Badger cull: will new government licences to kill badgers in Wiltshire include the Marlborough area?
Official government licences to allow the killing of badgers - a species protected under British law - have been announced for eleven new areas in England. There are three licences for Wiltshire.
The government claim that the culling will reduce the spread of TB in cattle which has led to many farmers' herds being destroyed.
Those against culling - which is done either by trapping animals in cages and then shooting them or by shooting as animals emerge from their setts - say the policy is inhumane and ineffective. The government has also said that it intends to restart a badger vaccination programme, but no details have yet been announced.
It is true that the cull will kill many badgers that are free of TB or are infected and cannot pass on TB as well as killing those that are infectious - sometimes highly so - and could pass on TB to cattle.
This is the biggest extension in culling badgers since the policy was begun in 2013 at two trial sites in Gloucestershire and Somerset. A third site was added in Dorset in 2015, and seven more sites were brought into the scheme last year in Cornwall, Devon and Herefordshire.
All we are allowed to know about the Wiltshire licences is that the culling will be in three parts - there are three licences and three 'letters of authorisation'. The areas are believed to include Salisbury and Warminster, Chippenham and Malmesbury and will probably cover about 1,000 square kilometres.
However the Chippenham area - which is thought to extend close to Avebury - may reach east of Avebury into the Marlborough Area.
People monitoring the cull - including members of the Wiltshire Badger Group - will only be able to find out about the area from the sounds of night-time shooting or the occasional discarded cage or a corpse that has not been picked up. The Group's aim is to send badgers back underground and so escape the guns.
The licences issued by Natural England - officially known as 'TB Area Control Licences' - are shown on the government website. But much of the information is redacted - including the names of those licenced to carry out the cull and maps of the areas covered by each licence.
The new group of licences runs from 8 September 2017 until 31 January 2021 and can be extended. A letter about one of the Wiltshire areas says the contractor 'should aim to kill' a minimum of 2,745 badgers and a maximum of 3,726 badgers during 'this open season'.
The 'open season' is 1 June-30 November for cage trapping and 'humane dispatch of trapped badgers by shooting', and 1 June-31 January for 'Controlled shooting of badgers'.
The total numbers of badger deaths aimed for under the new licences and under existing and supplementary licences is a maximum of 33,841 and a minimum of 21,981.
In previous years the cull has cost police forces time and money. In one year the Avon and Somerset force spent £700,000 policing the cull in Gloucestershire.