Shooting groups have strongly criticised an article in The Guardian last week about the Government?s plans to employ ?free shooting? of badgers as part of its strategy to tackle bovine TB.

The article said that ministers will approve plans to allow groups of volunteers to organise their own shooting expeditions to kill badgers in affected areas, after applying for an appropriate firearms licence.

It also quoted a strategic assessment from the National Wildlife Crime Unit warning of a very real danger of illegal badger persecution being carried out under the pretext of culling activity.

David Taylor, shooting campaign manager at the Countryside Alliance said: ?By associating shooting and badger culling, those who oppose the proposed cull are using this emotive issue to score multiple hits at the shooting community.?

?They insinuate that badger shooting will become a new form of organised sport, with many bloodthirsty shooters lining up to shoot a badger. This could not be further from the truth. As with other species, licences would only be granted to individuals to control species under very specific circumstances.?

The article also highlighted Labour?s concerns that any culling of badgers by shooting would have an adverse effect on tourism in bovine TB ?hotspot areas? such as Devon and Cornwall.

It quoted Tessa Jowell, the shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, as saying: ?I don?t believe that many of us would be comfortable with the idea of a ?Big Society badger cull?, with volunteers licensed to roam the countryside carrying shotguns. I am not sure what it does to encourage people to visit the countryside.?

But David Taylor ridiculed Ms Jowell?s statement and attacked her knowledge of rural affairs.

He said: ?The suggestion that armed volunteers would be roaming the countryside and putting off tourism is absurd. Not only does this portray all law-abiding shooters as dangerous criminals, it shows a fundamental lack of understanding of badgers and the countryside.?

?Given that badgers are nocturnal, the majority of any culling will most likely take place in addition to existing night shooting activities such as lamping. Such scaremongering does nothing to solve the real problem of bovine TB.?

BASC also attacked the coverage.

Director of communications, Christopher Graffius, said: ?This article, by picturing four cubs, seeks to play on the readers? emotions.?

?Should any cull take place, the safest people to conduct it will be licensed firearms users who have the necessary experience, and in the case of firearms certificates have been granted the appropriate variation by the police. However, we await an announcement of further details.?

The NGO dismissed the article as pre-election speculation and said it would reserve comment until the Government had made and announced its decision.

A spokesman said: ?We gave our views in our formal response to the Government?s consultation last year. We supported the need for a well organised cull as part of an integrated strategy to reduce TB in cattle and badgers and we said that shooting on its own would be unlikely to achieve the cull rates that the scientists say are necessary.?

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