Badgers that were given a stay of execution after an intervention by Boris Johnson’s fiancee now face a cull after the Government bowed to pressure from farmers and reversed its decision to suspend licenses.
Licenses have been granted for culling in 11 new areas of England to tackle bovine TB, including Derbyshire, which was excluded from the cull last year on the orders of then-Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers.
The National Farmers Union lost a High Court challenge that claimed the decision was “irrational” and had been based on a “personal decision” of the prime minister.
The decision by Mrs Villiers reportedly came three weeks after Ms Symonds met with Dominic Dyer, the head of the Badger Trust, which has opposed culls on the protected species.
Derbyshire has led the biggest vaccination programme in the country. The Badger Trust says the vast majority of badgers killed are bTB-free, but the majority are not tested.
The new licenses, which will be added to 33 areas with ongoing permissions, mean the number of badgers to be killed this year could be up to 70,000, compared to only 35,000 last year.
The Government is understood to be split over its approach to dealing with bovine TB.
It has indicated that it wants to phase out badger culling, bringing in field trials of a cattle vaccine, but it was yesterday accused by the Badger Trust of going “from badger control to badger annihilation”.
“The decision to expand the badger cull is a huge betrayal of public trust by the government,” said Mr Dyer.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "Bovine TB is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that the UK faces today, causing considerable trauma for farmers and costing taxpayers over £100 million every year.
"No-one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely.
"That is why we are accelerating other elements of our strategy, including vaccination and improved testing, so that we can eradicate this insidious disease and start to phase out badger culling in England."
The NFU welcomed the move, saying ““the impact of bovine TB continues to devastate farming families up and down the country.”
“The Chief Vet has said that proactive badger culling is currently the best available option to tackle this disease and there is clear evidence that badger culling is working,” NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said.