THE controversial badger cull which took place in Dorset last year and was hailed as a success by the Government could be returning.

Natural England has received 25 applications and/or expressions of interest for licences to cull badgers in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset.

Natural England is seeking comment on the potential impacts of a licence in the areas proposed.

A government decision on a proposed cull of up to 6,000 badgers was agreed last year when Dorset was originally earmarked as a reserve location.

West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin said: "I continue to believe that, for the sake of our hard-pressed farmers and the many jobs in west Dorset that depend on agriculture, we need to continue with the trial culls, alongside vaccination in the areas surrounding the trials."

An estimated 30,000 cows a year are slaughtered because they have contracted bovine TB, with around 1,300 herds in the south west affected.

Farmers and industry leaders have called for the culls for a number of years, but campaigners say that a safer, more effective and more humane method way of eradicating the disease is to vaccinate badgers and cows.

Dorset Wildlife Trust believes there are effective and reliable ways of controlling the disease, such as better biosecurity and badger vaccination. The charity will not allow badger culling on any of its 44 nature reserves.

Dr Simon Cripps, chief executive of DWT, said: "It is a great shame there are more applications for badger cull areas when the culls to-date have clearly been shown to have been resounding failures, based on the lack of success in shooting the badgers, the lack of verified effect on TB in cattle, and the enormous cost to taxpayers of about £5,216 per badger. These farmers are flying in the face of scientific evidence and huge public opinion against the cull."

Elizabeth James, from the Dorset Mammal Group, said: "I am also part of the Dorset Badger Vaccination Project and we have been vaccinating badgers for the past two years. In the trials of 1997 the Government invested the best part of £50million of tax payers money. Even though badgers play a part in transferring bTB it's a cattle to cattle transmission. This is why we think it is a waste of more public money. Culling badgers isn't going to solve the problem."

NFU president, Meurig Raymond said: “Bovine TB is endemic across the south west of England, large parts of the midlands and beyond. It is vital we do everything we can to tackle this disease to stop it spreading further and causing more misery for farming family businesses.

“Only using every option at our disposal will we stand a chance of controlling and eradicating this devastating disease and achieving what everybody wants – a TB free England. That is why it is important that the Government’s TB eradication strategy is implemented in full as soon as possible.

“Natural England is now consulting with local people to get an understanding of any local concerns about the potential impact of culling operations. The fact that so many areas have expressed an interest shows how widespread the bTB problem is and how urgently it needs to be dealt with.”