COTSWOLD MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown has voiced his support for a scheme which will see up to 580 badgers killed in Gloucestershire.

Last week Natural England, after advice from Defra, issued a licence to kill the large number of badgers in the county within the next five years in what it says will prevent the spread of bovine TB.

“No-one wants to see badgers culled unnecessarily,” said Mr Clifton-Brown of the Conservative Party.

“However, the emotional and economic hardship caused to farmers by the enormous increase of TB cases in livestock means that the government must use every tool available to combat this disease.

“I have seen first-hand the time and expense that farmers undertake to run these badger cull zones and they wouldn’t do this unless they felt their livelihood wasn’t threatened by TB.

“Any Member of Parliament that represents a rural area and opposed the cull is not representing those farmers,” he added.

However, Stroud MP and Labour Party member David Drew, a shadow Defra minister, feels that there are more effective ways to deal with the disease.

“The badger cull is not only inhumane, destroying hundreds of badgers the vast majority of which will be clear of bovine TB, but this whole exercise is a colossal waste of money not underpinned by science,” he said.

“There are better and more effective ways to deal with this dreadful disease.”

In response, Mr Clifton-Brown said despite Mr Drew’s claims, “there are no realistic alternatives” to deal with the disease.

Defra consulted chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens who advised that culling badgers to maintain the population at a set level was the best way to manage the disease risk of bovine TB.

“Earlier this year we announced plans to licence supplementary badger control in areas that have successfully completed intensive culls, allowing them to maintain disease control benefits for many years to come in line with plans set out in the TB strategy,” a Defra spokesman said.

Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust remains strongly opposed to the badger cull stating that the scientific evidence shows that it will not work in controlling the problem of TB in cattle.

However, it sympathises strongly with the plight and pain of farmers in affected areas.

"We are shocked by the announcement that Natural England will be offering those currently holding a badger control license the opportunity to apply to cull badgers for a further five years," said Colin Studholme, the trust's director of conservation.

"This flies in the face of the government’s own scientific evidence and previous guidance which said that culling would only be ‘necessary’ over a period of four years.

"We believe it is a further admission that the badger cull policy has failed and it contradicts the strong weight of opinion expressed in an earlier consultation on the issue."

Opposition to badger culling remains strong in the county, with protesters gearing up for rallies at sites around Gloucestershire as soon as details of target areas are revealed.