The badger cull, which has been authorised for a third year by the Government, began today.
The cull has been extended into Dorset, and existing culls will continue in Gloucestershire and Somerset.
Ministers and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) say the cull will reduce rates of TB (tuberculosis) infection in cattle.
But the move was condemned by the Dorset Wildlife Trust which stated, “We are extremely disappointed because science has shown that culling is unlikely to work and will probably make matters worse.”
The culls are based on the findings of the decade-long randomised badger culling trial (RBCT), which was completed in 2008. The RBCT found that killing more than 70% of badgers in the cull area had the potential to decrease bovine TB in cattle by approximately 12-16% within that area.
The same trial also concluded that culling fewer than 30% of the badgers actually increased TB infections, because of the perturbation effect – surviving badgers quickly moved to fill the territories of their culled neighbours, hastening the spread of bTB.
The report concluded that “culling [using free shooting – the preferred method of the current policy] is not a viable policy option”. Many of the scientists involved in the RBCT, including Sir John Krebs, have voiced strong opposition to the current plan.
Last year, the number of badgers killed in the Somerset culling areas exceeded the minimum target of 316, but only 274 badgers were killed in Gloucestershire, short of the 615 minimum target.
Official figures showed that every badger killed costs the taxpayer between £3,000 and £5,000.
A spokeswoman for Defra said that £500 million had been spent over the last decade trying to combat TB. She added that “Doing nothing is not an option.”