THE launch of a fresh consultation on plans to hold a pilot cull of badgers in north Pembrokeshire has been welcomed by Wales’ farming unions.

Rural affairs minister Elin Jones announced plans for a new badger control strategy on Monday.

Unlike the previous TB eradication order, which applied to the whole of Wales and was quashed by the court of appeal this summer, the new draft order is specific to an intensive action area in north Pembrokeshire and small areas of Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

Elin Jones said: “I am satisfied that in the intensive action area there is no reasonably practicable or satisfactory alternative to culling badgers as a means of reducing TB in cattle. This is because it is the only proven method currently available to me.”

The consultation has been welcomed by the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) and NFU Cymru.

FUW TB spokesman Brian Walters said: “This announcement is an important step towards addressing the epidemic in north Pembrokeshire, which has cost the lives of thousands of cattle in that area alone over the past couple of years, and causes overwhelming suffering and trauma for animals and families.”

NFU Cymru deputy president Stephen James, a Pembrokeshire farmer, said the announcement offered ‘a ray of hope’ to farmers.

He said: “This programme is about eradicating the disease not eradicating badgers and to achieve our goal of healthy cattle and healthy wildlife we must be able to tackle the disease in both populations.

“We must not forget that farmers throughout Wales, in particular those in the intensive action area, continue to play their part in tackling bovine TB through adhering to the most stringent cattle control and biosecurity measures, but we know that these measures alone without a concurrent strategy for removing infection from badgers will not eradicate the disease from Wales.

“Bovine TB not only destroys thousands of cattle each year, it also has an enormous emotional impact on farmers and their families as they deal with the restrictions and the heartache of losing cattle in their prime, not to mention the enormous cost on farming businesses and to the taxpayer.”

The announcement follows the release of research by the FUW in July which suggested that a badger cull could reduce bovine TB incidences significantly.

“Our work shows that a badger cull carried out in the same way as during the English trials could reduce TB incidences by between ten and 30% during a five year culling period, and between 25 and 32% in the three-and-a-half years after a cull,” added Mr Walters.

“If a cull in north Pembrokeshire was carried out in a way that avoided the problems encountered during the English culling trials, these figures could be expected to be considerably higher.”