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NATURAL England confirmed last week that all criteria had been met to allow for two pilot culls of badgers to go ahead in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset this year. The Government also announced that it had selected part of Dorset as a reserve pilot area, which would be used if control operations in either of the other two areas could not go ahead.
Speaking at the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham on February 27, Owen Paterson, the Secretary of State at Defra, said that authorisation letters had been issued by Natural England confirming that the culls could proceed in the summer.
Each licence has a four-year term, authorising six-week control operations to be carried out annually at any point between June 1 and January 31. In the letter authorising the cull in west Gloucestershire, Natural England said that the minimum number of badgers to be taken and killed during the open season was 2856 and the maximum number that could be taken was 2932. In west Somerset, the minimum number of badgers to be taken and killed was 2081 and the maximum 2162. The agency reminded both licensees that access to at least 70 per cent of the total land in each area had to be maintained for culling purposes and that it should be informed immediately about any land that was withdrawn or which otherwise stopped being eligible to be included in licensed operations.
Mr Paterson said that preparing a reserve cull area in Dorset was part of ongoing planning to ensure that there were no delays in the culls proceeding this year.
Pilot culls were expected to start in 2012, but were postponed following a combination of circumstances, including data suggesting that the estimated badger populations in the two areas were higher than previous estimates (VR, October 27, 2012, vol 171, p 413).
‘Bovine TB is spreading at an alarming rate and causing real devastation to our beef and dairy industry,’ Mr Paterson said. ‘The authorisation letters issued today confirming culling can proceed this summer in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset is an important step towards taking the action we need to tackle the spread of this disease in wildlife.’ He added: ‘I am determined that there are no further delays this year. That is why we have taken the sensible step with the farming industry to elect a reserve area that can be called upon should anything happen to prevent culling in Somerset or Gloucester.’
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