Badger cull is 'on track' to start says NFU
The start of a badger cull in the South West remains weeks away as farmers still need to prove they have sufficient cash to conduct the night-time shooting operation.
The maximum number of animals permitted to be slaughtered has also yet to be decided as officials seek to ensure that populations are not wiped out completely in the target areas.
Last week, Natural England licensed a badger cull in Gloucestershire, with a start date expected within weeks.
The group yesterday said a licence for the West Somerset trial was expected to be issued "within days". Some protesters claim that farmers are losing heart after more than 100,000 people signed a petition against the cull and celebrities including Queen guitarist Brian May and TV wildlife presenterChris Packham spoke out against the Government policy.
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However, farmers insist they are "on schedule" but just have to make sure teams of marksmen are ready to carry out the shooting safely and humanely as possible.
Before they are allowed to go ahead with the shooting farmers must prove to Natural England they have raised around £150,000 to fund the cull over the four-year period and have the shooters authorised.
Once these first steps are completed it is thought that up to two weeks will be required to get badgers into the habit of coming into the earmarked areas, using bait.
Adam Quinney, vice-president of the National Farmers' Union, said the process is running smoothly in West Gloucestershire.
Farmers in the area are trialling free shooting as well as caging and shooting and vaccinating in areas where farmers are uncomfortable with a cull, he said.
Mr Quinney revealed that a company has been set up to gather the funds and organise a team of marksmen.
"There is a lot of work to do, it is not a five-minute process to do it correctly but it is on schedule," he added.
"Even when we start we have to have a period of two weeks of baiting, acclimatising and vaccinating."
Natural England confirmed the cull will not happen until all the necessary measures have been taken to ensure it is humane and successful.
Surveys of badger setts must also be reviewed, along with estimates of animal numbers, before the quango fixes a minimum number of badgers to be killed to make the plan a success and a maximum number to "prevent extinction" a spokesman said. "Collection [of funds] only formally started last week and we would not expect funds to be fully in place after so short a time," he added. "We are not aware of any problems that have arisen over the first week."
If successful, the trials could be followed by ten cull zones each year for four years in bovine TB hotspots, with some likely in the Westcountry.