WILDLIFE lovers are urging the public to support Berkshire's population of badgers following the Government’s extension of the controversial cull.

Badger enthusiasts are calling for greater appreciation of the animals following Thursday’s National Badger Day, fearing more than 75,000 badgers could be killed this year including in the Royal county.

It comes after the Government announced last month that it was issuing seven new licences for badger culling across Berkshire in an attempt to control the spread of bovine tuberculosis (bTB).

That is despite more than 40,000 people responding to a Government consultation at the start of this year urging it to stop issuing licences and prioritise vaccination instead.

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Julia Lofthouse, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) mammal project manager, said: "The current situation is absurd: over the past seven years, BBOWT has successfully vaccinated hundreds of badgers, protecting them from bTB and preventing them from passing the disease onto cattle. What's more, our results have proven this is a much more humane way to tackle bTB than culling - and is also at least 60 times cheaper per badger.

"We aren't even asking the Government to change its policy - we are saying its ambition to move from culling to vaccination is completely right. In fact, we think it's such a good idea we are asking them to start doing it right now, instead of carrying on with a hugely unpopular, needlessly expensive and inhumane slaughter."

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The cull, which has been widely condemned by scientists, conservationists and animal lovers, is intended to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis.

The seven new culling licences come into effect this year alongside 33 existing cull areas across England. In total, the 40 licences allow for up to 83,210 badgers to be shot by 2025, and this year’s cull is set to be the largest yet.

By the end of the cull, 300,000 badgers out of an estimated population of 485,000 may have been killed.

Bovine TB is an extremely harmful disease, and The Wildlife Trusts are sympathetic to the great hardship that it causes the farming community.

However, BBOWT claim badgers are not the main culprit as the main source of bTB is cattle-to-cattle transmission, and scientific evidence has shown the culling of badgers is ineffective in fighting bTB in cattle.

Estelle Bailey, chief executive of BBOWT, said: “In this country we are currently facing an environmental emergency, with dozens of species in alarming decline and our climate in crisis. With that in mind, it is impossible for the Government to justify continuing to slaughter a native wildlife species for four years – especially one that is protected in law and an icon of the British countryside.

“The Government knows this, which is why it has pledged to stop issuing badger cull licences. All we are asking our leaders to do is have the courage of their convictions and stop the killing right now. We need more nature everywhere and that goes for badgers too.”