Badger culling has been approved in 11 new areas of England as part of efforts to control tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, the government has announced.
Government agency Natural England has issued licences for 11 additional areas, alongside re-authorising licences for 33 areas of the country where culling has already taken place.
Badgers carry TB but if a single cow catches it, the entire herd of cattle face culling at great cost to the farmers who keep them.
Roughly 40,000 cattle are killed by or have to slaughtered after contracting the disease each year.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that the UK faces today, causing considerable trauma for farmers and costing taxpayers over £100 million every year.
“No-one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely.
“That is why we are accelerating other elements of our strategy, including vaccination and improved testing so that we can eradicate this insidious disease and start to phase out badger culling in England.”
The latest expansion of the cull comes despite the government signalling its intention to gradually phase out badger culling.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the next phase of the government’s strategy to tackle bovine tuberculosis in cattle will involve field trials of a cattle vaccine, with work accelerated to deploy it within the next five years.
The strategy of culling badgers has met fierce opposition over the years, with local and national campaign groups saying slaughtering the protect animals is inhumane and ineffective.
The 11 new areas are: