The government will not extend pilot badger culls to new areas in England this year, DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has announced.
In a statement to the House of Commons on Thursday (3 April), Mr Paterson said plans to widen the cull to new areas this summer were being put on hold for the moment.
However, badger culling will continue for a second year in the two pilot counties of Somerset and Gloucestershire, which are licensed to continue for four years.
Mr Paterson said the Independent Expert Panel’s review of the cull showed culling had been humane “in the majority of cases”. But he admitted there were “lessons to be learned” from the first year of the culls.
The minister said the pilots – which tested the controlled shooting of free-roaming badgers – had proved to be safe, despite a “disgraceful amount of intimidation from some of the extreme protesters”.
Mr Paterson said the IEP report contained “some very helpful advice”, which the government would take into consideration for the second year of the culls to “improve the accuracy and field craft of shooters”.
“This disease is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK,” he added.
He said the disease had led to the slaughter of 26,600 cattle in the country last year and had cost taxpayers £500m in the last decade.
For more on this: See all of the news on the badger cull
When asked whether the government had scrapped or delayed plans for a wider national roll-out, Mr Paterson replied: “It’s absolutely our intention to roll out culling widely once the method has been perfected.”
Meanwhile, the minister confirmed that a programme of badger vaccination in counties situated in “edge areas” of TB hotspots will be created to establish a buffer zone of immunity to stop the disease from spreading.
He added that TB cattle vaccination was still “many, many years away”.
Shadow DEFRA secretary Maria Eagle accused the government of ignoring the findings of the IEP report, which concluded the pilots were not effective.
The minster’s decision to shelve plans for a wider roll-out of the cull will be greeted with dismay by most farmers and landowners.