Badger culling is expected to be rolled out across five new areas this autumn, including large parts of Devon and Cornwall, as the Government presses on with its strategy to tackle bovine TB in cattle.
South Devon, North Devon, North Cornwall, South Herefordshire and West Dorset are all tipped to be included in the trial, despite pressure from campaign groups who say the shooting of badgers is ‘inhumane’.
These included 25 wholly or partly from Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset, plus interest from Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire.
More than 3,000 badgers have been culled in Gloucestershire and Somerset since the trial began 2013.
Defra is expected to formally extend the roll out shortly.
Chief executive of the Badger Trust, Dominic Dyer, said: “After four years of badger culling no one can now doubt that the policy has been a disastrous failure on scientific, cost and humaneness grounds. For the new Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom to ignore the facts and extend this policy into five new areas of the country defies belief.
"The badger cull is built on three pillars of sand, incompetence, negligence and deceit, and will ultimately collapse because it fails to address the key cause of bovine TB, which is cattle to cattle infection.”
Mr Dyer blamed inaccurate TB testing, excessive numbers of cattle movements and poor biosecurity controls for the spread of the disease.
A Defra spokesman confirmed Natural England was in the process of considering applications for further badger control licences.
"England has the highest incidence of TB in Europe and that is why we are taking strong action to deliver our 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease and protect the future of our dairy and beef industries," said the spokesman.
“Badger control in areas where TB is rife is one part of our long-term plan, which also includes strengthening cattle testing and movement controls and improving biosecurity on farm and when trading.
“This comprehensive approach has worked overseas and is supported by the Government and Defra chief scientists and leading vets.”
CLA president Ross Murray said: “Bovine TB is a devastating disease that is causing misery for dairy and livestock farmers across the countryside," he said.
"It is vital that all those involved in the cull have the support of local people and law enforcement as they carry out this important task. We are grateful to all those that are taking part in this important effort and call on all those who value the English countryside to continue supporting our UK farmers and their herds.”
Queen Guitarist Brian May, founder of animal welfare organisation the Save Me Trust and Team Badger, a coalition of animal groups against the cull, slammed the cull as ’a disgrace’.
Sean Wensley, president of the British Veterinary Association, said it supported the wider roll out of culling to ’carefully selected areas where badgers are regarded as a significant contributor to the high incidence of bovine TB in cattle’.
However, Mr Wensley said the BVA did not support the continued use of controlled shooting as part of the badger control policy and called for culling to be carried out through the use of cage trapping and shooting only.
Last month Defra told Farmers Guardian culling would continue in 2016 for a fourth year in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset and for a second year in Dorset.
It comes after former Defra Secretary Liz Truss confirmed in December the Government’s intention to extend badger culling this year, alongside additional cattle controls.