The Government has opened the door to a badger cull in Cumbria as the fight against a deadly cattle disease intensifies.

It has announced that it is to allow the action in the area of England at low-risk from bovine TB which includes the county.

The expansion of the cull could take place as early as this autumn, if applications for badger control licences to control the spread of the disease - which has been linked to wildlife - are approved by Natural England.

Proposals to extend badger culling to low-risk areas (LRA) in the north and east of England - including Cumbria, Northumberland, Yorkshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Kent - emerged yesterday.

It is part of a goal to seeing the country being free of the disease by 2038.

Last year a new hotspot for the deadly cattle disease was detected in a 250km area from the south of Shap to junction 40 of the M6 at Penrith.

It emerged that the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) had been looking at a number of measures after bovineTB was discovered in badgers in Cumbria for the first time.

Earlier this year government vets did not rule out culling of badgers as an option to stop the spread of the disease in the county.

Government vets have said if the disease is not stamped on there is a danger that a new endemic bTB area of a strain of the disease could become established in this area of the county.

APHA told a meeting of farmers last summer that the strain of the disease in the county came from Northern Ireland.

The devastating disease has risen sharply in the space of four years. In 2013 three incidences in the north of the county and a further eight in the south were recorded.

Since then there have been around 61 separate outbreaks with yet more in the south. Bovine TB now surrounds the Lake District.

Farming Minister George Eustice set out the new plans, which follow a recent consultation, in a written statement to parliament today.

Badger control measures will only be available in the LRA in the ‘rare event’ that disease in badgers is linked to infected herds.

Mr Eustice said: “Badger control in the LRA is expected to be permitted only in very exceptional circumstances, where veterinary epidemiologists judge an area to meet the published criteria for a bTB ‘hotspot’.

“This will allow any such outbreaks to be tackled rapidly to prevent bTB from spreading further within the wildlife and cattle populations. It will also help preserve the LRA’s low incidence status.

“Any decision on whether to implement badger control in a specific LRA location will be taken by the Defra Secretary of State after considering all relevant scientific and veterinary advice.

“All the stringent licensing criteria set out in Defra’s Guidance to Natural England will need to be met by the cull company.”

Defra has also rubber-stamped a proposal to pay compensation at 50% of the average market price for any animal brought into a TB breakdown herd which then fails a TB test whilst that breakdown is still ongoing.

This already happens in Wales, but the UK government has confirmed it will apply in England from November 1 2018.