GLOUCESTERSHIRE has been selected as one of two areas a controlled cull of badgers will be piloted to tackle the spread of bovine TB.

Landowners and farmers in the west of the county can now apply for licences to trial a mass shooting scheme, the government’s agriculture minister Jim Paice has confirmed.

TB forced the slaughter of 25,000 cattle in 2010 and the government has warned the problem will cost taxpayers more than £1 billion over the coming decade if not dealt with effectively.

The specific area of west Gloucestershire includes land in the districts of the Forest of Dean and Tewkesbury, as well as a region of west Somerset, which were selected from a national shortlist of sites proposed by the farming industry.

Applications for inclusion in the trial will be assessed by Natural England against a strict list of criteria.

Jim Paice said: "Bovine TB is a chronic and devastating disease.

"It causes the slaughter of tens of thousands of cattle each year and is taking a terrible toll on our farmers and rural communities.

"Nobody wants to cull badgers but no country in the world where wildlife carries TB has eradicated the disease in cattle without tackling it in wildlife too.

"These two pilots are just part of a wide range of activity on bovine TB. "We already have robust measures to control its spread amongst cattle, which we plan to strengthen further and are continuing to work hard on the development of practical and usable vaccines."

A Spokesman for the National Farmers Union (NFU), which is backing the scheme, said: "We continue to support the government’s policy to eradicate bovine TB, announced last year, which will include a cull of badgers in those areas where the level of disease is persistent and high.

"We have said that this has been a difficult decision for ministers to make but it remains a very important step in moving towards a healthy countryside for both badgers and our beef and dairy cattle.

"This package of control measures will start with two pilot areas in the hotspots of south west England, namely West Somerset and West Gloucestershire and will test whether controlled shooting is effective, safe and humane.

"These are areas where TB is devastating farming businesses, with the pointless slaughter of cows and causing misery and stress to our farming families who are stuck in a cycle of TB infection within their herds.

"The NFU will continue to work with farmers on the ground, helping them to prepare for the licence applications which will go to Natural England.

"We will also work with the independent group that will oversee the badger controls to ensure they are safe, effective and humane - that for us is paramount."