Edwin Baker says no party concerned with the badger cull trials has benefited from them being stopped.
NATURAL England has asked potential applicants for badger cull licences in 2014 to begin preparing their applications.
Defra Secretary Owen Paterson is due to make an announcement by the end of February on whether the badger cull policy, piloted in Gloucestershire and Somerset last year, will be rolled out to up 10 new areas in 2014.
In the meantime, Natural England has put a request on its website for potential applicants to ‘begin to prepare information for the Expression of Interest (EOI) process’.
If the roll-out is confirmed, the first stage of the licensing process would require potential new application areas to submit an EOI, which would then be screened by Natural England to determine which candidates should be invited to apply for badger control licences.
The process is starting now to help ensure that, if the green light is given, there is sufficient time to go through the licence process to enable culling to commence in good time this year.
“If this process were to begin after confirmation of the roll-out there is a serious risk that licences could not be obtained in time for culling to take place this year,” Natural England said.
“Gathering important details, such as the land and landowners who would be involved in the cull zone, will help put applicants in a good position to seek a licence later this year in the event that a decision is made by Government to extend the granting of badger culling licences to other parts of England most severely affected by bovine TB.”
The agency outlines the criteria likely to apply to licences, although it stresses these may be subject to change in accordance with the Government’s decision on the policy:
The agency stressed that preparatory work would be done ‘at the applicant’s own risk’, pending Mr Paterson’s decision. But it said experience from the pilot culls showed gathering the necessary information to satisfy the criteria can take applicants ‘a significant amount of time’.
It would also be helpful to get an ‘early indication of likely demand for this and subsequent years’, the agency added.
The timing of Mr Paterson’s decision will depend largely on when the Independent Expert Panel that monitored the pilot culls submits its final report to Ministers. The panel was established to assess the pilot culls against three criteria – the safety effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting.
The report, due to be published in ‘early 2014’, will inform a Government decision on the wider roll-out of badger control.
Mr Paterson has always made it clear he would like to roll out the cull to new areas this year, possibly with changes to the conditions on issues like the way badger numbers are estimated and limits on the length of culls, based on lessons learned from the pilots. But he has also stressed he will be guided by the expert panel in his decision.
“This Government will not shy away from the difficult decisions required to stop this disease. Last year we took the first steps on the road to TB free status. I want to see healthy badgers living alongside healthy cattle,” he said at the Oxford Farming Conference at the start of the month.
The pilot culls delivered mixed results, according to the information released so far. Around 65 per cent of badgers, based on the latest population estimates, were removed in Somerset, where the six-week cull was extended for three weeks.
But only an estimated 39 per cent were removed in Gloucestershire, where culling lasted 11-and-a-half weeks in total and the presence of protestors had a much greater impact.
The cost of policing over the two cull areas was estimated at a combined total of more than £2.4m by local police chiefs this week.
Despite the difficulties associated with the pilots it is understood that a number of areas where TB is rife are interested in submitting applications to join the second wave of culling, if Mr Paterson approves the extension.
NFU director general Andy Robertson, said the NFU was ‘totally committed to seeing badger controls carried out in more areas where TB is rife’.
He said making people aware of the licence application process now means, if the Government decides to roll out the policy to other areas, groups of farmers interested in applying will be in a good position to ensure their applications are successfully completed and submitted.
“The NFU will work with them and offer them whatever help and advice it can during the application process,” he said.
Any areas wishing to be considered for badger control licences in 2014 or 2015 should notify Natural England by email: BTB@naturalengland.org.uk
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