Second badger cull licence issued
Natural England has issued the second licence allowing farmers to shoot badgers under measures designed to control bovine TB.
The cull could start in weeks in West Somerset, a hotspot for TB in cattle.
Ministers are pressing ahead with their plans to cull badgers in two areas of the South-West, amid pressure from farmers.
But a decade-long scientific trial of badger culling concluded there were only modest benefits.
The first licence, allowing a cull to take place in Gloucestershire, was issued on 17 September.
The second one, applied for by a specially formed company "representing farming and land management interests", covers 250 sq km of countryside in West Somerset.
The licences allow farmers to cull up to 70% of badgers in the pilot zones.
TB 'grip on farms'
With only weeks to go before the start of the planned culls, almost 150,000 people have signed a petition to stop them. They want to force a debate on the issue in Parliament.
But the National Farmers Union (NFU) says farmers remain committed to the measures.
NFU President Peter Kendall said: "Farmers remain committed to helping government deliver on its TB eradication programme that will reduce TB in both cattle and badgers.
"No-one wants to cull badgers but we simply can't go on while TB increases its vice-like grip on our family farms."
Farmers have a matter of weeks to raise the funds needed to carry out the cull on 70% of farmland in the two pilot zones.
As of 27 September, the necessary funds for the Gloucestershire pilot zone had not been banked, according to a letter from Natural England seen by BBC News.
Protestors claim some farmers are changing their minds about taking part in the culls.
Activists have threatened to disrupt the night-time shoots, using lights and noise to send badgers underground.
The Badger Trust, which failed in a legal bid to stop the culls, says vaccination is the way forward.
"With every passing week the Government's claims that the cull is science led are shown up for what they are - a sham," it said.
"It's time they were abandoned. Vaccination of badgers will make an important contribution. But the long-term solution has to be a cattle vaccine."
In other developments:
- Police leave in Gloucestershire is being cancelled until the New Year because of the possibility of confrontations between campaigners and marksmen authorised to shoot badgers
- The Forest of Dean District Council in Gloucestershire says it will not allow badger culling on land it owes, manages or controls
- Tewkesbury Borough Council has also refused to support a badger cull on its land
- Provisional data shows TB in cattle has fallen in the past six months. The incidence of TB in cattle was 4% in June this year, compared with 6% in June 2011. Government officials say the decline, which has yet to be fully validated, is due to increased testing of herds.
Badger TB link
Evidence suggests some wild badgers can become infected with the bacteria that causes bovine TB and pass it on to cattle.
Estimates suggest that culling badgers in areas where bovine TB is prevalent could reduce the number of new cases of TB in herds by 16% over 9 years, said Defra.
Several scientists, including government advisers, say culling alone will not solve the problem.
The NFU and the British Veterinary Association (BVA) argue that even if culling delivers only a modest benefit, it is better than nothing.