The government has announced today that plans for a badger cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire, which had been due to start any day, have been put on hold.This follows growing public, scientific and political opposition to the plans to cull badgers.A record number of signatures were gathered against the cull in the Number 10 e-petition in just two weeks.This number has now grown to nearly 160,000 and has prompted a full debate on the floor of the House of Commons on Thursday 25th October. This will still go ahead and will be preceded by a mass lobby of Parliament on Wednesday 24th October.Earlier in the year, the Welsh government also ruled against a badger cull in north Pembrokeshire which angered many farming groups.The President of the British Veterinary Association said the halt was a 'severe blow' to the vets and farmers who are battling against bovine TB."We need to wait for the Secretary of State’s statement to hear the reasons behind any delay, and we very much hope this will not reflect a change in policy" said Peter Jones."As we get later in the season we must recognise that it becomes less likely for a cull to be delivered effectively and so it could make sense to delay until next year."But evidence from the UK Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT) said culling could spread the risk of the disease as badgers would roam further afield than normally expected and endanger other herds.The RSPCA expressed their 'delight' over the English badger cull delay."This is good news for badgers, cows, dairy farmers and animal lovers alike" said RSPCA Chief Executive Gavin Grant."Hopefully it marks the beginning of the end for these unscientific, foolish and cruel plans to cull badgers. We welcome this postponement, but this must not be a temporary reprieve, but must mark an end to all cull plans.""Science, the public and MPs from all parties had said very clearly that a cull is no answer to bovine TB" the Chief Executive said."The RSPCA stands ready to play a full part working with farmers, land owners, Government and conservationists to move forward rapidly and constructively to tackle this dire disease in cattle and wildlife."The NFU accused the RSPCA of hypocrisy earlier in the month after farmers were warned that they could lose their valued Freedom Food status if they supported or allowed badger controls on their land.NFU Director of Policy Martin Haworth said: "It looks to us like the RSPCA trying to attack farmers’ businesses financially to try to stop farmers from lawfully participating in what is a sadly necessary step to tackle a devastating animal disease, just as the RSPCA has tried to do by calling on shoppers to boycott milk produced on dairy farms in the cull areas."Friends of the Earth’s senior political campaigner Liz Hutchins said: "The self-professed ‘greenest Government ever’ might make fewer mistakes on its environmental policies if it adopted an evidence-based, rather than ideological approach, to policy making." "Ministerial plans to cull badgers and buzzards were severely undermined by the partial use of facts to suit certain interests." "The forthcoming Energy Bill is a crucial test of the Government’s scientific credibility – will it listen to its climate expert’s call for our power system to be decarbonised by 2030, or give the go-ahead to George Osborne’s reckless dash for gas?"The NFU have also written to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson to request the cull in Somerset and Gloucestershire resumes in 2013.Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: "Despite a greatly increased effort over the last few days and weeks, the farmers delivering this policy have concluded that they cannot be confident that it will be possible to remove enough badgers based on these higher numbers and considering the lateness of the season.""The Government is determined to tackle bovine TB by all the means available to us. Now, in the next few months, we will ensure that the pilot culls can be implemented effectively, in the best possible conditions, with the right resources." "Having looked at all the evidence over many years, I am utterly convinced that badger control is the right thing to do, and indeed the higher than expected badger numbers only serve to underline the need for urgent action. I remain fully committed to working with the farming industry to ensure that the pilot culls can be delivered effectively, safely and humanely next summer."More than 70% of badgers would have been culled in the two pilot zones and then across large areas of the countryside despite an independent 10 year scientific study showing a cull would have been of little help to controlling TB in cattle and even suggest that it could make it worse in some areas.The research, which was undertaken by the Independent Scientific Group, took nearly a decade, cost approximately £50 million and 11,000 badgers. It concluded ‘badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain.The Stop the Cull/Team Badger campaign has been pushing for the UK Government to follow the Welsh Government which, using the same scientific evidence as Defra, has begun a five year vaccination program of badgers in Wales. Campaigners have also called on Government to implement a vaccination programme for badgers and cows along with increased levels of testing, improved farm biosecurity and the introduction of stricter controls on the movement of cattle rather than culling 70% of the badger population, the vast majority of which are disease free.But farming groups claim that a vaccine to help control TB in the future 'remains many years away'.Unions such as the NFU have admitted a vaccine should be part of a package of measures to help control the disease but said that measure alone would not be enough to combat it."We need a package of measures to tackle TB and yes, cattle vaccine must be one of them. But as Defra’s chief vet Nigel Gibbens said cattle vaccine, and the tests and regulations needed to put it in place across Europe, ‘may take years’. In the meantime, the spread of TB is doubling every nine years" said NFU President Peter Kendall.