Farming Minister George Eustice has confirmed the Government will consider extending badger culling to Devon, Hereford and other potential new areas next year.
Responding to questions in the House of Commons, Mr Eustice acknowledged the Government had taken a ‘measured’ and ‘cautious approach’ in only rolling the policy out to one new area, Dorset, this year. Farmers in Devon and Herefordshire had applications for badger culling rejected this year.
Mr Eustice was asked by Devon MP Gavin Streeter when ‘hard-pressed dairy farmers of south Devon’ would see culling extended to their area.
He replied: “We decided this year to make a cautious roll out by adding one additional cull area in Dorset. In the light of that cull we will review things again.
“There were applications and expressions of interest both from north Devon and Herefordshire this year and I know there are many other interested parties that I’m sure will be considered in future years.”
Labour MP Dave Hanson branded the cull policy a ‘folly’ that had already cost the taxpayer £17 million yet was less successful than the policy adopted in Wales.
Mr Eustice was asked by Shadow Farming Minister Angela Smith whether the extension to Dorset was part of a roll out of the policy or another pilot area.
“If Dorset constitutes the start of a national roll out how can this be justified on the past performance of the pilot culls,” she asked,
Mr Eustice replied: “The extension to Dorset is part of a cautious roll out of the policy. We piloted the cull in the first year in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Our experience last year demonstrated the cull, along the lines we are pursuing, could be successful. It was successful and that is why we are continuing."
"If we were to do nothing to tackle this disease, it would cost us about £1 billion over the next decade.
"The reality is that no country in the world has successfully eradicated TB without also dealing with the issue in the wildlife population.
"That is why a cull will continue to be part of our balanced strategy, alongside tighter cattle-movement controls and other measures, such as vaccination."
Defra confirmed culling had started in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Dorset last Thursday, a week after Natural England confirmed it issued the respective licences.
The licences permit up to about 1,800 badgers to be culled across the three areas over six weeks, using a combination of controlled shooting and caged trapping and shooting. Experience from the first two years of pilot culls suggest the final number is likely to much lower.
As in the first two years of culling, much of the attention of activists has been focused on the Gloucestershire area.
In a letter to a local newspaper, Gloucestershire NFU chairman Tanya Roberts sought to explain to the public why the policy was necessary.
Thanking readers for their support for British farming, she outlined the ‘heart-breaking’ impact of ‘this devastating disease’ on farmers and explained the measures already being taken to stop its spread.
“With steps being taken to minimise the risk of disease spread in cattle, I believe it makes sense to reduce the risk of the disease spreading in badgers as well, otherwise reinfection will continue to occur and the disease will continue to spread,” she wrote, adding vaccinating badgers will not work in heavily infected areas like Gloucestershire.
"There is a comprehensive strategy in place to eradicate bovine TB. This involves dealing with the disease by using all available options as other countries in Europe and around the world have done.
"We continue to ask for better testing methods and believe implementing the strategy in full as quickly as possible will give us the best chance of achieving what everybody wants – a TB free England."
Farmers in the areas that were rejected this year have been frustrated at the lack of explanation from Defra as to why they did not receive licences, according to National Beef Association South West TB spokesman Bill Harper.
He said: “There was tremendous frustration as they asked farmers to do all the work, take all the risk and pay all the expense – people have put thousands of pounds into this - and they couldn’t even give us clear guidelines and there was no communication."
Obtaining licences might be easier next year after Defra issued proposals to tweak the licence criteria, including reducing the minimum area size from 150sq.km to 100sq.km.
Animal welfare campaigner Brian May led a ‘Team Badger symbolic funeral parade’, involving a real hearse, marking the killing of 2,263 badgers in 2013/14 from Defra’s London headquarters on Monday.
The event was also addressed by Shadow Farming Minister Angela Smith and Green MP Caroline Lucas.
Expressing his anger that the ‘failed’ cull was continuing, Dr May indicated his Save Me animal welfare charity was on the verge of launching legal action against the cull.
Countryside Alliance chief executive Tim Bonner has urged the BBC to consider sacking Chris Packham because of his ‘blatant political propaganda’ on issues like badger culling.
In a blog on the alliance's website, Mr Bonner said the wildlife presenter was a 'disciple of the animal rights movement and signs up to its creed by voicing his opposition to all the usual activities from badger culling to grouse shooting and, of course, hunting'.
He referred to an article by Mr Packham in the latest edition of BBC Wildlife magazine in which he accuses organisations like the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB of being 'hamstrung by outdated liaisons with the ‘nasty brigade’.
Mr Bonner wrote: "It is bad enough that a BBC magazine should print such blatant political propaganda, but worse that it comes from the pen of one of its high profile employees.
"This is the clearest possible abuse of the position the BBC has given Chris Packham and as it is an ongoing behaviour, rather than an isolated incident, it is difficult to see how the situation can change. If it does not then the BBC’s only answer can be to remove the BBC from Chris Packham’s biography by refusing to employ him any more."