badger cull
MPs are set to debate the badger cull in the House of Commons later this month.

The government has bowed to public pressure and will debate plans for a badger cull across parts of the UK.

As the chorus of outrage against the slaughter has grown, even prominent government scientists have come out publicly against the idea.

A number of scientists said there was no evidence to suggest that a cull would reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis in cattle.

A petition to stop the cull attracted more than 150,000 signatures, which means the issue must be debated in the House of Commons. On 25 October, MPs will be asked to vote on whether the cull should go ahead.

In September, Nature England issued a badger control licence to West Gloucestershire council to prevent the spread of bovine TB. Another licence was granted to West Somerset on 4 October.

They licences were issued to enable a pilot cull to go ahead before the programme was rolled out across the rest of the country.

According to the Stop the Badger Cull petition, launched by Queen guitarist Brain May, over 70 per cent of the badger population would be killed if the cull goes ahead. RSPCA chief executive Gavin Grant said the charity welcomed the parliamentary debate with "open arms".

Ignoring science and the public

He said: "This cull is a huge mistake and in persisting along this misguided path the government is ignoring both science and the public - who could not have made their feelings clearer.

"Studies have shown it will be of little help in controlling TB [tuberculosis] in cattle and could even make things worse in some areas. Thousands of badgers, many of them healthy, will be wiped out needlessly.

"Let's hope that this debate gives us a chance to put a stop to this slaughter once and for all."

The charity said vaccination of cattle and/or badgers, more testing and stricter controls on cattle herd movement were better methods of erasing bovine TB.

In 1997, the Independent Scientific Group began the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT). It took 10 years, cost £50m and resulted in thew deaths of 11,000 badgers.

The report said that after four years of killing badgers, there was only a very small drop in cattle TB. It concluded: "Badger culling can make no meaningful contribution to cattle TB control in Britain. Some policies under consideration are likely to make matters worse rather than better.

"Weaknesses in cattle testing regimes mean that cattle themselves contribute significantly to the persistence and spread of disease in all areas where TB occurs, and in some parts of Britain are likely to be the main source of infection."

A number of vets have also joined the debate by writing a letter to environment secretary Owen Paterson. They said that even trained individuals would not be able to kill badgers immediately.

"It is likely that many targeted badgers will not be killed outright; the natural behaviour of those that are injured will be to try to return to their underground setts where they will likely suffer a slow and very unpleasant death," they wrote.

According to the Department for Food and Rural Affairs, scientists say that as long as the culling is done in line with the RBCT then TB in cattle would be reduced by 16 per cent over nine years in comparison to unculled areas.