Cull to destroy 12,000 badgers

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ANIMAL LOVERS warned of "direct action" last night after the Government announced plans to cull up to 12,000 badgers to combat the spread of TB in cattle.

The outcry came in response to plans for the badgers to be trapped and destroyed in about 30 test sites over the next five years. The killings would be part of an experiment in tackling the spread of the disease, which can be passed on to humans only through unpasteurised milk.

The Government is acting on a report published yesterday by an independent group on cattle TB. Jeff Rooker, the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, said it had been "one of the most difficult decisions facing ministers at Maff".

He said they sympathised with the protests from badger groups. "Badgers are a protected species and will remain so. Our policy objective is not to eradicate badgers but to control TB in cattle," he said.

"We need to tackle the problem now, before it becomes unmanageable. We need to find out, with certainty, the conditions in which controlling badgers in an area is effective in reducing TB in cattle."

Animal rights groups insist that there is no positive link between badgers and TB in cattle, in spite of the findings of the Krebs report last December.

Elaine King, of the national federation of badgers' groups, said Maff had culled 20,000 badgers over 23 years but had failed to stop the disease.

"It is clear that badger culling is never going to stop the problem," she said. "Members of the public will take direct action against the badger culling because many people are so incensed that this is going to go ahead when most of the badgers killed will not be infected with TB," she added.

Dr King urged that a vaccine for TB in cattle and badgers should be developed.

The culling will start in three areas on the borders of Devon and Cornwall and three sites on the borders of Gloucestershire, Hereford and Worcestershire, covering a total of 2,000 square kilometres.

There will be closed season from 1 February to 30 April to minimise the risk of cubs being left underground.