NO BADGERS will be culled in the West Country this year.
The decision was taken this week to call off two controversial culls which were intended to tackle the spread of bovine tuberculosis.
Farmers' groups licensed to carry out the shooting of badgers as part of a pilot scheme told the Government they could not do the job on time.
The news was greeted with dismay by cattle farmers in the South West, though campaigners against the cull were delighted.
But the Government has pledged a cull will still go ahead next summer, as soon as the badger breeding season is over.
The announcement about the postponement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday by Environment Secretary Owen Paterson.
He said a survey showing increased numbers of badgers in the two pilot cull areas, in Somerset and Gloucestershire, made it impossible for culling teams to complete the work by the end of the year.
He said: "I have received a letter from the President of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), on behalf of the companies co-ordinating the culls, explaining why they do not feel they can go ahead this year and requesting that they be postponed until next summer.
"In these circumstances, that is the right thing to do."
Mr Paterson stressed the Government was still determined to tackle bovine TB by all means available.
He added: "In the next few months, we shall ensure that the pilot culls can be implemented effectively, in the best possible conditions, with the right resources.
"Having looked at all the evidence, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do."
A new survey revealed that the estimated badger populations of 4,300 in West Somerset and 3,600 in West Gloucestershire were far higher than previously thought.
The criteria for the two pilot culls included the need to remove 70 per cent of the local population, which the scientists say is required in order to have a positive effect in reducing TB.
Campaigners against the cull were delighted by the announcement, though frustrated a cull is still scheduled for next year.
Jack Reedy, of the Badger Trust, said: "Farmers and landowners have been sadly deluded into believing in – and paying for – the proposed unholy mess, based on a 40-year-old prejudice impervious to science."
The decision was difficult, but responsible and right, said NFU president Peter Kendall.
But he said he understood that the news would come as a devastating blow to farmers who are desperate for a solution to the cycle of reinfection of TB in their beef and dairy herds.
He said: "We have all worked tirelessly to prepare for the delivery of this policy to see us finally get on top of this terrible disease. But there have been a series of obstacles, not least the appalling weather, delays because of the Olympics and Paralympics, and legal challenges.
"The numbers from the badger population survey last week, which demonstrated just how large the badger numbers are, have left us with a huge challenge to ensure we achieve the targets needed for disease control.
"We have always said that this has to be a science-led policy to reduce disease and we have to be confident of achieving the numbers needed for disease reduction.
"As we approach winter, the odds of achieving that number decrease. This is why, reluctantly, we have taken the decision to delay until late spring next year.
"Postponement is the most responsible thing to do. We have said all along that this has never been about killing badgers. This has always been about eradicating disease."
British Veterinary Association president Peter Jones said: "Although we are frustrated by the delay, we are relieved there has been no change in policy.
"The science has not changed. Scientists agree that culling badgers does reduce the levels of infection in cattle herds."