WILDLIFE organisations have expressed their strong opposition to the government's decision to go ahead with further badger culls in Dorset.

These culls, which have been licensed for 11 new areas, are intended to curb the spread of tuberculosis in cattle.

Imogen Davenport, director of conservation policy for the Dorset Wildlife Trust, criticised the move and said that a better solution would be to work on a vaccine for cattle.

She said: "It is really disappointing to hear that the government is still licensing these areas despite no real evidence that it is succeeding. In our view, it would be better for the government to put time and effort to develop a vaccine for cattle.

"At best it has very little benefit, at worst it can be counterproductive and cause TB to spread. We have been trying to get that message across."

Ian Mortimer of the Dorset Badger Vaccination Project said: "The Government] must know by now that this is not working – or at least have its doubts. We understand the prevalence of TB has actually gone up in Gloucester – a cull area – but the Government doesn’t seem to be prepared to admit it’s wrong.

"This is not a farmer versus campaigner issue or badgers versus cattle. It’s all of us against TB and we could vaccinate the whole of Dorset tomorrow if the government ever has a rush of common sense."

These new culls have been green-lit for Avon, Cheshire, Cornwall, Staffordshire, Devon, Dorset, Herefordshire and Wiltshire, while licences have been reauthorised for another 29 areas. This brings the number of cull areas in England to 40 for this year.

West Dorset MP Sir Oliver Letwin has defended the current policy.

He said: "There is growing evidence that the prevalence of TB is being reduced; so I believe that we should stick with the current suite of policies on cattle movement, testing, peripheral vaccination and culling. Our dairy farmers need to be supported in this way if they are to remain in business."

And South Dorset MP Richard Drax said: "I do support the cull, but I think we need to make clear that it is working. I know there is evidence to the contrary, but there is always going to be a contrary view to this controversial move. It is necessary to protect farmers and their livelihoods and stop the spread of this disease.

"The cull is not to wipe out the badger. The intention is to stop the disease."