The PR battle to win the hearts and minds of the public over the badger cull is hotting up, with those for and against the policy increasing their activity.
Culling of badgers in the pilot zones of west Somerset and west Gloucestershire could begin any time from 1 June this year.
Last month, the NFU relaunched its TB Free England website, which now includes an infographic poster on bovine TB and the badger cull.
The revamped site also features an FAQs section and stories of livestock farmers whose herds have been devastated by the disease.
The NFU said the latest figures released by DEFRA on incidences of bovine TB showed more farmers were battling the disease on their farms than ever.
More than 38,000 cattle have now been compulsorily slaughtered because of TB in Britain in 2012, including more than 28,000 in England alone.
NFU vice-president Adam Quinney, a livestock farmer at Sambourne, near Redditch, said the figures were “awful reading”. He added that tackling the disease in wildlife was “essential” to successfully tackle TB.
DEFRA has a web blog called “Tackling Bovine TB” to provide updates on the work being carried out across England to tackle TB in cattle.
A DEFRA spokeswoman said: “TB causes the slaughter of thousands of cattle each month and we need to tackle its spread.
“We have increased cattle controls in high risk areas, spending £15.5m on vaccine development and will pilot culls in two areas this summer to tackle the disease in wildlife.”
Meanwhile, the Team Badger coalition of animal welfare charities and organisations that oppose the badger cull, including the RSPCA, Save Me and the League Against Cruel Sports, held a rally in Taunton, Somerset on Saturday (20 April).
Rock star Brian May led the public meeting and addressed an audience of around 150 people. He warned farmers against pressing ahead with controversial plans for the cull.
Part way through the meeting, Dr May broke off and played the audience an extract from The Badger Song, a new protest song he has recorded based around the “Badger, Badger, Badger” carton by animator Jonti Picking.
Dr May told the meeting that the ditty was “not quite finished” and was a “parody of Flash (Gordon)”.
“We are going to get Brian Blessed on it saying ‘we need badgers alive’,” he said.
RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant branded the cull a “national disgrace” during a speech to the rally.
Anti-cull campaigners are planning a National Badger March on 1 June in London.
Organisers have asked protestors to wear black and white for the demonstration, which will begin at Victoria Tower Gardens, south-west London, and make its way to DEFRA headquarters near Westminster.
In a separate development, High Street cosmetic chain Lush has launched a nationwide campaign against the badger cull.
Customers are being urged to sign postcards in store that will be sent to Oliver Letwin, Conservative minister for government policy, to let him know that “badgers have friends, and those friends have votes”.
The campaign is warning that by relentlessly pursuing a badger cull, the government risks losing votes in next week’s local council elections (2 May).