A pilot badger cull to curb bovine tuberculosis in England could be delayed until next year, Farmers Weekly understands.
DEFRA had planned for culling to begin in late summer this year, but a number of factors are threatening to push back any start date into late autumn at the earliest, or even 2013.
The Badger Trust will seek to overturn a judge’s decision to allow the cull to take place at a hearing at the Court of Appeal on Tuesday (11 September).
The Badger Trust was granted permission to appeal the decision on the grounds that culling would actually “cause the disease to spread, rather than reduce it”.
It is understood the judge presiding over the trust’s challenge on Tuesday will decide to reserve judgment for a period of about two weeks, or even longer.
Against this background, Farmers Weekly understands Natural England is taking longer than expected to process the badger control licences for professional or trained marksmen for the two pilot areas in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset.
A spokesman for Natural England said: “We are working flat out with licence applicants on processing their applications, and ensuring they meet the conditions laid out in the bTB policy guidance.
“As Peter Kendall has said elsewhere, getting this right is essential to ensure the measures that are put in place can deliver effectively.
“We will issue licences to enable control activity to commence in the pilot areas as soon as possible.”
However, even if a judge decides to give the go-ahead to a badger cull this week, it could still be too late to start culling this year due to the lateness of the season.
A continuous period of six weeks would be needed for the pilot cull to take place, which could clash with the badger breeding season.
Natural England has stated it will not licence the killing of badgers during the breeding season, when there is “a significant risk of dependent cubs being abandoned, or when the welfare of trapped badgers is at risk due to poor weather”.
Therefore, a “closed season” will be operated from 1 December to 31 May for cage-trapping and 1 February to 31 May for “controlled shooting”.
Meanwhile, the Humane Society International UK is calling on the government to postpone the cull to allow the Council of Europe Bern Convention time to process a formal complaint the society submitted this autumn, signed by a host of celebrities.
Badgers are considered to be one of the main vectors for bovine TB, which costs the taxpayer up to £100m a year.
DEFRA has warned the disease will cost £1bn in England alone over the next decade unless more action is taken.Philip Case on G+
For more on this topic
See our bovine TB page