The planned badger cull pilots in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset will go ahead this summer now that final licence conditions have been met, Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson has announced.

Natural England had issued the necessary authorisation letters for the two pilots today, Paterson told the NFU Conference in Birmingham. Now that the letters had been issued, culling could start from1 June in the two areas and would last for six weeks, to be repeated annually for four years.

A third area – in Dorset – was being prepared with the NFU as a back-up in case one of the other areas had to drop out of the pilot due to unforeseen circumstances, Paterson said.

The pilots were delayed at the eleventh-hour last autumn, and Paterson said he was determined there would be no further delays. “Bovine TB is spreading at an alarming rate and causing real devastation to our beef and dairy industry,” he said. “The authorisation letters issued today confirming culling can proceed this summer in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset is an important step towards taking the action we need to tackle the spread of this disease in wildlife.”

Paterson added that although the culling pilots were a vital part of the UK’s strategy to combat bovine TB, it was not the be-all and end-all. “These pilot culls are just one part of our approach to control and eradicate this dreadful disease,” he said. “We are using everything at our disposal to get to grips with TB including new tougher controls on moving cattle, increased herd testing and working to get effective vaccines ready as soon as possible.”