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A CONTROVERSIAL cull of badgers could begin in May following moves yesterday by Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones.

The Minister tabled an Order authorising the destruction of badgers across 111 square miles of West Wales in an Intensive Action Area centred on North Pembrokeshire.

The area contains around 300 cattle farms and an estimated 1,000 badgers. The cull is expected to involve about 80% of the animals, which will be trapped and shot once the animals have weaned their offspring.

Farmers welcomed the announcement but the RSPCA and the Badger Trust claimed the slaughter was unnecessary and could lead to the virtual elimination of badgers from the area. The Badger Trust won a Court of Appeal challenge last year to earlier plans for a cull and chairman David Williams said the trust would seek legal advice before deciding whether to pursue court action again.

"We always knew the Assembly Government would try this again because there are people there who ignore all the facts and figures that are presented to them," he said.

RSPCA senior wildlife scientist Colin Booty said: "We believe this is a dead-end policy in every respect. A couple of thousand badgers will be killed and the attempt to find a solution to bovine TB in cattle inWales will still be at a dead end."

Welsh Liberal DemocratAM Peter Black pledged to force a debate on the matter in the National Assembly. He said there was no justification for a cull, adding that latest bTB statistics showed a 34% reduction in infected cattle between 2009 and 2010.

Ms Jones said yesterday: "I am aware that this decision will cause some people genuine concern, but it is a decision I have taken based on full consideration of the matter."

She also announced new controls to deal with bTB in non-bovines, including camelids, goats and deer.

The new measures are part of a three-year pounds 27.7m package to eradicate bTB inWales. They already include improved surveillance and cattle disease controls, linking compensation for infected cattle to good practice and enforcing the testing regime. …