Badger culls to continue
Badger culls are to continue in one of the areas where the controversial measure has been trialled.
Natural England said a new licence authorises a three-week control operation to be carried out in west Somerset this autumn, while an application to extend it in the second area - west Gloucestershire - has also been received.
It comes after the action, intended to limit the spread of bovine tuberculosis, was this week condemned as a "farce" after ministers admitted that not enough animals are being killed.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said he expected the trial period to be extended by three weeks to hit the target of eradicating 70% of the animals. But he was mocked for blaming the shortfall on the animals themselves, when he said during an interview: "The badgers have moved the goalposts."
Mr Paterson said the six-week action in west Somerset had killed 850 badgers - 60% of the local population.
"Current indications suggest that the pilot has been safe, humane and effective in delivering a reduction in the badger population of just under 60%," he told MPs in a written statement.
"We set ourselves a challenging target of aiming to ensure that 70% of the badger population was removed during the pilot. The chief veterinary officer (CVO) has advised that the 60% reduction this year will deliver clear disease benefits as part of a four-year cull."
He added: "The cull in Gloucestershire is still ongoing and I will make a further statement when the six weeks is completed. I understand that this morning Gloucestershire is also submitting an application for an extension to Natural England."
Asked on the BBC's Spotlight programme in the West Country whether he was "moving the goalposts" by extending the period, Mr Paterson said: "That's not right, the badgers have moved the goalposts.
"You are dealing with wild animals. It is a wild animal subject to the vagaries of the weather, disease and breeding patterns."
Natural England said in a statement: " The new licence authorises a three-week control operation to be carried out this autumn and supplements that authorised under the original four-year licence granted in October last year.
"The new licence allows the licensee to continue culling and specifies a minimum number of 165 and a maximum number of 282 to deliver disease control benefits while reducing the risk of local extinction.
"An application to extend culling in west Gloucestershire has also been received by Natural England and will be processed in due course."
Queen guitarist Brian May, who is leading the campaign against the cull, branded the approach an "utter failure" and described the application for an extension as a "farce".
"It's a failure because they said they had to cull 70% and they failed to do that," he said earlier this week.
"This is becoming a farce. They are now being told that probably the prevalence (of TB) has increased in badgers already.
"They were warned this would happen and they did not listen to the scientists. Pretending this is a science-based cull is a farce.
"The only reason they got 800 badgers is because they went over to trapping badgers and killing them.
"If you can trap a badger and shoot it in the head, you can trap a badger and vaccinate it for the same amount of money.
"Vaccination is very affordable. I heard a figure the other day of £85,000 per badger killed. This is ludicrous and is our money being spent and it will not solve the problem."