Data on how severely a cow-killing disease is spreading in Northamptonshire has been shared ahead of the 'likely' start of a badger cull.
This newspaper reported last week how Natural England has received applications to begin a four-year programme of free shooting badgers in the county.The controversial cull was licensed in 40 areas in England in 2020 with a goal of destroying 60,000 of the animals.
It is part of a Government bid to combat the farmyard disease Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) - so how severe is the spread of this affliction in Northamptonshire?
Latest figures suggest the disease is spreading West to East across England. The Government cull is based on suggestions that wildlife like badgers are spreading bTB to herds. If a case is detected among cattle, infected and potentially infected animals must be slaughtered at cost to the farmer. bTB is deadly and highly-infectious to cattle and can spread to human through meat and milk products, but instances of this are rare.
In the 12 months leading up to September 2020, Northamptonshire recorded 33 new cases of bTB.
"High risk" counties in England recorded close to 300 cases in the same period. This includes Staffordshire with 298, Shropshire with 274 and the Herefordshire & Worcstershire area with 245.
Meanwhile, counties surrounding Northamptonshire that began culls last year had close to double our number of cases in those same 12 months. Oxfordshire had 66, Warwickshire had 62 and Leicestershire had 59.
But this compares to counties east of Northamptonshire which reported drastically lower figures. Bedfordshire had 2 and Cambridgeshire had just 1.
The culling in Northamptonshire would be licensed in the rural West and South regions first.
It has not been announced what the "target" number of badgers killed would be for Northamptonshire. However, the badger cull across England has so far destroyed around 33,000 animals out of a target of 60,000.
Badger culling has been named in the House of Commons as "one of the most divisive policies" going. It began in earnest in 2013 but in 2020 was rolled out to 40 areas in total.
It comes as the environment secretary George Eustice claimed in January that badger cull licenses are to be stopped after 2022, and pivot to a bovine vaccination programme. Proposals could also cut licences short, but is not guaranteed.