ANIMAL rights groups have started their search for wounded badgers across Gloucestershire as the second round of the pilot cull has begun.
The next phase of culling started last night in a bid to eradicate bovine TB in cattle by shooting 615 animals, Defra has announced.
Opponents say a vaccination programme would be more effective in tackling the disease.
Scott Passmore, from A Wildlife with Animals which is based in the Forest of Dean, said: “We started at Newent and at one point we were near Deerhurst and I have mammal handling equipment in the car and many badger setts can be seen from the roadside.
“We did not find any wounded badgers last night. But my view is this is totally wrong and if anything this is going to make TB worse.
“They should be addressing the real problem, which is cattle movement and bio-security on farms.
“We have been finding lamb carcasses left in fields, deer heads hanging on trees and we have been finding all sorts of undesirable things left in fields but unfortunately the wildlife is being used as a scapegoat.”
Activists operating for the Gloucestershire Badger Office patrolled most of the zone which lies between the M5, M50 and A40 to guard badger setts from cull marksmen.
Anti-cull campaigner Drew Pratten, from the Forest of Dean, said: “We had a phenomenal amount of support last night including people from Manchester and Derbyshire saying ‘we are here for one night, what can we do’?
“There are people actually guarding setts, people on lookout points and at crossroads where we can see what’s happening.”
NFU president Meurig Raymond said in the South West, where bovine TB is endemic and where herds are being reinfected despite farmers’ best efforts to protect the, controlling the disease in badgers has to be an essential part of any strategy to wipe the disease out.
He said: “Nobody would choose to kill badgers if there was an effective alternative in areas where TB is rife. But if we’re ever going to get on top of TB in areas where the disease is endemic there is no other choice.
“The chief vet has said culling over a four-year period in both pilot areas will have an impact on disease control. I am confident that these pilot culls will help deliver a reduction in bTB in cattle and it is vital that they are allowed to be successfully completed so they can deliver the maximum benefits.
Environmental secretary Elizabeth Truss said the Government is pursuing a comprehensive strategy supported by leading vets which includes cattle movement controls, vaccinating badgers in edge areas and culling badgers where the disease is rife. She said: “This is vital for the future of our beef and dairy industries, and our nation’s food security.
“At present we have the highest rates of bovine TB in Europe. Doing nothing is not an option which is why we are taking a responsible approach to dealing with bovine TB.”
The pilot cull will run for the next six weeks.