Badger cull delayed until next year

Controversial plans to cull badgers have been delayed until next year amid concerns two pilot schemes could not be carried out effectively this autumn.

Culling had been due to start imminently in two areas in south west England but new figures for badger numbers in the areas were much higher than expected, making it challenging to meet targets to kill enough to reduce tuberculosis in cattle.

The pilot culls had been delayed by the Olympics, legal battles and bad weather and faced with the lateness of the year and the numbers of badgers which would have to be killed before winter, farming leaders have put off culling until next summer.

Announcing the postponement to MPs, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson insisted there was no change in Government policy backing the cull and that he remained "utterly convinced" it was the right thing to do.

But shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh accused the Government of another U-turn and said it was right to postpone a scheme which Labour had been warning for two years was bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife.

Wildlife campaigners called for the delay to be more than a temporary reprieve for badgers.

Opponents of the cull say killing badgers, a protected species which can spread TB to livestock, would not have a significant impact in reducing the disease in cattle, and want the focus placed on developing effective and usable vaccines.

There is currently no usable vaccine for cattle and the only vaccine for badgers has to be injected. A number of projects involving conservation groups and even farmers are vaccinating badgers in the south west.

Mr Paterson said: "Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do, and indeed the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action.

"I remain fully committed to working with the farming industry to ensure that the pilot culls can be delivered effectively, safely and humanely next summer."