Paterson ponders limited badger cull roll out

BADGER culling is likely to be extended to just one new area this year, if Defra Secretary Owen Paterson gives the go ahead to extending the policy within the next week or so.

A decision on the cull roll out is understood to be imminent.

This Thursday had been earmarked as a possible date for the announcement, although with Defra Secretary Owen Paterson still seeking Cabinet approval for his decision, the date seems likely to slip until next week or even the week after, before Parliament breaks for Easter recess.

Badgers

Mr Paterson has the power to roll the policy out up to 10 new areas this year. But, if he does confirm an extension this year, it is likely to be confined to Dorset, where preparations took place last year to establish a reserve area in case problems prevented the pilots going ahead in Somerset or Gloucestershire.

The Defra Secretary’s roll out plans are under pressure from a number of angles. Leaks from the Independent Expert Panel’s report on the pilots suggest it has raised doubts about both the efficiency and humaneness of culling in the two pilot areas.

There is growing political opposition to the roll out, as shown by a recent vote in the House of Commons, following a long debate on the roll out.

While Prime Minister David Cameron has always been supportive of the policy, Mr Paterson is understood to face opposition from within the Cabinet, including from Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg. This means, even though Mr Paterson is keen to extend the policy, the decision remains in the balance.

Even if Mr Paterson wanted to roll the policy out widely to new areas, time is now running short to licence them in time to complete the culls this year, particularly if there is a legal challenge to the decision.

Owen Paterson discusses the badger cull with a farmer in Shropshire

As a result, while more than 30 areas have submitted ‘expressions of interest’ to Natural England with a view to becoming licensed for badger culling, it is understood just three areas, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, were in contention to be licensed this year. Preparations were already well underway in each of these areas.

However, only Dorset is now in line to be granted a new licence this year, while culling is set to continue in Somerset and Gloucestershire, which have been licensed for four-year culls, according to a report in the Sunday Times. This tallies with the view of sources who have told Farmers Guardian that, if the roll out is given the green light, only one new area is likely to be licensed.

The announcement on the badger cull roll out is set to be part of a wider package of measures to address bovine TB, unveiled by Mr Paterson as part of the Government’s 25-year TB eradication strategy for England.

The strategy will also outline Defra’s plans for new ways of funding and delivering TB policy, including the possible establishment of a  new independent delivery body and ways  to share the cost of  culling and other elements of TB control with farmers.

A Defra Spokesperson said: “Bovine TB is the most pressing animal health problem in the UK and causing untold misery to our beef and dairy farmers.

“The Government remains determined to tackle bovine TB by all available means which is why we have outlined a 25 year plan to eradicate this disease by addressing infection in both cattle and wildlife which was debated and approved by Parliament last year. 

“We are considering the findings of the independent expert panel before a decision is made on making further licences to cull badgers available.”

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