WILDLIFE campaigners have breathed a sigh of relief at news that the controversial badger cull will not be imposed in Dorset.

However, culls are to be continued where pilot programmes were carried out last year in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

The news came in an announcement by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson following the publication of recommendations by an independent expert panel.

It follows suspicions that the cull would be rolled out to other counties this year.

But Dorset – where farmers largely support a cull to combat Bovine TB – could still see culls introduced in 2015 or beyond.

The panel recommended a series of changes to be made to improve the effectiveness, humaneness and safety of culling in the existing licensed areas.

The changes will continue to be monitored to assess their impact before further decisions are taken on more badger cull licences.

Mr Paterson said: “The four-year culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire are pilots and we always expected to learn lessons from them.

“It is crucial we get this right. That is why we are taking a responsible approach, accepting recommendations from experts to make the pilots better.

“Doing nothing is not an option. Bovine TB is a terrible disease which is devastating our cattle and dairy industries and causing misery for many people in rural communities. We need to do everything we can, as set out in our strategy, to make England TB free.

A spokesman for campaign group Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare said: “News that Dorset will be spared for now is a huge relief for the county and Dorset campaigners have pledged their full support to groups in the cull zones.”

The National Farming Union (NFU) has said farmers will be ‘bitterly disappointed’ with the decision.

NFU president Meurig Raymond said: “As pilots, there was always going to be the potential to make improvements as a result of knowledge gained.

“After all that is what pilots are for. They have helped to gain a greater understanding of how we can tackle the wildlife element of this terrible disease cycle.”