Farmers preparing for a widespread badger cull are hoping for an announcement from Lord Rooker within the next two weeks.
The NFU and National Beef Association have been working together to gauge farmers’ support for industry-led action in TB hotspots across the country, and are now considering applying for a mass cull licence.
“We’ve spoken to a couple of thousand farmers in the hotspot areas to gauge their views, and there is significant support for taking on the work ourselves,” says Cornwall farmer Bill Harper. “However, this is not something the government can wash its hands of – this needs to be a partnership approach.”
The farmer groups began their talks in the Hartland area of Devon and north Cornwall, where owners of 75% of the landmass, excluding the National Trust and Forestry Commission, said they were prepared to take action against TB in wildlife. More than 1200 farmers have so far signed up to licence applications.
In other areas support has varied from 50% to 75%, and the groups are now holding the licence applications while they wait for a meeting with junior DEFRA minister Lord Rooker to discuss culling methods and operator confidentiality.
“We have showed that farmers are prepared to work together on this – it’s got to be done by agreement and as a team effort,” said Mr Harper. “We’re expecting an announcement in the next two weeks.”
However, a DEFRA spokeswoman refused to confirm when a decision would be made. “Ministers have emphasised the importance of making the right decision rather than a quick decision on badger culling,” she said. “Any applications for licences to cull badgers for the prevention of TB are presently on hold while ministers are considering the issue.”
Meanwhile, the NFU is waiting to hear from DEFRA when it will schedule a judicial review to hear the NFU’s challenge on the legality of the TB compensation regime.
NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond told NFU Council on Tuesday (29 January) that the hearing planned for late 2007 had been postponed by DEFRA. Attempts were being made to arrange a new date and the NFU had asked DEFRA to expedite the claim.
Mr Raymond also informed Council of the status of the Union’s request for a review of the role of compulsory pre-movement testing. The NFU is alleging that it imposes unreasonable costs on the industry and that the cost-benefit analysis does not support its continuation. A date is yet to be agreed.