WILDLIFE groups are furious after licences for badger culling were extended to Oxfordshire for the first time.

Government advisory body Natural England has licensed and authorised 11 new ‘badger control areas’, with culling to take place this year.

The controversial culls, which are expected to see 70,000 badgers shot this year, are deemed necessary to control tuberculosis in cattle.

However, wildlife groups have hit out, arguing the cull is ‘outdated, ineffective and immoral’.

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The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) said it was aghast that more than 70,000 healthy badgers will be shot in the ‘largest ever seasonal cull’.

BBOWT chief executive Estelle Bailey said: “Culling does not address the primary cause of outbreaks of bovine tuberculosis, which is cattle-to-cattle transmission, and it undermines our vaccination programmes.

“Culling is outdated, ineffective and immoral. This Government has repeatedly said it will be guided by the science, yet it seems to be ignoring its own advice.”

The situation is further complicated by the fact the Government said it was moving away from lethal control in March, and would support badger vaccination.

Since 2014, BBOWT has run a badger vaccination programme and says that it is 60 times cheaper per badger than culling.

Oxford Mail:

In Oxfordshire, the licence will allow badgers to be killed in two different ways during Open Season.

The mammals can be trapped in cages and ‘humanely dispatched’ of by shooting from June 1 to November 30, while controlled shooting can take place from June 1 to January 31.

The licence lasts until January 31, 2024, or a longer period, as specified by Natural England.

Chief executive of the Badger Trust, Dominic Dyer, said: “The decision to expand the badger cull is a huge betrayal of public trust by the Government.

“Rather than phasing out the shooting of badgers in favour of vaccination, the Government is now embarking on a mass destruction of the species, which is little more than ecological vandalism on an unprecedented scale.

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“This could result in population collapse with badgers pushed to the verge of local extinction. This is no longer a badger control policy, it’s a badger eradication exercise.”

Meanwhile, the RSPCA said it is ‘appalled’ by the decision, adding that more than 3,000 badgers were ‘shot but not retrieved’ last year.

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “Bovine tuberculosis is one of the most difficult and intractable animal health challenges that the UK faces today, causing considerable trauma for farmers and costing taxpayers over £100 million every year.

“No-one wants to continue the cull of a protected species indefinitely. That is why we are accelerating other elements of our strategy, including vaccination and improved testing, so that we can eradicate this insidious disease and start to phase out badger culling in England.”