AS fears grow of an imminent badger cull in Cheshire the government has relaunched an immunisation programme of the protected species.

The scheme was announced earlier this week, at the same time as the government issued 11 additional licences for badger culling including parts of Devon, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset and Cheshire.

The government insists a joint approach of culling and immunisation is the best means of eradicating Bovine TB Under the relaunched immunisation scheme, which will start next Spring, the government plans to spend £175,000 annually over the next four years to immunise badgers against bovine TB.

It says the scheme was suspended for two years following a global vaccine shortage.

The relaunched scheme has now opened for expressions of interest. Successful applicants will receive a government grant for 50 per cent of their costs from a fund worth £700,000 over four years.

Farming minister George Eustace said both measures (culling and immunisation) were key parts of the government’s strategy to eradicate Bovine TB in England, which he claims, includes one of the most rigorous cattle surveillance programmes in the world, strong movement controls, promoting good biosecurity, and badger control where the disease is rife.

He said the disease cost taxpayers more than £100m every year. England had the highest incidence of the disease in Europe.

In 2016 more than 29,000 cattle had to be slaughtered in England to control the disease, causing devastation and distress for farmers and rural communities.

He explained: “Bovine TB not only has a devastating impact on our beef and dairy farms, but causes harm and distress to infected cattle.

“We have a clear plan to eradicate the disease over the next 20 years and this year we are restarting the government-backed scheme to stop the disease spreading to new areas.

“Vaccination is just one part of our comprehensive strategy, which also includes tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger control in areas where bTB is rife to tackle the reservoir of disease in wildlife.”

Chief vet Nigel Gibbens added: “Proactive badger control is currently the best available option and the licensing of further areas is necessary to realise disease control benefits across the high risk area of England, rather than at local levels.”