Cheshire is one of 11 new areas where the government is allowing badger culling as part of measures aimed at curbing the spread of tuberculosis to cattle.
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) says such action is vital to beat the disease and protect the farming industry.
The government has categorised Cheshire as a ‘high risk’ area – in a 12 month period from May 2016 a total of 1,968 animals with bovine TB had to be slaughtered and 120 herds put under restrictions, affecting farmers’ ability to buy and sell animals.
But news of the cull is bound to anger animal rights groups. Last December hundreds of activists marched through Chester to protest against the killing of badgers.
Other measures announced today are:
■ Relaunch of a badger vaccination programme in medium risk areas
■ A new information service to provide advice on-farm and by phone or email to farmers in high and medium risk areas
■ Tighter control of cattle where test results proved inconclusive
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.”
The government claims that in 2016 badger control operations in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Herefordshire and Wiltshire were ‘all successful in meeting their targets’.
Anna Golub, from Cheshire Against the Cull, whose group organised the Chester demonstration last year, had predicted the cull was likely to be introduced in Cheshire in 2017.
She said at the time: “More than ever we need to raise awareness about the plight of our innocent badgers to try and prevent this unscientific and inhumane bloodshed happening in our county.”
Badger Trust CEO Dominic Dyer said: “This is not just about the badger, it is about the future of our countryside.
“We won’t allow our farming industry to wipe out our wildlife. We are angry, but we are caring and compassionate people as well. The badger cull is a national disgrace.”