CONTROVERSIAL calls to cull badgers to save cattle from outbreaks of TB have been scoffed at and rejected by wildlife experts and conservationists in the New Forest.

Despite badger setts being protected by law, a report by the UK government's chief scientist, Sir David King has advised ministers from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, that badgers should be killed to prevent the spread of TB among cattle.

The report states they are proving to be "a continuing source of infection", accounting for 40 per cent of cattle breakdowns.

According to the National Farmers Union about 2,500 cattle get bovine tuberculosis (bTB) every year, with around 30,000 stock getting killed annually because of the disease.

The union is supporting the new government recommendations, believing a cull is a necessary measure to curb TB in cattle.

NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond added: "Now that we have scientific endorsement for the principle of badger culling, there can be no further excuse for the government not to act.

"We stand ready to play our part in carrying out a scientifically designed badger culling strategy in partnership with the chief scientist's recommendations."

But badger conservationist, Dusty Miller from Fordingbridge said: "This report isn't even saying anything new. They have been blaming the badgers since 1948.

"The fact is all badgers and wildlife carry the TB syndrome but because this country is now embroiled in so much intensive farming, with bigger herds of cattle being constantly shipped about, putting the cows under more stress than before, then of course there will be more incidences of TB. The only reason a report like this is published is to appease the farmers rather than giving them compensation for any losses they've had."

Mr Miller believes that scientists should spend the money intended to cull the badgers, on developing a vaccine to protect cattle from TB.

"No matter how much they try and cull these animals, it will make very little impact on the population of the creatures because they are so hardy. Over 60,000 are killed on the roads every year and yet they are still surviving and flourishing. Culling won't make any difference whatsoever."

The government report follows a previous study by the Independent Scientific Group (ISG) saying culling badgers would be ineffective and lead to animals fleeing to other farms.

Although recognising the role of the animal in the spread of bTB, the study warned culling would have to be so extensive it would be uneconomical.

New Forest Animal Protection Group member, Frankie James said: "The study by the ISG is completely right. The new government report makes no sense at all. It's against all scientific evidence and is another example to try and make the badger a scapegoat.

"Perhaps the spotlight should be turned on the close confines and conditions that cattle are kept in nowadays. Before starting to kill our wildlife perhaps farmers ought to start regulating and controlling the movement of their herds.

"Rest assured we'll be joining whatever campaign is launched to oppose this decision if it gets through."

Martin Noble, secretary of the New Forest Badger Group said: "Of course we have sympathy for the farmers as we realise that we need to try and achieve a means of reducing bTB but culling badgers is not the answer."

Mr Noble highlighted the results of a public consultation study carried out earlier this year, which showed that 98 per cent of those interviewed were against the culling of badgers when there were alternatives available.

He added: "There needs to be more research into other options such as inoculation before we start killing our wildlife for political expediency."