Speculation is rife that the highly controversial cull of badgers in bovine TB hotspot areas may be called off or postponed at short notice, because of fast-rising costs.
Farmer groups have already been licensed to carry out pilot culls in West Somerset and in Gloucestershire – but a re-calculation of the number of badgers involved shows many more will need to be culled, putting up costs to farmers who are paying. Killing costs may have as much as doubled in the case of West Somerset.
Doubts about the culls were fuelled when Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Farming Minister David Heath cancelled a series of interviews yesterday, though a Government spokesman said: "There is no change to the policy. We want the culls to happen as soon as possible."
The test culls, which have caused widespread protests from animal organisations, will see all badgers killed over 70% of the cull areas. There are now an estimated 4,300 badgers in the West Somerset area, up from earlier calculations of 3,000. The six-week culls must be carried out before the badgers' breeding season begins in winter.