Natural England Tuesday confirmed that all the criteria have been met to allow the second of four years of badger culling to start in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

Cow and calf Image/Agricultural Research Services
Cow and calf
Image/Agricultural Research Services

Operations in these areas where TB is rife will be carried out under the existing four-year licences which allow six weeks of culling to take place every year between 1 June and 31 January. Start dates for culling activity will be decided by the licensed companies.

Under the terms of the authorization letters, licensees have been set a minimum number of badgers to be removed – these are 615 in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset. A maximum number of badgers has also been set (1091 in Gloucestershire, 785 in Somerset) to safeguard the local populations.

The minimum and maximum numbers are based on the estimates of the badger populations in 2013 set out in the Independent Expert Panel’s report, and the new evidence we have of badger activity on the ground in 2014.

In light of the advice provided by the Independent Expert Panel regarding the significant difficulties in achieving accurate estimates of badger populations, Natural England will keep the minimum number under review and will, if appropriate, provide further advice on the level of culling effort and badger removal required to achieve an effective cull.

Natural England has worked closely together with Defra and the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) to develop a robust monitoring regime for this year’s culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

A Government-approved training programme has been put in place to improve shooting accuracy. Natural England will monitor controlled shooting through field observations to record accuracy in 60 cases.

Vets from AHVLA will carry out post-mortem examinations on at least 60 randomly-selected badgers from each cull area to assess accuracy of controlled shooting. These measures have been put in place to implement the recommendations made by the Independent Experts Panel following last year’s pilots.