Northern Ireland has moved a step closer to a badger cull after the Department of Agriculture (DAERA) asked companies to confirm their interest and ability to undertake the task.

This is the first stage of the appointment process, with any successful company to enter a contract with DAERA.

The incidence rate of TB in cattle in Northern Ireland has been increasing steadily, reaching record highs, with the cost of the disease to the public purse in excess of £50m per year.

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Delivery of a cull would be on a not-for-profit basis with the farmer-led company funding the cull itself, DAERA said. It would provide authorisation and oversight.

"At this time, no cull has been authorised," DAERA stressed, "This stage in the process enables DAERA to work with the appointed cull company in preparatory work prior to any cull taking place." The closing date for receipt of completed expression of interest forms is April 21, 2023.