The Government is to delay its decision on whether to allow a cull of badgers in England as part of efforts to control TB in cattle.
Ministers had hoped to unveil their policy on controlling the disease by the end of this month, but it now appears the measures will not be announced until after the local government elections in May.
The Environment Department (Defra) said it was keen to make sure "we get it right" over the controversial policy, following hold-ups to a similar cull planned in Wales as a result of a legal challenge.
Under plans put out for consultation last year, farmers in England will be issued with licences to cull badgers, which can spread TB to livestock, in disease hotspots to help tackle spiralling rates of infection in cattle.
The plans would require farmers to meet the costs of culling the wild animals on their land.
The proposals, which would allow farmers to use vaccination of badgers on its own or in combination with culling, aim to tackle the high incidence of the disease, particularly in south west England, but have come under fire from animal welfare groups.
And there is debate over how effective any culls conducted by farmers would be.
Earlier this week, at the National Farmers' Union conference, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said ministers had to be "extremely careful" about the decision in the light of the situation in Wales, but said she didn't intend to draw out the process longer than it had to be.
Agriculture Minister Jim Paice said: "We need to make sure we get it right. That is why there is a short delay in announcing what we are going to do."
A Defra spokeswoman said: "Bovine TB is a devastating disease and tackling it is complex, so, as Jim Paice said, we need to make sure we get it right.
"We will be announcing a comprehensive and balanced TB Eradication Programme for England as soon as possible."Reuse content