IT has finally been announced that a badger cull is to go ahead in two areas of England next year. Defra Secretary Caroline Spelman said “controlled culling will be carried out as part of a science-led and carefully managed badger control policy”.

The cull is expected to be carried in early autumn, although it is thought it will not start until after the London Olympic Games have ended.

The two six-week pilots will be closely monitored to examine how safe, effective and humane this method is. An independent panel of experts will be asked to oversee and evaluate the pilots and to report to Ministers before a decision is made about whether to roll the policy out more widely.

The pilots could technically have started in June, but the likely August start date means the prospects of it being rolled out nationally in 2012 are not high.

Mrs Spelman said: “Bovine TB is a chronic and insidious disease which has a devastating effect on farmers and rural communities.

This can only continue to get worse unless further action is taken now. We already have a robust set of cattle controls in place and we plan to strengthen them further, but the scientific evidence shows that, unless we tackle bovine TB in badgers, we will never eradicate it in cattle.

“Ultimately we want to be able to vaccinate both cattle and badgers and plan to invest a further £20 million over the next five years on the development of usable badger and cattle vaccines. However, these are still years away and we cannot say withany certainty if or when they will be ready.”

Mrs Spelman went on to say that £250,000 a year will be made available over the next three years to support and encourage badger vaccination.

Scientists agree that, if culling is conducted in line with the Randomised Badger Culling Trial, it would be expected to reduce TB in cattle over a 150 square kilometre area, as well as a two-kilometre ring, by an average of 16 per cent over nine years when compared to similar un-culled areas.

Defra estimates areas will average 350 square kilometres.Under proposals published last July, farmers will come together in the control areas to form limited companies which will apply for four-year licences for culling and vaccination by submitting a Badger Control Plan to Natural England.

At least 70 per cent of total land area must be accessible for culling. Defra will reserve the right within the agreements to have access to the land to complete the cull if farmer/landowner participation drops below this figure during the four years.