CAMPAIGNERS have described the decision to delay a controversial badger cull trial until next year as a ‘hollow victory’.

The cull has been strongly opposed since it was announced and a petition with more than 160,000 signatures called for it to be stopped.

Defra proposes to carry out the cull in two pilot zones in West Somerset and Gloucestershire in a bid to combat bovine TB but campaigners say that vaccination, not
shooting badgers, is the answer.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) wrote to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson on behalf of the companies co-ordinating the cull to ask for it to be postponed until summer 2013.

Survey results showed a larger population of badgers than expected in the pilot zones, which would make it difficult to kill the required 70% of the population.

Bad weather, the Olympics and legal challenges against the policy were also cited as factors.

Mr Paterson said: “The government is determined to tackle bovine TB by all the means available to us. 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 the pilot culls can be delivered effectively, safely and humanely next summer.”

Pauline Kidner, of Secret World Wildlife Rescue in East Huntspill, and the Badger Protection League, said: “It is a hollow victory that we still have to fight against the badger cull next year.

“We are still in a desperate situation with farmers affected by this terrible disease who suffer not just financially but emotionally as well.

“It would have been so much better to have put this flawed and ill-conceived badger cull behind us and for us to join with farmers to make the government move forward with a cow vaccine.”

Ian Johnson, South-West spokesman for the NFU, said: “I know there will be many who are devastated by this news but postponement is the most responsible thing to do.

“We have said all along that it is not about killing badgers – this has always been about eradicating disease. It has been about the battle to get on top of the TB on our farms that strikes at the very heart of our beef and dairy herds.”