FARMERS and protesters in Dorset are on standby as badger culls begin in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

Around 5,000 badgers are being killed in West Somerset and West Gloucestershire in a bid to control TB in cattle.

Dorset is third in line as a culling area as a reserve site if problems arise in the other counties.

Protesters held a candlelit vigil in Minehead and are calling on people to join them for nightly patrols during which they say they will act as a ‘peaceful presence’ wearing high-visibility clothing and walking in the cull zone while the culling takes place.

Dr Simon Cripps, chairman of the Dorset Wildlife Trust, said public opinion against the cull is on the rise.

He said: “This is a sad day. I would like to think the cull in Dorset is less likely. Public opinion is so hugely against it.

“The e-petition from Team Badger has more than 258,700 signatures and is the most signed e-petition ever.”

Dr Cripps said the wildlife charity is not encouraging people to protest in an ‘intimidating’ way.

He said: “The DWT does not condone intimidation. We enc-ourage people to sign petitions, write to the NFU and let it be known they do not agree.”

County councillor Dan Brember, who represents Rodwell, put forward a motion objecting to the cull on council-owned land but councillors voted for an amendment saying a solution to bovine TB ‘is a matter for government and parliament at national level’.

He said: “There’s real concern that Dorset may be a trial site. There are a great number of farmers who are against the cull.

“I think it’s quite clear the government is going to ignore public opinion. Dorset will be next in line as expected.”

Coun Brember is urging people to sign Team Badger’s e-petition, available until September 7.

“There’s still time for people to register their dissatisfaction with their MP or councillors,” he said.

‘Don’t interfere with trials’

SOUTH West landowners have called for the badger cull pilot schemes to be allowed to go ahead without interruption.

The trials are to test whether shooting offers a ‘humane, safe and effective’ option for culling infected badgers, they say.

John Mortimer, director of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) South West, says it is ‘essential’ that the pilot schemes are allowed to go ahead without disruption in order to get a clear answer to that question.

He said: “These proposals have survived the democratic process, having been debated in Parliament and tested in the courts and must now be allowed to proceed.

“These pilot schemes are a vital start to a programme to tackle and, eventually, eradicate bovine TB which is as debilitating a disease for wildlife as it is for cattle.

“The cost to the public purse will top a billion pounds over 10 years but the cost in human terms, the misery and suffering caused to farming families, is immeasurable.”