Controversial plans to cull thousands of badgers in the South West to tackle tuberculosis in cattle are to be delayed until next summer, it has been announced.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson told MPs that culling was originally delayed by the Olympics and legal proceedings, and now by bad weather and the news that there were more badgers in the cull areas than previously estimated.
As a result, farmers could not be confident they could cull enough badgers this year and two pilot culls that were due to start imminently will now take place next summer.
Mr Paterson insisted the Government remained absolutely committed to the policy of culling, which he said he was “utterly convinced” was the right thing to do.
Speaking as Queen guitarist and campaigner against the cull Brian May listened in the House of Commons, Mr Paterson said the science showed that at least 70% of badgers must be removed from an area for there to be a reduction in TB in cattle.
Last week it emerged there were many more badgers in the two areas in the south west of England licensed for pilot culls than previously estimated, with some 3,600 in the West Gloucestershire area and 4,300 in West Somerset.
“Despite a greatly increased effort over the last few days and weeks, the farmers delivering this policy have concluded that they cannot be confident that it will be possible to remove enough badgers based on these higher numbers and considering the lateness of the season,” Mr Paterson said.
“It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations.”
He said he had received a letter from the National Farmers’ Union explaining why the pilot culls could not go ahead this year and requesting a postponement until next summer, a decision he said he respected.
And he 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.”