Natural England have said potential applicants for badger control licenses for 2014 onwards 'should now begin to prepare information for the Expression of Interest' process.No decision has yet been taken by the government about further licenses for badger culls. However, gathering details, such as land and landowners who would be involved in the cull zone, 'will help applicants in a good position' to seek a licence later this year.The Dorset county's police and crime commissioner said a badger cull in the area is looking 'increasingly likely.'Martyn Underhill said despite targets being missed in Gloucestershire and Somerset, a cull could happen next year.The pilot culls carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire in 2013 to reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis are now being evaluated by the Independent Expert Panel, which is considering the safety, effectiveness and humaneness of controlled shooting. The panel’s report, due to be published in early 2014, will inform a Government decision on the wider roll-out of badger control.If the roll-out is confirmed, the first stage of the licensing process would require potential new application areas to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) form. Submissions for 2014 would then be screened by Natural England to determine which candidates should be invited to apply for a licence to control badgers to prevent the spread of bovine TB (see guidance notes: (875kb)pdf document).Based on experience from the licensing process for the pilot culls, gathering the necessary information to satisfy the criteria for the policy and to submit a licence application can take applicants a significant amount of time. If this process were to begin after confirmation of the roll-out there is a serious risk that licences could not be obtained in time for culling to take place this year."It is important to stress that this guidance to potential applicants is solely aimed at ensuring an efficient licensing process and in no way pre-empts the decision on roll-out due to be taken by the Government," Natural England said.Criteria for applicants may be subject to change in accordance with the Government’s decision on the policy, but Expressions of Interest should show that an application is likely to meet the following current criteria:The application area must be at least 150 square km.The area must be composed wholly of land within the annual routine TB testing area.There must be a reasonable expectation that the applicant will obtain access for culling to at least 70% of the land within the bounds of the application area.There must be a good state of general readiness (e.g. acceptable level of farmer interest in participating).The conservation of other protected species and sites which may be affected should be carefully considered to avoid negative impacts.Any preparatory work is done on a ‘without prejudice’ basis and at the applicant’s own risk, pending a decision on roll-out by the Secretary of State. Further information will be given after a decision on roll-out has been made.