Conservationists and veterinary experts have clashed over the best way of controlling bovine tuberculosis.
It follows claims by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust that vaccinating badgers against the disease is an affordable and viable alternative to culling.
The trust made the claim following a badger vaccination programme this summer at seven of its nature reserves, including a dairy farm.
Badgers can be vaccinated for as little as £51/ha, according to a trust report outlining the cost of the programme.
Landowners should join together to vaccinate badgers against bovine TB, suggests the document.
“The report provides proof that there is an affordable alternative to the proposed cull,” said trust chief executive Gordon McGlone.
Culling, on the other hand, could actually increase bovine TB in neighbouring herds as infected badgers fled the killing zone.
“Bovine TB is a big problem but local culling of one of our much-loved native animals is not the answer,” said Mr McGlone.
But the British Veterinary Association dismissed the claims.
The vaccination programme had covered only 170 hectares (1.7 sq km) and gave no evidence to support its conclusion.
BVA president Carl Padgett said the study had investigated the deployment of the badger vaccine, rather than the its impact.
He added: “This work must not be confused with an investigation into the effectiveness of the badger vaccine in reducing or eradicating bovine TB.
“To conclude from this report that the badger vaccine is a viable alternative to culling in eradicating TB is unrealistic at best and spin at worst.”
The fact remained that the vaccine had no protective effect on infected badgers, said Mr Padgett.
“We know that at least 30-40% of badgers within an area will be infected. Many young badgers will be infected before they can be trapped and injected.”
In terms of the practicalities of deployment, the report provided interesting information, acknowledged Mr Padgett.
But much more would be learned as a result of DEFRA’s badger vaccine deployment project, which was looking at a much larger area of 100 sq km.
“Vaccination of badgers certainly has a role to play in an effective TB eradication programme but it is only one tool in the toolbox.”
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