New wave of badger culling given go-ahead
Badger culling has been given the go-ahead in 10 new areas at high risk of tuberculosis in cattle, the Government has announced.
A green light has also been given to cull badgers in Cumbria to tackle a "pocket of infection" in a region which is otherwise at low risk of the disease, as licences are issued allowing the culling of tens of thousands of animals.
Culling is now taking place in 32 areas across 10 counties - Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Cheshire, Somerset, Wiltshire, Staffordshire and Cumbria.
It comes as data published by the Government shows the rate of TB in cattle has halved in the first two cull areas since the programme began.
In Gloucestershire, the incidence of TB has fallen from 10.4% before culling started to 5.6% in the fourth year of the cull, while in Somerset it has dropped from 24% to 12%, the data shows.
Ministers have also announced they are opening a new round of applications for grants to vaccinate badgers for TB in "edge" zones around the high risk areas.
Farming minister George Eustice said: "Today's figures showing reductions in TB cases in Somerset and Gloucestershire are evidence that our strategy for dealing with this slow moving, insidious disease is delivering results.
"Bovine TB remains one of the greatest animal health threats to the UK.
"There is no single measure that will provide an easy answer which is why we are committed to pursuing a wide range of interventions to protect the future of our dairy and beef industries and eradicate the disease within 20 years.
"No-one wants to be culling badgers forever so the progress reported today is encouraging."
National Farmers' Union vice president Stuart Roberts welcomed the news that data from the original cull areas showed a fall in TB incidence.
He said: "More than 33,000 cattle were slaughtered last year in England because of this devastating disease and more than 3,800 farms that had previously been clear of the disease were affected by it.
"We must have every option available to us to tackle bTB (Bovine TB) - including cattle testing, cattle movement restrictions, biosecurity advice, vaccination and control of the disease in wildlife."
But the Wildlife Trusts accused the Government of "forging ahead with another year of ineffective and expensive badger culling" without waiting for the outcome of a review.
Ellie Brodie, senior policy manager, said: "The badger cull is a dangerous distraction from addressing the main route of bTB transmission in cattle which is between cattle.
"We're calling on the Government to invest in medicine, not marksmen.
"The costs of killing badgers are much higher than vaccinating them - it costs £496.51 to kill a badger compared with £82 to vaccinate a badger."