Licenses have been granted for badger culls in 11 new areas of England as part of efforts to control the spread of bovine TB, the Government has announced.
Agency Natural England issued the additional licenses today, alongside the reauthorisation of licenses for 33 areas of the country where culling has already taken place in previous years.
This includes the High Risk Area (HRA) of the South West, covering the counties of Avon, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire.
Environment Secretary, George Eustice, also the MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, said: “Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that the UK faces today, causing considerable trauma for farmers and costing taxpayers over £100 million every year.
“No one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely. That is why we are accelerating other elements of our strategy, including vaccination and improved testing so that we can eradicate this insidious disease and start to phase out badger culling in England,” Mr Eustice added.
Natural England said the new culls will take place in parts of Avon, Derbyshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Warwickshire, Wiltshire and Lincolnshire.
The licenses mean up to 70,000 badgers could be killed across much of England as part of efforts to halt the spread of bTB, with more than 30,000 cattle slaughtered each year.
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The latest expansion of the badger cull comes despite the Government signalling its intention to gradually phase out the controversial policy in favour of more badger vaccinations and improved cattle testing.
In July, it was announced that the next phase of the 25-year strategy will involve field trials of a ground-breaking ‘Diva’ cattle vaccine, able to differentiate between infected and vaccinated animals which had not been previously possible. Work has now been accelerated to deploy it within the next five years.
Animal welfare and wildlife groups reacted angrily to the expansion of the cull, with the RSPCA labelling the move as “appalling”. Presenter and vice-president of the charity, Chris Packham, said: “The badger cull is not the answer to stopping the spread of bovine TB amongst cattle. The RSPCA and myself have campaigned for many years against this cruel and ineffective method, which very sadly can result in badgers suffering unnecessarily.
“Not only that, but we owe it to cattle to get this sorted, as the longer it takes for the cattle vaccination to be developed, more cows will be removed from herds around the country due to bovine TB. The welfare of cattle is just as much a concern as badger welfare in this sorry state of affairs.”
Dominic Dyer, of the Badger Trust, said the culling policy could push the species to the verge of local extinction in areas it has inhabited since the Ice Age. “This is no longer a badger control policy, it’s a badger eradication exercise,” he added.
He claimed the “vast majority” of badgers being killed were TB-free, with no impact from their deaths on reducing the disease in cattle.