A former adviser to Defra has claimed the Government's policy over a pilot cull of badgers is "unacceptable" ahead of a Court of Appeal hearing on the plans today.
Dr Chris Cheeseman, former head of wildlife diseases at the Central Science Laboratory, who carried out extensive research on badgers and who advised Defra on such matters, is supporting the Humane Society International UK's campaign to stop the culls in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset. The culls are part of the Government's campaign to stamp out bovine tuberculosis.
However, the Badger Trust will today seek to overturn a judge's decision to allow the cull to take place at a hearing at the Court of Appeal.
Ahead of the hearing, Dr Cheeseman said: "This Government claims that their policy is science-led, but I'm afraid it's not. It could lead to the deaths of up to 130,000 badgers over a few years to achieve an overall, at best, 16% reduction in cattle TB. Now there are those of us in the scientific community who actually think the cull will make it worse, and I suggest that's an unacceptable policy."
His statement is included in a video released by Humane Society International UK entitled "Kill the Cull, Not the Badgers".
But a spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs insisted the cull policy was science-led and quoted a document agreed by a group of scientists brought together by former Government Chief Scientist Bob Watson to show the level of scientific consensus.
"The science is clear, and experts agree that provided culling is done in the right way, it can lead to a reduction in TB in cattle," the spokesman said.
He added that no country in the world where wildlife carries TB has eradicated the disease in cattle without tackling it in wildlife as well.
The trial culls were scheduled to start this month. About 30,000 cattle a year are slaughtered having tested positive to TB tests, costing tens of millions of pounds in compensation to the farming community. The Westcountry has been particularly hard hit.
But the Badger Trust challenged the Government's plans in the High Court in June, a challenge that was rejected. However, the Badger Trust has since been granted its appeal.
The pilot culls will involve shooting free-running badgers by trained marksmen, organised by supervised and licensed farmer groups. If the pilot culls are deemed satisfactory, the system will be rolled out to other bovine TB hot-spot areas.
Badger Trust spokesman Jack Reed said: "The decision to take further court action was not taken lightly. It underlines the trust's strong belief that the Government's proposals to kill badgers in England are likely to do more harm than good."