Natural England has confirmed that the second year of the targeted badger culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset will go ahead.
They are a vital element of our approach to beating bovine TB which is having a devastating effect on cattle and dairy farmers and local communities across the region. Bovine TB is the biggest animal health problem facing the UK. In counties such as Somerset and Gloucestershire, which have a proud history of beef and dairy farming, the impact of this disease on these industries is plain to see. Last year, 400 farms in Somerset were under the grip of this terrible disease and 2,629 cattle had to be slaughtered.
Sitting back and letting this situation continue is simply not an option. That is why the government is pursuing a comprehensive strategy to rid England of bovine TB. To achieve this, we have been tightening cattle movement controls to stop the spread from herd to herd, helping farmers stop disease spreading on their farm, and spending millions of pounds developing a vaccine for cattle.
Through these measures we are beginning to slow the spread of TB, but we know that if we are to beat the disease in hot spot areas such as Somerset we also need to deal with infection in badgers.
Bovine TB can infect wildlife as well as cattle, and in this part of the country studies have shown that up to half of all new cases are due to badgers. I know that many people advocate the use of vaccination to deal with this problem. Vaccinating healthy badgers could play an important role in preventing the spread of disease to new areas of the country, and we will shortly be announcing details of a new vaccination scheme to help create a buffer zone to stop bovine TB spreading further. However vaccination cannot cure sick badgers, who will continue to spread disease, which is why it cannot replace culling in areas such as Somerset where TB is rife.
Targeted culling has to be part of our approach if we want to control this disease. This view is shared by the nation's leading vets, and supported by a wealth of experience from overseas. Many other countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Ireland have been successful in dramatically reducing the impact of bovine TB by culling wildlife that carries the disease.
We have made improvements to the culls this year because it is vital that we get this right. The operators have undergone increased training to improve the humaneness and effectiveness of the cull, and there will be monitoring in place to assess progress.
The timing for the start of the six-week culls will now be decided by the two licensed companies. By combining all of the tools we have available to tackle bovine TB, we should see the same success as other countries and we can finally rid our prized farms, countryside and wildlife of this dreadful disease.