A NEW round of badger culling to tackle tuberculosis in cattle has been given the go ahead in Dorset with more licences granted, it has been announced.

Licences for badger culling in parts of Devon, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset and Cheshire were announced, as the Government said it was also restarting a badger vaccination programme to stop spread of the disease to new areas.

In addition, licences for more culling have been granted for areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset which have completed four-year pilot culls introduced to stop spread of TB from badgers to cattle.

Dorset Wildlife Trust said it was "shocked and saddened" to hear the announcement that the areas where badger culling will take place in Dorset this year will be substantially increased.

A new advisory service for farmers that will provide advice on farms, by phone and email, to livestock owners in areas at high risk or on the edge of the areas suffering the disease, is being launched in the autumn.

The Government has committed to rolling out culling to more areas, saying it is necessary to curb TB in cattle as badgers can transmit the disease to livestock, but opponents say it is inhumane and ineffective and vaccinations should be pursued instead.

Farming Minister George Eustice said: "Bovine TB (bTB) not only has a devastating impact on our beef and dairy farms, but causes harm and distress to infected cattle.

"We have a clear plan to eradicate the disease over the next 20 years and this year we are restarting the Government-backed badger edge vaccination scheme to stop the disease spreading to new areas.

"Vaccination is just one part of our comprehensive strategy, which also includes tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control in areas where bTB is rife, to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife.

"While our eventual aim is to eradicate the disease completely, farmers are facing the reality of bTB on their farms every day, which is why we are also launching a new bTB Advisory Service to offer advice to all farmers on limiting on-farm disease risk."

Chief vet Nigel Gibbens said: "Taking action to prevent bovine TB infection of cattle from the reservoir of disease in local badger populations is an essential part of the Government's 25-year strategy to eradicate the disease in England.

"Proactive badger control is currently the best available option and the licensing of further areas is necessary to realise disease-control benefits across the high risk area of England, rather than at local levels."

The Environment Department (Defra) said that in 2016, operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Herefordshire and Wiltshire were all successful in meeting their targets for culling badgers.

In total, culling will be carried out in 21 areas in the south west, west and north west of England this year.

This includes 11 additional licences for badger control covering parts of Devon, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset and Cheshire.

Meanwhile, the relaunched Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, which was suspended for two years following a global vaccine shortage, opens for expressions of interest today, with projects set to start in spring 2018.

Successful applicants will receive a government grant for 50 per cent of their costs from a fund worth £700,000 over four years.

Dorset Wildlife Trust said it was "deeply concerned" that the Government "continues to go against scientific advice which states that badger culling is unlikely to have meaningful effect in reducing bovine tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle".

A spokesman said: "The continuation and extension of the cull, which we fear will now cover the majority of rural Dorset, which will see thousands of badgers killed in the county.

"This is not only unlikely to reduce incidence of bovine tuberculosis (bTB), but might make matters worse by disturbing badger populations, resulting in the further possible spread of the disease to cattle.

"In total, 4,258 badgers have been killed in the Dorset culls since they began in 2015, and up to 9,391 could now be killed this year alone."

DWT, which has its own herd of cattle in west Dorset, believes that alternative methods such as badger vaccination in the short-term, implementing effective bio-security on farms, and in the long-term vaccinating cattle, should be pursued as alternatives to shooting badgers. No culling will be allowed on DWT nature reserves.  

DWT claims the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is ignoring public opinion and democracy as well as well-established science to roll out an even bigger badger cull that will see badgers killed over large areas of Dorset.

DWT’s Chief Executive, Dr Simon Cripps said, “The killing of thousands of badgers, one of our iconic species, is being extended further across the country, in an underhanded manner, without the publication of boundaries.

“If the NFU won’t listen to scientific reason then they should at least come clean about what they are doing in our countryside, against the wishes of the vast majority of both urban and rural communities.

"We call on the Government to establish a full and independent inquiry into whether the culls have achieved their intended outcome in reducing bTB in cattle."

In 2013 DWT started a badger vaccination programme on its nature reserves which are close to its livestock. 

The vaccine supplies were cut in 2016 but the trust is expecting the programme to start up again in 2018.