Animals welfare campaigners have claimed there is “no justification” for the “misguided” badger cull to continue, as they urged supporters to oppose extending the killing to new areas.
Two pilot culls have already been carried out in Somerset and Gloucestershire as part of the Government’s strategy to combat rising rates of bovine TB which can be spread from badgers to cattle.
But the policy has met with enormous opposition with campaigners claiming culling is ineffective and inhumane and that efforts should focus on vaccination and farm measures to tackle the disease.
Devon and Cornwall are among nine Much of the South West is counties regarded as a hotspot for the disease which resulted in 28,000 cattle being slaughtered in 2012.
The RSPCA said the “farcical and costly badger cull could very soon be extended across the country” and urged its supporters to lobby Prime Minister David Cameron.
David Bowles, the RSPCA’s head of public affairs and campaigns, said: “There is no justification to continue with these misguided plans, let alone extend them. We care about both cattle and badgers but science has shown the cull is not the answer to bovine TB in cattle, and the pilot culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire last year were a catalogue of errors from start to finish.
“In total 1,861 badgers have already been needlessly killed since August. We would urge anyone who does not want more such deaths to contact their MP urging then to vote against the expansion of the cull and urge their councillors to stop local authority land from being used in any cull.”
Last month, Natural England, which has to authorise the culls, asked potential applicants for new licences to begin preparing their cases.
Opponents believe the Government is seeking an “escape plan” after the pilots proved costly and failed to hit kill targets, despite extensions to the time period.
Farmers, who paid for the actual culling itself, are estimated to have spent around £1.49 million with a further £2.66 million spent on policing.
Just over £3 million was attributed to costs at Natural England, the Food and Environment Research Agency and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Anti-cull protesters also believe their case has been strengthened after it emerged the number of herds of cattle infected with TB had been significantly overestimated after a computer error.