RUNCORN MP Mike Amesbury has called for badger vaccinations to be expanded to replace a controversial cull of the animals.

The cull,  which is permitted in licensed areas including Cheshire, aims to prevent the spread of tuberculosis to cattle.

Last week the Government announced a national badger vaccination programme will be rolled out on the back of a five-year pilot in East Sussex as the cull is phased out.

But Mr Amesbury is concerned the move is not happening fast enough with another 10 supplementary licences issued for culling, including an area of Cheshire, effective until January 31, 2023.

The MP, who was contacted by 33 concerned constituents when Government held a consultation on its strategy earlier this year, said: “People feel very passionately about the need to protect a beautiful and protected species that is very much part of the British countryside.

“While I sympathise with farmers affected by TB in cattle, the evidence that badger culling prevents the spread of tuberculosis to their animals is not conclusive.

“Trials involving badger vaccinations have proved positive and far more cost-effective for the taxpayer, when you take into the account the cost of policing the cull.”

Mr Amesbury added: “The badger vaccination programme need to be introduced in Cheshire and escalated right throughout England as quickly as possible. That’s where the investment should be.

“It’s estimated 140,000 badgers have already been killed across the country with fears another 130,000 animals could be shot before the cull is phased out. It’s a real concern for the future of the badger population.

“This is about animal welfare, being led by the evidence and costs to the taxpayer.”

The government launched the cull last September as part of what it said was a 25-year strategy to eradicate bovine tuberculosis and protect the livelihoods of dairy and beef farmers.

The Government has said new four-year badger control licences won’t be issued after December 1, 2022, but this means the cull could continue until 2026.