The second licence for a pilot cull of badgers has been issued in a bid to tackle tuberculosis in cattle.
Government agency Natural England issued the four-year permit for an area of West Somerset allowing the “control” of the nocturnal animal to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).
For six-week periods each year, licensees will be able to kill around three-quarters of badgers in an area covering about 250 square km (97 square miles), which is around 70% of the West Somerset pilot area.
Natural England said: “Under the terms of the licence, and in accordance with the criteria specified in the bTB control policy, licensees will be authorised to reduce badger populations in the pilot area by at least 70% and maximum numbers will be specified to prevent the risk of local extinction.”
There is currently no oral vaccine available for badgers, and no vaccine for cattle.
The move is likely to anger wildlife campaigners and opponents, who believe culls do not have a significant effect on tackling the disease in livestock.
Natural England said it issued the licence because it was satisfied the application met the criteria set out in the government’s bTB policy guidance, which specifies how culls can be carried out.
The advisory body said culls can only start once they have confirmed the dates, those authorised to carry out the killings, that the necessary funds are in place, and the number of badgers that will be subject to control operations.
The confirmations are expected to be finished within the next few weeks, it said.
No control operations can be carried out during specified close seasons, during which no controlled shooting can take place between February 1 and May 31, no caged trapping between December 1 and May 31, and no cage-trapping and vaccination between December 1 and April 30.
The application for the licence was made by a specially-formed company representing farming and land management interests.
The first full licence was issued for an area of Gloucestershire.