The government has launched a consultation into the next stage of its bovine TB (bTB) strategy.

Views are being sought on a range of proposals.

These include plans to phase out intensive badger culling through the following steps:

• Stopping issuing intensive cull licences for new areas after 2022

• Potentially reducing the duration of culling licences to two or three years

• Restricting new supplementary cull licences to two years and not reissuing them afterwards

• Supporting badger vaccination in areas that have completed culls as an alternative to supplementary culling

Responding to the consultation announcement, BVA president James Russell said: “BVA has consistently advocated for an approach that uses all the tools in the toolbox to tackle this insidious disease, and we welcome progress on new tools and measures such as a viable cattle vaccine.

"Farmers, vets and the Government have put in enormous effort over the years to control bovine TB, but it’s essential that any next steps are evidence based before any of the proven tools are phased out.

“While the vaccination of badgers reduces the severity and progression of bTB in badgers, its effect on cattle bTB incidence remains uncertain.

"We would like to see prioritisation of research to evaluate the impact of badger vaccination on cattle as part of any ‘exit strategy’ from intensive badger culling.”

Alongside the consultation document, Defra has issued a call for views on possible future measures to accelerate bTB eradication in England, such as further improvements to testing, encouraging increased uptake of farm biosecurity measures and supporting responsible cattle movements.

The RSPCA's welcomes the consultation but still has concerns.

RSPCA chief executive Chris Sherwood said: “We welcome the government’s declared intention to phase out badger culling.

“The RSPCA looks forward to contributing to this important consultation so that the badger cull can be phased out swiftly and permanently.

“However we note that culling licences will still be issued where the Chief Veterinary Officer determines that this is necessary and we have concerns with that. So we will be responding to this consultation robustly to ensure that this statement to end the culling means just that - an end to the cull.

“For many years, we have been calling for an end to the culling of badgers.

"Bovine TB is a devastating disease for farmers because they see their cattle destroyed and their business restricted.

"But the badger cull is inhumane and ineffective and costly to both animal welfare and farmers’ livelihoods.

"Scientific evidence shows that badgers avoid cattle where possible and indicates that the role they play in spreading bovine TB is vastly over-estimated.

“Instead, the first line of defence against this terrible disease should be improved cattle husbandry, good bio-security measures, more comprehensive testing, a reduction of cattle trading from high risk to low risk areas and vaccination.

The consultation closes on March 24, 2021.