A SECOND year of culling badgers in Gloucestershire has been given the go-ahead today, Tuesday.

Natural England confirmed that all the criteria have been met to allow the second of four years of badger culling to start in west Gloucestershire and west Somerset, to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

Operations in these areas where TB is rife will be carried out under the existing four-year licences which allow six weeks of culling to take place every year between June 1 and January 31.

Start dates for culling activity will be decided by the licensed companies.

As part of the terms of the cull licensees have been set a minimum number of badgers to be removed – these are 615 in Gloucestershire and 316 in Somerset.

A maximum number of badgers has also been set which is 1,091 in Gloucestershire and 785 in Somerset.

Last year the cull in Gloucestershire was halted three weeks before schedule after it became clear even a reduced target would not be met.

The pilot scheme was extended by eight weeks after marksmen exterminated only 30 per cent of the local badger population - well short of a 70 per cent target.

Natural England said it had pulled the plug as the cull was set to miss a revised level of 58 per cent.

Designed to reduce the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, the policy is backed by farmers and vets' groups but strongly opposed by animal rights campaigners.