A controversial cull of 5,000 badgers got under way today in a bid to prevent the spread of tuberculosis in cattle.
The cull is taking place in Somerset and Gloucestershire, where farmers now have permission to shoot as many as 80 badgers a night.
The two pilot schemes are taking place in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease which farmers say led to the slaughter of 38,000 cattle last year.
Anti-cull campaigners staged a vigil overnight to protest against the move.
In a letter to members, National Farmers’ Union President Peter Kendall said today: “I am writing to let you know that the first pilot badger control operations have begun.
“I know that many of you reading this will have suffered the misery of dealing with TB on farm – some of you for decades – and I hope now you will feel that something is finally being done to stem the cycle of infection between cattle and badgers.”
Following the NFU announcement, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “We know that despite the strict controls we already have in place, we won’t get on top of this terrible disease until we start dealing with the infection in badgers as well as in cattle. That’s the clear lesson from Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and the USA.
“If we had a workable vaccine we would use it. A vaccine is at least 10 years off.”
Farmer, Henry Yates, based near Bridgnorth, said: “The cull is a necessity because it is the only method to reduce what is a national disaster.
“In the 1960s we had eliminated TB but now it is a widespread problem and is costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions per year, as well as causing mayhem in the farming industry.”
Ray Bower, owner of Lower Drayton Farm in Penkridge, a working farm that has 230 cattle at any one time said some kind of control was needed.
The father of three, aged 61, said: “I’m not saying what’s right or wrong but there’s no TB on the Isle of Man and there’s no badgers on the Isle of Man.
“No-one wants badgers to be wiped out but where there are sick animals, there will be sick wildlife, and we’re not just talking sick animals, people can catch TB as well.”
Campaigners in Minehead, Somerset, turned out to protest against what they have called an ‘inhumane’ measure.
Activists from campaign group Stop The Cull gathered in Gloucestershire to form a ‘wounded badger patrol’, while last night Somerset Badger Patrol organised a vigil against the cull.