WILDLIFE campaigners have welcomed what could be the first steps to halting a badger cull in Dorset.

At a debate in the House of Commons, 219 MPs voted in favour of a motion put forward by MP Anne Main to halt the government’s policy on badger culling.

The success of the backbench motion does not mean the government will halt the cull.

Pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire last year ended in failure, Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) said.

Dorset was earmarked as a reserve site in case either of the test culls last year could not go ahead, and farmers have spoken out in favour of bringing a cull to the county if this is allowed.

Dorset’s Police and Crime Com-missioner Martyn Underhill said in January that a cull will probably happen in Dorset next year.

Simon Cripps, chief executive of DWT, said: “This overwhelming vote in favour of halting the cull, which has failed in both Somerset and Gloucestershire, shows that MPs finally understand that culling is not the way forward in controlling the disease Bovine Tuberculosis (bTB) in cattle. “Dorset Wildlife Trust would like to encourage those farmers who favour a cull in Dorset to consider alternative options, such as badger vaccination.” He added: “Dorset Wildlife Trust’s understanding from Defra is that if badger culling continues despite the failure of the pilots, it would be highly likely to start in Dorset in 2014, so now is the time for government to make the hard – but right – decision to end culling and back a vaccination plan.”

But Paul Gould, Dorset National Farmers Union (NFU) county chairman, said an effective, live vaccine could be years away from being developed.

He said: “Nothing has changed. It would be a lovely option if the vaccine worked, but it doesn’t.”

He denied that the pilot culls had failed to reach their targets.

“The figures are quite arbitrary because we don’t know how many badgers there were to start with, so how do you know what percentage have been culled?

“There continues to be a high expression of interest from Dorset farmers, and across the country, of culling badgers.

“My own herd are being TB tested in three weeks’ time and it is so stressful.

“It distresses the animals and the vets hate it because it means giving farmers news that could collapse their business.”

According to Defra, more than 32,000 cattle in the UK – around 90 a day – were slaughtered in 2013 after testing positive for TB.