A CONTROVERSIAL plan to trial a badger cull in West Somerset has been shelved until next year.

The decision comes after months of protests across the country and a petition carrying more than 160,000 signatures calling for it to be stopped.

Defra proposed the cull in two pilot zones – West Somerset and Gloucestershire – in a bid to combat the crippling effects of bovine TB on farmers, but campaigners have maintained that shooting badgers is not the answer.

The National Farmers Union wrote to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson today to request the cull be postponed after survey results showed a larger population of badgers than expected in the pilot zones, which would make it difficult to kill a minimum of 70% of the animals.

Mr Paterson announced the move in Parliament a short time ago, postponing the cull until summer 2013.

He said: “It would be wrong to go ahead if those on the ground cannot be confident of removing at least 70% of the populations.

“The Government is determined to tackle bovine TB by all the means available to us. Now, in the next few months, we will ensure that the pilot culls can be implemented effectively, in the best possible conditions, with the right resources.

“Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do, and indeed the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action.

“I remain fully committed to working with the farming industry to ensure that the pilot culls can be delivered effectively, safely and humanely next summer.”