More than 70,000 badgers could be killed as badger culling is to be extended into seven new areas of England this year, including Oxfordshire.

On Tuesday , Natural England announced that it would be issuing new licences that would also allow the killing of badgers in Hampshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire and two areas of Shropshire.

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) wildlife organisation is 'heartbroken' and said that these licences would allow more than 7,000 badgers to be shot to help control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (TB).

Julia Lofthouse, BBOWT mammal project manager, said: "As a trust, we are absolutely heartbroken by this news. Badgers are magnificent icons of the British countryside and the emblem of the Wildlife Trusts, and our Government has allowed thousands of them be needlessly slaughtered.

"We do sympathise with the plight of farmers and know the hardship that bovine TB causes, but culling badgers is not the answer. The Government has seen no definitive benefits from seven years of industry-led culling of badgers in England. The science tells us the main route of bovine TB transmission is between cattle – not from wildlife such as badgers.”

Natural England has also authorised existing licence holders to resume culling in 33 existing areas this year - allowing up to 75,930 badgers being killed.

The Government ran a public consultation asking for people's views on the proposal.

With the support of The Wildlife Trusts, more than 39,000 people responded to the Government’s consultation and 36,958 of those went on to email their MP urging the Government to stop issuing badger cull licences immediately.

However, despite the consultation the Government announced in May that it would issue licences this year and next year which will last for four years.

BBOWT has predicted that by the end of the cull, 300,000 badgers out of an estimated population of 485,000 may have been culled.

About 25 per cent of the European badger population is found in the UK and the Wildlife Trusts believe that the UK has an international responsibility to conserve them.

The wildlife organisation has said it is 'sympathetic' to the hardship bovine TB causes the farming community, but believes culling badgers is not an effective way of controlling its spread. The Wildlife Trusts are calling for more research into cattle vaccination and improved testing regimes for cattle.

Since 2014, BBOWT has been running a successful badger vaccination programme. The results have proved there is a much more humane way to tackle bovine TB that is also at least 60 times cheaper per badger than culling.

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