The government is allowing the culling of badgers in 11 new areas to control the spread of tuberculosis in cattle, despite protests from conservation groups.
Culls will now be able to go ahead in Avon, Cheshire, Cornwall, Staffordshire, Devon, Dorset, Herefordshire and Wiltshire under licences issued by Natural England.
Licenses have also been reauthorised in 29 existing areas, which means the cull of badgers will take place in 40 sites in total across England.
Farming minister George Eustice said there was “no single measure” that can prevent the spread of TB.
“Bovine TB remains the greatest animal health threat to the UK, costing taxpayers over £100 million every year as well as causing devastation and distress for hard-working farmers and rural communities,” he said.
“We have always been committed to a multi-pronged approach including proactive badger control, as well as other tools such as tighter cattle controls, improved biosecurity and badger vaccination.”
Last week the Badger Trust conservation group wrote to the Prime Minister seeking to block any expansion to the cull.
It said nearly 68,000 badgers had been killed since 2013 in a “failed attempt” to lower cattle TB rates.
CEO of the Trust, Dominic Dyer, said badger vaccination would be a far more effective response, as thousands of badgers have “died long and painful deaths” during culling.
A spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs said those tasked with the cull will ensure it is “safe, effective and humane”.
Badgers are protected under law in England, and killing one without a licence can result in an unlimited fine and a maximum prison sentence of six months.
Disturbing badgers in their setts, or damaging, destroying or blocking access to setts, can carry the same penalty.