area who has interests that might be affected by the culls will be invited to give feedback to Natural England.
An online survey will go live on the Natural England website – to coincide with the notices appearing in the local press – for locals to submit their comments.
Natural England expects full application for the two pilot badger culls will be submitted around early spring.
“We have met with the the leaders of the two pilot areas and their full applications will not be submitted until after the opportunity to comment,” said the spokesman.
“We have been assessing how their cases will match up to DEFRA’s guidance.
“There will be a phase of evaluation of the feedback from the survey, which could affect the final application.”
Natural England, the licensing authority for the culls, said it was aiming to grant full approval for the licenses in the spring, with a view to culling beginning in mid-August after the Olympics.
Discussions over policing arrangements for the pilot culls are ongoing between police forces, DEFRA, Natural England and other interested parties.
David Cameron has already said the culls will be “difficult to police”.
DEFRA launched its public consultation last autumn, after which DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman announced a final decision to go ahead with the policy.
The six-week pilot culls will test how safe, humane and effective the “controlled shooting” of badgers is, according to DEFRA. They could pave the way for a further 10 culls across England in 2013.
The measures are part of plans to tackle bovine tuberculosis, which ministers claim will cost taxpayers about £1bn over the next 10 years if it is not dealt with correctly.
At this stage, Natural England said it had not seen any evidence of a legal challenge.
Jack Reedy, spokesman for the Badger Trust, said: “We are consulting lawyers about whether to start or not to start legal proceedings.
“With a judicial review, you have three months to get it sorted out from the time of the decision. It’s a balancing act – we don’t want to say much at the moment. We don’t want to prejudice any case we may choose to make.”
An NFU source said: “We believe the policy is completely robust and we believe it will be very hard to challenge.
“However, we are not counting our chickens just yet. The chances are that either they (the Badger Trust) or someone else will challenge it.”
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