Culling badgers to tackle tuberculosis in cattle has cost the taxpayer £16.8 million in the past few years, or £6,775 for each animal killed, figures show.

The figures suggest the cost to the public of two pilot culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset has been even higher than estimates by anti-cull campaigners, prompting them to claim the policy is an "unacceptable burden on the taxpayer".

The costs were revealed by the Environment Department (Defra) in response to a Freedom of Information request by the Badger Trust, which had previously estimated the culls were costing £6,100 for each badger killed.

In the first year, when culling was postponed, the policy cost £2.5 million, while the costs for the 2013 cull, including policing costs, stood at £9.8 million and the 2014 bill was just under £4.5 million, the figures show.

With 2,476 badgers killed in the first two years of culling, the price tag works out at £6,775 for each animal culled, the Badger Trust said.

The figures were revealed after the Government announced the policy, which ministers and farmers insist is necessary to tackle TB in livestock that can pick up the disease from wild badgers, would be extended into Dorset.

Anti-cull campaigners say culling is cruel and ineffective and want the focus to be on other measures such as vaccinations for badgers and livestock.

Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer said: "Not only is the badger cull a disastrous failure on scientific and animal welfare grounds, it is also becoming an unacceptable burden on the taxpayer.

"When the policy was developed in 2011 the government claimed it would be a farmer-led initiative, paid for by farmers.

"In reality it's the taxpayer who is footing the bill and these costs will continue to rise rapidly as the policy is extended into Dorset, and possibly other counties in the future."

He said that if the cull was rolled out to more than 40 areas in England, as suggested by then Environment Secretary Owen Paterson in 2013, the cost to the taxpayer could easily exceed half a billion pounds.

A Defra spokesman said: "TB poses a huge threat to our farming industry and has cost £500 million over the last decade.

"We are pursuing a comprehensive strategy, including tighter cattle movement controls, badger vaccination and culling in areas where TB is widespread.

"Costs have been substantially reduced since last year and will be kept under review."