SEPT 6, 2010: Plans for a cull of badgers in the areas worst affected by bovine TB have been approved by Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, it has been reported.

Farmers who can prove that a cull is necessary on their land and the surrounding area will be granted powers to kill and vaccinate the animals over an area of at least 50 square miles. The Coalition will launch a public consultation later this month on the precise details of the scheme, but a source at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) confirmed that a widespread cull is on the cards. More than 150,000 cattle have been slaughtered in the last decade because of bovine TB, according to the National Farmers’ Union, and the crisis cost the Treasury �90m in compensation payments last year. But a decade-long study by the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB concluded in 2007 that culling could not “meaningfully” control the disease because it displaces badgers, scattering them over a wider area. As a result the Labour government ruled out a cull and instead stepped up vaccination efforts. But the Coalition has responded to pressure from farmers’ groups and some scientists who insist that culling is the most effective method of dealing with the epidemic. A senior source at DEFRA told the Independent on Sunday: “This will not be popular with people who view badgers as something from Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter, but it is the right thing to do. We cannot go on not taking action to deal with this huge problem.” A spokesman for the Department said in an official statement: “The government has committed, as part of a package of measures, to develop affordable options for a carefully-managed and science-led policy of badger control in areas with high and persistent levels of bovine TB.??? “We are currently developing proposals which we plan to publish for public consultation in the coming weeks.” David Cameron, the prime minister, backed calls for “targeted culling” to protect livestock during the General Election campaign in April. He said a Conservative government would support a policy in England based on that already put in place by the Welsh Assembly. Wales embarked on the first badger cull in two decades earlier this year in an attempt to control the spread of Bovine TB. But the scheme was halted in July after animal welfare activists won a legal challenge to stop it on the basis that the Welsh assembly had not been specific enough about how widespread the cull would be. The ruling is expected to halt the Welsh cull for months. The Badger Trust, which led the campaign against the scheme, admitted the decision could provoke farmers into “taking the law into their own hands”. Geoff Hayden from the Badger Trust said he was “relieved with the result,” but added: “ there were no winners in the appeal court today. The disease is still there, animals are still being culled.” Wales’s first minister, Carwyn Jones, said: “It’s important that we deal with TB in Wales because it’s a problem that is growing. We will consider the implications of the judgment, but what’s absolutely clear is that we cannot allow a situation to persist where TB increases year on year in Wales.” Scientific opinion remains divided over the effectiveness of a cull. Sir David King, the former chief scientist to the government, believes it is the “best option available at the moment to reduce the reservoir of infection in wildlife”. But research from Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London suggested earlier this year that, while repeated culling of badgers reduced the incidence of TB in cattle, the benefits disappeared four years after the programme ended.

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