Badger cull trials may now take place elsewhere

Trial culls are planned in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire later this year Photo: ITV Westcountry

The pilots in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire were aimed at finding a way of stopping the spread of TB in cattle, which is linked to the illness in badgers. It was postponed last autumn when it was discovered that there were more of the creatures than originally thought.

Now farming minister David Heath admits that the delay may lead to different areas being chosen instead.

While insisting the culls will go ahead - as part of controversial plans to employ sharpshooters - he adds that the decision on where to apply for licences lies with the NFU (the farmers' union).

Whether that [the application to cull] will be in the same areas, it very possibly could be, or whether that will be in different areas, that will be for them to decide in due course. We will wait to hear from the NFU and the farmers involved as to whether they want to stick to their original plans or want to change them - that's their decision".

– David Heath MP, Farming Minister
Animal welfare campaigners say badgers should be vaccinated rather than culled Credit: ITV Westcountry

I understand that since the postponement, ministers have been under pressure to look at other areas where farmers are keen to see a cull take place - particularly Cornwall, Dorset, and parts of Derbyshire.

Changing the pilot areas would obviously anger farmers in Somerset and Gloucestershire, which were considered the areas most suitable for the trials, but the NFU's current line is that they want to look at all the options.

Ultimately the matter will rest with Natural England, who will oversee the cull. They must be satisfied that a majority of landowners are signed up: that the areas have "hard" natural boundaries, such as roads, rivers or coasts; and most importantly that a properly licensed and funded team of sharpshooters are in place. There is also the issue of policing to be considered - another reason, I'm told, why Gloucestershire is no longer considered so certain.

Badgers in the westcountry could still be targeted for the trial - Cornwall and Dorset are also being considered Credit: ITV Westcountry