Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has defended the badger cull saying that tackling the bovine TB in wildlife is the only way to curb the disease.
He said just culling infected cattle was, "just not good enough, we have also to address the disease in wildlife."
David Bowles from the RSPCA has said that the badger cull is misguided and "won't actually do what we all what we all want to see happen, which is an end to bovine TB in cattle."
The Minister of State for Agriculture and Food at Defra has dismissed claims by some that the science behind the cull is flawed.
David Heath is the MP for Somerton and Frome and said that: "We know that culling does reduce the incidents of the disease."
The Shadow Environment Secretary has said that the badger cull will cost more money than it saves.
Mary Creagh said: "Bovine TB is a terrible disease, but culling badgers is not the way to tackle it.
"The government's own impact assessment shows that culling badgers will cost more than it saves because of the divisive costs of the policing and we know that culling badgers spreads bovine TB in the short term."
The costs of carrying out the culling are being borne by the farmers. Cage trapping and shooting would cost £2,500 per square kilometre per year, and shooting free-running badgers would cost £300 per square kilometre per year.
The Environment Department estimates culling will cost farmers an average of £1,000 per square kilometre per year, which for the west Gloucestershire cull would come to £1.2 million over the four-year period and in west Somerset would be £1 million.
The monitoring, licensing and policing costs will be met by the taxpayer and come to £3.2 million for each pilot area. The policing costs alone are expected to be in the region of £2 million for each pilot cull.
The RSPCA has condemned the badger cull and said it will be monitoring the humaneness of the cull by examining any wounded badgers brought in, and called on the Government to be more transparent about how it was assessing whether the culling was humane.
The wildlife charity said it was expecting high numbers of calls about badgers during the six-week culling period. It has set up a dedicated emergency line for calls about badgers and readied staff to cope with an increase in badger admissions.
The Humane Society International UK's executive director and vet Mark Jones said:
This is a dark day for Britain as science and ethics have been sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.
Thousands of innocent badgers will now suffer and die in a completely unjustified slaughter that will at best have a marginal impact on TB in cattle and could very well make the problem worse.
This cull isn't just about badgers, it's about the disgraceful way in which our government has cast aside scientific rigour, moral accountability and transparency to pacify those who would rather shoot wildlife than modernise the cattle industry.
– Simon Nash, Chief Executive, Somerset Wildlife Trust
We are very conscious of the hardship that bTB causes our farming community. However science clearly shows that a badger cull is not the solution to bTB and, in fact, the shooting of badgers could make the problem worse here in Somerset.
This cull is a distraction and gets in the way of implementing the right mechanisms to control this disease through improved bio-security and the roll out of cattle and badger vaccines a view shared by many landowners here in Somerset.”
A cull of 70% of badgers over six weeks in the West Country will start on Tuesday in Somerset. It is expected to begin in Gloucestershire later in the week.
Here is what to expect from the move:
- Badgers will be shot in the wild instead of being trapped before culling.
- Pilot culls will see the killing of 70% of badgers in each area, which could mean the culling of 5,000 animals.
- The government spent £90m on TB control in England during 2010-11, including £6.9m on research and development.
- Surveys in the 1980s and 1990s suggested there are between 250,000 and 300,000 badgers in Britain.
- Defra estimates that the cull – across a 150km2 area during the summer for the next four years – will lead to a 16% cut in bovine TB.