LAND in Dorset has been earmarked as a reserve site for controversial badger culls set to go ahead later this year.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has told MPs that culls are set to go ahead in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset after final licence conditions were met He said that a further area in Dorset has been earmarked as a reserve area in case one of the pilots cannot proceed, he added in a written statement to Parliament.

The pilot culls were postponed amid fears they could not be carried out effectively in autumn last year.

But Mr Paterson said Natural England had written to the two companies set to carry out the pilots confirming that final conditions in their licences had been met ''meaning that culling can go ahead there later this year''.

The culls are aimed at tackling TB in cattle, which can be spread by badgers.

Mr Paterson said: ''I know there is great strength of feeling on badger culling, but I also know that we need to take action now before the situation deteriorates even further. We need to tackle all transmission routes of TB using all available tools.''

He said the pilots were ''part of the Government's science-led and carefully managed policy''. Mr Paterson said licences were issued to companies to carry out the pilot culls before they were postponed.

''Today, Natural England have formally written to the two companies confirming the final conditions in these licences have been met, meaning that culling can go ahead there later this year,'' he said.

''This demonstrates the commitment of all organisations involved to the successful delivery of the pilots in these two areas.

''At the same time, an area in Dorset will be prepared as a reserve. This is a sensible contingency in the event that, for any reason, one of the existing licensed areas is unable to proceed.''