Natural England is seeking applications from culling operators and landowners for licences to cull badgers as part of government plans to extend the badger cull to more areas.
The government agency, which has the power to issue badger-culling licences, is advertising for “expressions of interest” from anyone interested in submitting potential new areas for a badger cull this year and in 2015.
The pilot culls carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire last year failed to meet the government target of a 70% cull amid complaints by cull operators that the culling was disrupted by the activities of animal rights activists.
An independent panel of experts is now considering the findings of the pilots and assessing whether the controlled shooting of badgers has been shown to be “safe, humane and effective”.
The panel is due to report back in February and their findings will inform a decision by DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson over whether the culls should be rolled out to at least 10 new areas in 2014.
“No decision has yet been taken by government about further licences for badger culls,” said Natural England in a statement.
“However, gathering important details, such as the land and landowners who would be involved in the cull zone, will help put applicants in a good position to seek a licence later this year in the event that a decision is made by government to extend the granting of badger culling licences to other parts of England most severely affected by bovine TB.”
“If this process were to begin after confirmation of the roll-out there is a serious risk that licences could not be obtained in time for culling to take place this year.”
Natural England spokesman
If the roll-out is confirmed, the first stage of the licensing process would require potential new application areas to submit an expression of interest form.
Submissions for 2014 would then be screened by Natural England to determine which candidates should be invited to apply for a licence to control badgers to prevent the spread of bovine TB.
Based on experience from the licensing process for the pilot culls, gathering the necessary information to satisfy the criteria for the policy and to submit a licence application can take applicants a “significant amount of time”, the government agency said.
“If this process were to begin after confirmation of the roll-out there is a serious risk that licences could not be obtained in time for culling to take place this year,” it added.
“That is why Natural England is encouraging potential applicants now to begin gathering the information for an expression of interest and familiarising themselves with the information in the guidance notes.”
(More on bovine TB and the badger cull )