Fresh controversy surrounds the fate of a badger sett blamed for leaving a section of Cumnor Hill close to collapse.

Parish councillors believed the sett had been moved elsewhere and last an Oxfordshire County Council engineer told the Oxford Mail the badgers were being relocated under a licence issued by Natural England.

But Oxfordshire Badger Group said the animals were not being moved out of the area after all.

Despite having been “excluded” from a well established sett in Cumnor Hill to allow road repairs to go ahead, it has emerged the badgers are being left to their own devices — and have been allowed to remain in the area.

Motorists will be faced with serious disruption in the New Year, with the road between Botley and Cumnor having to be closed for five weeks from January because of damage caused by badger tunnels.

As reported in last week’s Oxford Mail, the road and embankment between Arnold’s Way and Delamere Way is having to be made safe after years of badger activity.

Julia Hammett, of Oxfordshire Badger Group, who lives near Cumnor Hill on Hurst Rise Road, said: “People should not think these badgers have been relocated. There was not the money or time for that.

“It was a long established sett. It is hoped the badgers find a new home naturally.”

She understood there had been discussions about tagging the animals for a Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs study into the impact of closing a sett.

The sett was closed to allow reconstruction work on the carriageway and to stabilise an embankment.

The work will involve driving a series of steel sheets into the ground to support the footway and carriageway in case of future badger activity.

The work is being undertaken by the county council, the highways authority.

County Hall’s highway management manager, Mark Benton, said: “There are no longer any badgers at the site. Under legislation that is widely and frequently used in such circumstances, the county council obtained a licence from Natural England who work as agents for the Government.

“That licence allowed us to carefully block off the badger setts so the animals would have to move elsewhere. A badger sett cannot be legally declared as closed until it has been verified there has been 21 days of inactivity.

“We declared the sett closed in late October after such a period of inactivity elapsed. These kinds of operations are carried out under very strict animal welfare guidelines."

The area has a history of landslides and in the 1930s the road was substantially repaired after badger damage.

Ms Hammett insisted the badgers were not totally responsible for the state of the road. She said:“The council’s report on the Cumnor Hill road problems shows the badgers are in fact only one factor out of many that have caused the potential problems on this road.

“There are other things like the road’s construction.

“And people should remember this road now has a much higher usage than originally envisaged, due to rapid housing development in the area.”