Farm leaders and conservationists have clashed over a government decision to cull more badgers in a bid to combat bovine tuberculosis in cattle.
Eleven new badger control licences were announced on Monday (11 September) – including new culls in the counties of Wiltshire and Cheshire.
They come on top of 10 existing culls which will continue in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset, Herefordshire, Somerset and Gloucestershire.
See also: Photos: How to badger-proof your farm
The NFU welcomed the new culls – announced alongside the creation of a TB advisory service to help farmers tackle the disease.
Defra has also announced the relaunch of its Badger Edge Vaccination Scheme, with applications for projects set to start next spring.
However, conservation groups condemned the cull, saying the 11 new areas would see up to 33,000 badgers killed in 2017 alone.
Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer described the additional culling areas as an “act of political aggression” by the government, the farming industry and the NFU.
There was no evidence that shooting badgers was reducing TB in cattle, Mr Dyer told the BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast programme on Tuesday (12 September).
“It is failing on scientific grounds, it is inhumane, it is hugely costly, it is not helping farmers [and] it is definitely not helping taxpayers,” he said.
“At the end of the day, it is destroying a protected species in large parts of the country.”
Mr Dyer said it would be better to focus on cattle-based controls, such as animal movement restrictions, better testing and biosecurity rather than culling badgers.
But NFU deputy president Minette Batters said it was “simply not the case” that bovine TB was a cattle disease rather than anything to do with badgers.
“It is the most devastating disease – we killed 29,000 cattle last year,” she said. “This is destroying cattle and destroying family farming businesses.”
No country in the world – including New Zealand, Australia and the US – has overcome bovine tuberculosis without tackling the disease in wildlife.
Ms Batters said: “We are testing more cattle in the UK than any other country.”
Cattle passed the disease to badgers and badgers passed the disease to cattle, she added.
“Unless we address the disease in wildlife, which in this case is the badger, we will continue to live with this disease.”
Cattle movement measures had been improved and so had testing regimes – but the disease would remain unless badgers were culled, said Ms Batters.