The first badger-culling licence could be granted as early as this morning, The Guardian reported last night, allowing the controversial project to get under way in Gloucestershire.
Campaigners against the cull, which is designed to eliminate bovine tuberculosis from cattle in the area, lost an appeal in the High Court last week.
Owen Paterson, the new environment secretary, supports the cull, having tabled 600 parliamentary questions on the issue while serving as environment spokesman in Opposition.
In an interview with the Farmers Guardian on Friday, Paterson appeared to argue that the proposed cull was of benefit to badgers: “I find the attitude of those who want these wonderful animals to die of this disgusting disease [bovine TB] completely incomprehensible.”
The licence will be issued to a group of farmers and landowners who will commit to killing at least 70 per cent of the badgers on their land for at least four years in a row.
The names of the companies set up to carry out the cull in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset, the other cull area, were previously leaked to pro-badger campaigners and published on the internet.
The Government’s own impact assessment concluded that it would cost farmers more to carry out the cull than to do nothing and suffer any losses from bovine TB.
The licence area must also have “hard boundaries”, such as rivers, to prevent badgers fleeing and potentially spreading the disease and making the situation worse.
The Government pointed to the 16 per cent cut in bovine TB found at the end of the 10-year trial, but the new culls will use a different killing method. Instead of trapping then shooting – considered expensive – the badgers will be “free shot” by marksmen.
The deaths have to occur before February 1, when the close season for badger shooting begins and runs until May 31.