Researchers claim they have new evidence showing how bovine tuberculosis is transmitted between badgers and cattle.

Mike Hutchings, of the animal health research group, at SAC and Piran White, of York University’s environment department, used data loggers to monitor encounters between badgers and cattle.

They found that badgers and cattle come into contact with one another much more often than previously thought.

Dr Hutchings said: “The belief that, out in the fields, badgers and cattle avoided each other means we have been neglecting a potentially significant area of disease transmission between the species.”

Adding to the significance of the findings was data suggesting that more sociable cattle were more likely to be curious about badgers, and therefore more likely to catch and then pass on any infection, said Dr Hutchings.

An NFU spokesman said: “This paper confirms that there is interaction between badgers and cattle and, therefore, a circle of transmission of bovine TB between the two species.

“We strongly believe that bTB policy creation should be led by sound, scientific facts and welcome any new research which adds to our growing knowledge and understanding of this pernicious disease.”

Badgers were a complex wildlife species and any new information about their social and territorial interactions was to be welcomed, the spokesman said.

But he added: “This report has been conducted on a small scale and we do not feel it can be seen as a standalone piece of scientific evidence for policy creation.

“The concept of individual cattle hubs is weak and is, in fact, contradicted within the report.

“No account is taken of the animal welfare connotations of disturbing cattle hierarchies implicit in the report conclusions.”