Anger as badger culling given go-ahead for next year

Animal welfare campaigners say they will challenge badger culling in England after trials were given the go-ahead by the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman.

The six-week trials will take place in two areas next year and could lead to a wider cull across the country as part of efforts to tackle TB in cattle. Farmers and veterinary leaders welcomed the move, saying it was an "undisputed science" that killing badgers was effective, although controlled shooting had yet to be tested.

But several animal welfare groups reacted angrily to yesterday's announcement, with one considering legal action. The Humane Society International (HSI) said it would submit a formal complaint to the 1979 Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats. It said the cull lacked "legitimate purpose" and posed a significant threat to badger populations, and that ministers had failed to examine alternatives.

Mrs Spelman told the Commons a vaccine for the disease would take too long to develop and it was difficult to administer to wild badgers. Culling could reduce the incidence of bovine TB by 10 per cent, she suggested.

Carl Padgett, president of the British Veterinary Association, hailed the trial as "a major step on the long road to tackling this devastating disease". But the RSPCA accused the Government of being "more interested in killing badgers than vaccinating them".

The Badger Trust said it was "clearly very disappointed" and would consult lawyers to decide what action could be taken. The Shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, said: "The cull will cost farmers more than it saves them and will spread bovine TB in the short term as badgers move out of cull areas."