WEST Dorset MP Oliver Letwin says he continues to support the badger cull in Dorset after being addressed in an open letter describing the scheme as a ‘crime against wildlife’.

Karin Snellock, of the group Dorset for Badger and Bovine Welfare, wrote an open letter to Mr Letwin claiming that the majority of West Dorset constituents are opposed to a cull.

Defra confirmed on Thursday that the cull was now underway.

Only licensed marksmen can kill badgers, and they will aim to shoot between 615 and 835 animals.

In the letter, Ms Snellock writes: “The pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset have already proved to be cruel, divisive and most importantly ineffective. Killing an animal for no good reason makes it a crime against wildlife.”

But Mr Letwin said that the cull would help Dorset’s ‘beleaguered farmers’.

He said: “I understand, of course, that feelings run high on this issue. But I remain convinced that we need to act on behalf of our beleaguered farmers.

“The effects of bovine TB on dairy farming – already hard-pressed because of depressed milk prices – are severe, and there is no realistic hope of relieving those pressures without the combination of culling and vaccination that we have been trialling in Somerset and Gloucestershire.

“I therefore continue to support a trial in Dorset.”

A spokesman for the National Farming Union in the south west said the group understood the cull may be ‘unpalatable’ for some, but emphasised that it is causing ‘enormous problems’ for farmers.

He said: “The NFU has always acknowledged that we need to do everything we can to tackle bovine TB on all fronts. No one is saying culling badgers alone will solve the problem.

“The Government’s 25-year TB eradication strategy is the first comprehensive plan we have ever had to control and eradicate bovine TB in England and we need to see it implemented in full as quickly as possible.

“Whilst there has been a small decline in the number of cattle slaughtered, which is of course welcome, according to Defra the number of new incidents of TB in Dorset has remained about the same (161 in 2011, 167 last year) so the underlying problem clearly still exists.”

He added: “The plain fact is that this disease is causing enormous problems for farmers in Dorset and, as unpalatable as it may be to some, the only way we are going to get on top of the situation and stop the cycle of re-infection is by tackling bovine TB in cattle and badgers.”